The first time Alice Kirchner retired, it was 2009. She had no intention of slowing down, and a notice about volunteer training with the then-new Homeland Hospice piqued her interest.
“It just found a root in my soul, in my heart,” Alice says now. That attachment blossomed into her role as Homeland’s administrative assistant for strategic planning. Alice retired – again – on June 30, 2022, after eight years of helping assure that Homeland, founded in 1867, sustains its renowned excellence in care for generations to come.
“I used to joke that my job was pretty simple. Just make sure we’re positioned for success and good-quality care, and we’re properly planning for our next 155 years!”
Alice is a native of Lancaster who earned her college degree in elementary education/early childhood. She started her career in Harrisburg, advocating for the needs of children and families as a staffer for a gubernatorial special committee. Then she helped develop a groundbreaking computer literacy curriculum for Pennsylvania fourth graders. She realized that if she could learn computers, anybody could, so she went to work for IBM.
For her 30 years with IBM, spent mostly in central Pennsylvania, Alice served as marketing rep, systems engineer, manager, assistant to the local executive, and member of a worldwide team implementing internal process changes. By the time of that first retirement, she was manager of a team located throughout the U.S., Canada, and Latin America.
In her early days of volunteering with Homeland Hospice, Alice provided companionship for patients, but she also offered her portfolio of skills (including computer knowledge, of course) in the office. When she suggested that she might be open to accepting a job, she stepped into a new role of part-time bereavement coordinator.
Alice took the job while also earning her certificate in thanatology – the study of death and dying – from Hood College in Frederick, MD. Homeland Hospice was growing, and around 2014, she suggested that she could work full-time if the job were heading in that direction.
Homeland Center President/CEO Barry Ramper II had a different idea for capitalizing on Alice’s skills. In a retirement community focused on the highest levels of quality service, staff must focus on the now. Homeland needed someone who could build current capacity while also preparing for a strong future, so Alice became administrative assistant for strategic planning.
“When I left IBM, I thought I already had had the world’s best job,” Alice says. “I was working from home. I was working with people all around the world. It was interesting. Well, let me just say it didn’t compare to the opportunity I had with Homeland in terms of building relationships and making a difference in a very personal and tangible way with the residents, families and colleagues.”
She worked closely with the Board of Trustees and Board of Managers on Homeland policy and events, including working on the plans for Homeland HomeCare and Homeland HomeHealth, and multiple technology advances. She also found connections on a personal level, perhaps helping a resident make Facetime calls during COVID or simply strolling with them in the hallways or garden.
“I’m proud of the way we rallied together during the pandemic,” she adds. “I’m amazed at the resilience of the residents.”
In the year leading up to her retirement, two major projects neared completion – Homeland’s latest strategic plan, and planning Homeland’s adoption of electronic health system software – and Alice concluded that it was time for her second retirement.
“Don’t worry about me,” she’d tell colleagues and residents. “I’m not retiring to do nothing. I’m going to repackage this precious thing called time and passion.”
To ensure purposeful days, Alice makes plans that include travel, family, connections, purpose, and fitness. Through her longtime involvement and leadership with the Zonta Club of Harrisburg-Hershey and Zonta International, Alice helps fundraise and volunteer for organizations supporting women’s empowerment, while also advocating for an end to human trafficking and child marriage. For Greenlight Operation, she recently spent a Saturday slinging a paint brush at a home being renovated as a restoration space for women transitioning away from trafficking.
Alice gives back to causes empowering women and girls because she feels “very blessed” about her life in a close-knit family of five sisters and one brother.
Asked to describe a favorite Homeland memory, she recalls one resident who was learning to play the piano. She had once taken adult piano lessons and said yes when a 6-year-old boy asked her to play a duet for their recital. Now it was her turn to do the asking, inviting the resident to join her in playing a four-hand arrangement of “Amazing Grace” for the Homeland talent show.
COVID canceled that event, but not the resident’s enthusiasm. Until his death, he kept practicing for the hoped-for performance.
“I loved that full circle of providing an opportunity,” Alice says. “It gave him purpose and future and focus, and he worked much harder at it than I had up to that point.”
Alice hopes she left a positive mark on Homeland. She sought out opportunities to solidify Homeland’s quality, made connections that generated good outcomes, and found the means to implement the best ideas.
“It’s been a treasure of a second career for me to have discovered Homeland,” she says. “I look forward to celebrating all of the successes that Homeland will have – I’m optimistic there will be many of them.”