On a chilly night in December, the atmosphere inside Homeland Center was warm and loving. Every space filled with residents and invited guests exchanging good wishes and laughter. Live music filled three dining rooms and the chapel. Tables groaned with food, all of it homemade by Homeland staff. Wreaths hung on the walls, and Christmas trees brightened the rooms.
In the annals of holiday open houses, Homeland’s yearly holiday party, organized by the Board of Managers, is unique. Up and down every hall, every gathering space was adapted to accommodate as many as 500 guests. The tradition dates to 1978, giving residents the chance to send invitations and host family and friends in sharing the holiday spirit.
“It’s something they can provide because that’s taken away when they come to a nursing home. They’re hosting their families.”
Resident Helen Schroll donned an elf hat for the party. Her daughter, Pat Fortenbaugh, proclaimed the party “wonderful.” Helen’s son-in-law, Richard Fortenbaugh appreciated the festivities flowing from one space to another.
“It’s a floating party,” he said.
Nancy Norton came at the invitation of her old friend Shirlee Fisher,
a Homeland resident for 14 years.
“This is so nice they do this,” Norton said. “She and I have been friends for 35 years. I love the aides in here, and the residents are so nice.
In the second-floor solarium, resident Ray Caldwell proclaimed the party “a 100 percent success.”
“P.S.,” he added, “the food is delicious.”
Caldwell’s son, Dann Caldwell, is the chaplain for Homeland Hospice. He attended the party with his wife, Beth, and their son, Peter.
“Everybody comes out,” said Dann Caldwell. “It’s wonderful. I get to wear my chaplain and spiritual counselor hat, but I take it off and put on my family member hat.”
As music floated through the hallways, not all of it was Christmas-themed. Downstairs in the chapel, the Zembo String Band sprinkled their holiday selections with “Basin Street Blues” and “When Irish Eyes are Smiling.” In the main dining room, when Poconos-based music group Kat and Tom sang “Just the Way You Look Tonight,” guest Eric Jespersen led his mother, resident Flora Jespersen, to the floor for a dance. Kat and Tom’s next number: “Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer.”
In Homeland’s 50s-style diner, resident Geoff Davenport said he likes all parties. The food was good, he said, and he should know. His family owned many area restaurants, including the fondly remember Davenport’s, and he was a produce buyer for Marriott hotels.
“It’s nice to get a piece of medium-rare meat,” he said.
In the sunroom, resident Doris Coyne hosted six friends from her church. Her friend Wayne Fertig gave the party two
thumbs up. Doris had brought the group to the sunroom for a chance to catch up, but she loved the main dining room decorated with Christmas tree, stockings, and centerpieces of evergreens, red carnations, and white mums.
“The dining room looks beautiful,” she said.
In the dining room, resident Isabel Smith hosted her family, including her great-granddaughter Quinn. Smith is a former Homeland administrator credited with reviving the institution in the 1970s. Her daughter, Nancy Snavely, had been her mother’s assistant, and she recalled the party’s origins. It was 1978 when she and then-Activities Director Ginny Capp felt sad that residents could no longer host holiday parties, as they had in their homes.
A tradition was born. At that first party, held in what is now the gathering room, guests were served the food family-style.
“It was so crowded that people used to have to walk across the tables to get around, but it was wonderful,” Snavely said.
Sitting beside her daughter, Isabel Smith applauded the music. She remembered giving the green light to that first holiday party.
“I love this home,” she said. “This is a time for the people in Homeland to know that they’re family. That’s when home feels like a home.”