Homeland resident Mike Conte: A life steeped in Harrisburg history


Homeland resident Mike ConteMike Conte came to Homeland in April. Since then, he has made friends — “lots of them.”

“They’re really nice here,” he said. “I like the people. I like how the staff caters to you.”

Mike and his wife, Betty, share a bright, corner-room personal care suite. His roots are deep in Harrisburg, where he was born and raised.

Mike’s parents were immigrants from Italy. In the 1920s, his father bought a bar and restaurant at 4th and Kelker streets in Harrisburg. Even though it was named the Keystone Restaurant, everyone knew it as Tony’s, after Mike’s dad. The owner of the business next door, Lappley’s Shoe Store, was a good friend of Tony’s who was also treasurer of Camp Curtin Bank.

“That’s where my dad got all his loans,” Mike recalls. “Everything was done on a handshake.”

Mike’s parents ran the restaurant, and Mike and his older sisters, Rose and Evelyn, helped by washing dishes or cleaning the kitchen. His father was constantly smoking a cigar. If he put it down to conduct business, he would tell the kids, “First one to find my cigar gets a quarter.”

At home, life revolved around the neighborhood firehouse, now the Pennsylvania National Fire Museum.

“We used to know the firemen,” he said. “The police would stop there. It was like old home week. There was a baseball field where we’d play baseball all summer or go to City Island to swim in the river. I was glad I was born in that time because they were the good old days.”

After graduating from William Penn High School in 1951, Mike worked for a building contractor and then at the family restaurant until he was drafted. He spent two years in the Army, including a stretch in peacetime Korea.

“I was a cook, but they wouldn’t let me cook,” he said. “You had to work your way up to that. That’s when you were peeling potatoes by hand, 15 or 20 bags at a time.”

Not long after Mike came home, his father died, and Mike and his mother ran the restaurant. In 1957, he went to work in the furniture service center of Pomeroy’s department store, loading and unloading trucks and helping with deliveries. He worked there the rest of his career, totaling 39 years with Pomeroy’s and its successor, Bon-Ton. The work could be challenging, but Mike enjoyed the company of his coworkers and brought his sense of humor to the job.

Mike and Betty first met before he entered the service when mutual friends were getting married.

“Every Saturday night, we’d get dressed up to the nines and go to the movies,” Mike said. They’d catch two movies at different Harrisburg cinemas, enjoying Gene Kelly and Debbie Reynolds in the golden age of Hollywood musicals.

When he returned from the service, they lost track of each other. In 1962, Mike married a woman he met on a visit with his sister, but only six years later, she died from cancer. Suddenly, Mike was a single dad to their daughter.

“Thank God my mom was still around,” Mike said. “We made her the official babysitter. ‘That’s okay with me,’ she would say.”

About seven months later, he and Betty reconnected.

“We’ve been married now 51 years,” he said.

Mike and Betty enjoyed traveling on bus trips through the United States, often in the South and New England. He has a collection of postcards from Harrisburg’s past, including all 16 firehouses, and he still loves watching old movies, especially gangster films. James Cagney and George Raft are favorites.

Now at Homeland, he keeps busy, especially enjoying the various musical activities and bingo.

Mike makes a point of not taking things too seriously.

“I make a joke out of everything,” he said. “You can’t go around being mopey all the time.”

Homeland Center (www.homelandcenter.org) offers levels of care including personal care, memory care, skilled nursing and rehabilitation. Homeland also provides hospice, home care, home health and palliative care services to serve the diverse and changing needs of families throughout central Pennsylvania. For more information or to arrange a tour, please call 717-221-7900.

Homeland Unveils Tribute Medallions at a Special Ceremony in May


homeland unveiling eventHomeland unveiled its Tribute Medallions at a special ceremony held in May at Homeland Center in Uptown Harrisburg. The Tribute Medallions along with a special plaque about Homeland are displayed on the iron fence that surrounds the facility. The zinc metal medallions are a tribute to loved ones who received Homeland services as well as recognition of those who make a difference through their volunteerism and dedication to Homeland.

The event included a special blessing from Todd Carver, MDiv, BCC, Homeland Chaplain, and remarks from Noelle Valentine, MSW, LSW, Homeland’s Lead Bereavement Counselor, about Homeland’s dedication to serving families through its outreach efforts. Following the remarks, guests toured the path along the fence to see the medallions and were invited to tour Homeland Center.

“The Tribute Medallions memorialize loved ones and represent the unity of Homeland’s work,” Noelle says. “Through Homeland Center and our outreach efforts we have a special connection with the names and families associated with each medallion.”

in memory of frances shoop medallionThe Tribute Medallion initiative was launched at Homeland Hospice’s 10th Anniversary Celebration in November 2019. At the event, Luetta Romberger of Millersburg purchased two Tribute Medallions in remembrance of her husband, Stanley Romberger, and mother, Francis Shoop, who received hospice services. When Homeland began assisting the family, Stanley was living at home and Francis lived a short distance away. As his health began to decline, Stanley entered a nursing home. Francis soon followed and resided in the same nursing facility. After Stanley died in 2018, Francis moved into Luetta’s home. With the help of Homeland, Luetta cared for her mother until her passing in 2019.

