The Homeland picnic returns: Residents host guests and share happy memories


picnic collage

Freda Fontaine and her four sons always enjoyed their summer picnics. What did the gang eat?

“Everything we could!” she said, laughing.

Homeland was awash in summertime memories with the revival of the annual picnic in the beautiful Chet Henry Memorial Pavilion. The party celebrated two momentous events – the return of summer and a continuation of Homeland’s 155th anniversary celebration honoring the beloved Director of Development Betty Hungerford.

In the years before COVID, the picnic had become a cherished Homeland tradition. Held in the pavilion adjoining the 5th Street garden in full bloom, the picnic enabled Homeland residents to host family and friends for summer fun. Everyone enjoyed music, picnic fare, and sweet treats.

COVID restrictions limited Homeland’s events, but the 2022 picnic felt like a return to a masked version of normal. The pavilion was decorated in a mini-version of Homeland’s recent 155th anniversary gala, with roses and giant balloons saying “155.”

Residents and guests enjoyed all the foods prepared by Homeland staff – hot dogs and burgers, corn on the cob, coleslaw, pickled eggs, and watermelon. Homeland Chef Manager George Chum’s grilled chicken in a homemade marinade was a popular new addition to the menu this year.

Resident Elner Mann’s great-grandchildren politely but anxiously awaited their favorite course – dessert. Goodies from the Pennsylvania Bakery included macaroons and mini eclairs. The grand centerpiece of the dessert table was a sheet cake celebrating Homeland Center’s 155 years, adorned with a picture of Betty Hungerford, three roses (Betty’s favorite flower), and a “Queen Bee,” the fond nickname given her by her many friends and admirers.

Janice Hutchison, visiting her mother-in-law, was pleasantly surprised to find that, unlike homestyle picnics, guests were served by Homeland staff. Her 98-year-old mother-in-law, Nancy Hutchison, has lived at Homeland for six years and Nancy’s church is very active with Homeland, supplying volunteers. In fact, Nancy is one of three members of her church living at Homeland.

“It’s the only place she wanted to go,” Janice said. “Everyone’s great here.”

Resident Jill McDonel and her sister, Joy Lustig, reminisced while enjoying their picnic lunches. They remembered packing picnics and taking them to parks all around the region, from Williams Grove and Willow Mill to Hersheypark.

“I love picnics,” said Jill. “I’m having a good time seeing my sister.”

Homeland, Jill added, is “a nice place. Very nice. And the people are great. The staff, they are wonderful.”

Joy called her exposure to Homeland and its support for her sister “an eye-opener” that changed her perception about continuing care.

“It’s been a lovely experience,” she said.

Guests were treated to serenades from guitarist-singer Kirk Wise, Susquehanna Style magazine’s 2022 Best of Harrisburg musician. He provided a versatile array of musical accompaniment, from Johnny Cash’s “Folsom Prison Blues” to Frank Sinatra’s “Fly Me to the Moon.” When one table called out a request for “Hound Dog,” he happily complied.

Those guests calling for an Elvis classic included Freda Fontaine, hosting her son, Ken Kramer, and daughter-in-law, Susan Kramer.

“It’s nice to be with everybody again,” said Susan. “It’s so sweet that we get a picnic with our loved one.”

Ken remembered the big family picnics at local places like Pinchot State Park, where his mom’s fried chicken was the star attraction. His mother has made many friends at Homeland, he added.

“I’m very impressed every time I come here,” added Susan. “The staff is so attentive.”

“They are so caring,” added Ken. “They take her concerns so seriously.”

Ken is a retired nurse who lives near Homeland. When his mother was widowed, he brought her to Harrisburg from Maine and made sure that she came to Homeland to live.

“We’re just honored that she could be here,” he said. “I’ve always known about the quality of care here, and I was really happy she could be here.”

Homeland resident Elner Mann: Loving the care she’s getting after a life of caring for others


As a career nurse, Elner Mann worked in hospitals, doctors’ offices, and as a night nurse for a trucking company, where she once saved the life of a stricken man. A 1956 newspaper story recounts her administering first aid to a reckless driver and his passenger.

“I loved taking care of people,” she says.

Elner, known as Ellie by her friends, is a Homeland Center personal care resident who praises the staff and says her family feels better knowing she’s in good hands.

Born on a farm in the Wilkes-Barre area of Conyngham Township, her family later moved to West Pittston along the Susquehanna River, and her father worked for the Pennsylvania Railroad.

At G.A.R. Memorial Junior/Senior High School, Elner was active in organizing dances, including the annual “Grenadier Gambol” held in the girls’ gym. She also sang in her church choir and met her future husband, Kenneth, through church youth activities.

While Kenneth served in the Army, Elner entered the Wilkes-Barre General Hospital School of Nursing: “It was a challenge, but it was a good experience.’’

Elner and Ken married in 1956, after he served as a sergeant in the Korean War. On that day in March, a newspaper story about her wedding reported that she was “attired in a ballerina-length gown of Chantilly lace and nylon tulle over satin.”

The young couple started their family of four kids in Wilkes-Barre. They enjoyed boating and visiting local lakes, including the popular Harveys Lake. Elner worked nights in various health care settings and served on the local chapter of Tau Phi Lambda Sorority, where she was elected state president.

Around 1964, the family moved to the Harrisburg area, where Ken was sales manager for General Motors Acceptance Corp. and vice president of Titus Leasing Co.

Elner continued her nursing career, eventually working in the state Capitol doctor’s office, providing health care for members and staff of the state House and Senate. She and the friend and colleague she shared nursing duties with got the call the day that state Treasurer Budd Dwyer committed suicide in front of a room full of reporters. Unfortunately, there was nothing they could do.

The Mann family lived in the Harrisburg suburb of Paxtang, where the kids could play in open fields, and everything – schools, stores, restaurants – was within walking distance. Ken served as Paxtang Borough Council president.

After Elner retired, she and Ken bought a home in a Sarasota, Florida, retirement community. They would live there from January to May, escaping the cold of Pennsylvania and returning in the spring.

“It had all the amenities you’d want – pool, clubhouse, on and on and on,” she remembers. “It was a good place.”

Ken died in 2000, and Elner came to Homeland after a 2021 health crisis. As a lifetime needleworker, she enjoys Homeland’s arts and crafts classes and has a drawing she did of a hummingbird in her room.

She lives in a spacious personal-care suite, surrounded by pictures of her great-grandchildren, who currently number five with another on the way.

“I couldn’t ask for a better place,” Elner says, adding that she enjoys Homeland’s food, especially the desserts. “They take good care of you. I think it’s a relief to all families to know that everything’s taken care of. I’m certainly comfortable.’’