“I will always appreciate the care we received from Homeland,” Luetta says. “The support was beyond my expectations.”

At the event, Luetta toured Homeland Center. Along the way, she noticed a pianist playing on the baby grand piano in the dining room. Homeland frequently invites guests to perform for residents over lunch and dinner. Luetta asked if her 13-year-old grandson Elliott could play. He returned several weeks later and entertained the residents.

For Luetta and families throughout central Pennsylvania, Homeland is personal. Through its work, Homeland has the privilege to care for families and their loved ones during their changing life circumstances. The Tribute Medallions and Homeland’s outreach efforts will continue to grow as the needs of our community evolve.

“We will continue to offer Tribute Medallions for families to memorialize their loved ones,” Noelle says. “Every name and every medallion will forever be an important part of Homeland’s history.”

Since Homeland Center began as the “Home for the Friendless,” more than 155 years ago, it has been – and will always be – a place for friends, family and the community to find respite and support. Every time someone enters Homeland, the first thing they see is a beautiful iron fence with the names of loved ones on tribute medallions. Each name has a story and is part of Homeland’s history.

For more information, visit HomelandatHome.org or HomelandCenter.org.

Board of Managers member Maggie Kirsch: Gratitude and fulfillment


Board of Managers member Maggie KirschMaggie Kirsch can’t name a single incident that exemplifies her beautiful experiences at Homeland.

“All the little ones make up for one big one,” she said. “Everybody is so kind, considerate, and caring here that I can’t honestly say there’s one big thing. It’s the little things that make this place.”

Maggie is a longtime volunteer, serving on the Homeland Board of Managers for about eight years. The Board of Managers is Homeland’s unique, all-women board devoted to sustaining Homeland’s renowned homelike feel, managing the details that range from hanging holiday decorations to redecorating the dining room and refreshing bench cushions.

“I have never met so many kind women so eager to help and ready to do whatever needs to be done,” she said. “They don’t hesitate. Amazing, amazing women.”

Maggie was born in Brooklyn and is the daughter of Italian immigrants. Her mother learned English by reading the Sunday comics. Her father followed a tortuous path through the Alps, across the Atlantic, and down through Canada to reach a better life in the United States.

“He made something of himself on his own,” she said. “He didn’t expect anybody to give him anything. They knew what they had to do.”

Her family moved to Harrisburg from Brooklyn, NY when she was two to be closer to her mother’s family. Maggie’s grandparents ran a grocery store on Cameron Street, near the Bethlehem Steel plant in Steelton, and her father owned an ice cream truck. Later, her parents owned a Harrisburg bar called Guy’s Café.

Maggie attended Bishop McDevitt High School, where she loved singing with the choir and the a cappella group. After graduating from high school, she became a medical assistant and worked in a doctor’s office, which taught her how to do blood tests and other procedures.

In 1966, Maggie married Tom McAuliffe, a Bethlehem Steel electrical engineer. For 22 years, they stayed busy raising their four children. Then one day, while at a seminar in Bethlehem, he died suddenly while out for his daily run.

“I can only say I put one thought in front of the other, handled one situation in front of the other,” she said of those challenging days. “Thank God my kids are good. I was fortunate to have good friends and good family to help.”

Maggie also worked for 16 years as an office administrator for AAA Travel, and after her husband died, she worked as a temp for Kelly.

The agency allowed her to be home every day when her youngest child came home from school.

While serving as a temp with Amp, the former electrical component manufacturer, she attended a holiday party where she met an Amp engineer named Paul Kirsch. Soon, they were dating, and they married before he took a business trip to Paris.

The couple’s travels have taken them to Alaska, Hawaii, and Europe. On one memorable trip, Maggie and four of her siblings – the Bianchi family — ventured with their spouses to their parent’s Italian hometown. There, where a cousin was mayor, they walked the cobblestone streets, ate gelato made by another cousin, and saw their grandmother’s silkworm farm and fig-tree groves.

“It was the best trip we ever took,” Maggie said. “All the things my parents talked about now came to life. If you can return to wherever your parents were from, go!”

Maggie and her husband live in Lower Paxton Township. The grandmother of 14 loves to golf, is an avid gardener, serves as a docent for the Pennsylvania Governor’s Residence, and sings soprano, just like she did in high school, but now with the Hummelstown Community Singers.

Since joining the Board of Managers, Maggie has “enjoyed every minute of it.”

“I feel so satisfied just to see how happy the people are,” she said. “I feel so gratified by the things I can do to help make the residents’ lives better. The employees are so nice. I have never met a rude person here. Everybody is very considerate of each other’s position and how they can help each other.”