Homeland resident Bob Hostetter: “You have to want to make a difference”


Bob HostetterBob Hostetter loves history. He also loves iron-willed people who fight for change. His two loves converge at Homeland Center, founded in 1867 by a group of Harrisburg women determined to provide a home for widows and orphans left destitute after the Civil War.

“They built Homeland as a place to live, a place to go when you needed some help, and that is really the overarching concept today,” he says. “It’s an amazing phenomenon.”

Bob lives in Homeland while rehabbing from a leg injury. He brings to Homeland a lifetime of service to Harrisburg arts, education, and racial justice.

As a schoolboy in Pittsburgh, Bob loved art classes, making mobiles in the style of Alexander Calder. His father was the executive secretary for an association of printers and papermakers. His mother “was an old-fashioned housewife. She baked pies. The apple pie was great. She would back gorgeous cakes.”

The dinner-table conversation often centered on civil rights.

“I was raised by parents who were actively committed to anti-racist dynamics,” he says. “They brought us up about ways to be sensitive towards racism.”

After studying at the Pittsburgh Theological Seminary, he moved to the Harrisburg area and served as pastor for a suburban Presbyterian church. But it was the turbulent 1960s, and he felt drawn to serve a church in inner-city Harrisburg.

He and his African American congregants were “active in confronting public officials” over politics and policies. One contingent of older women marched to City Hall, demanding improvements in education and health care. He still marvels at the impact and organizational skills of women who were descended from slaves and who were denied many opportunities in life.

His determined congregants taught him that “you have to have a dream, and you have to have a reason to be, and you have to want to make a difference. That’s what drove those women every day. They never faltered.”

A friend of Bob’s – a pastor equally dedicated to community change – was an official at WITF, Harrisburg’s public broadcasting service. Bob joined him and worked there for 19 years, mainly in community project development, rising to the position of vice president.

Most memorable was the PBS Time to Act campaign, when public television stations nationwide made local productions targeting anti-substance abuse messages to teens. In Pittsburgh, Bob met First Lady Nancy Reagan, then leading her “Just Say No” campaign.

Working for social change also included decades of service with the Rotary Club of Harrisburg, including a year-long term as president. He spearheaded an initiative introducing middle school students to real-world business skills.

“It was a group of people and businesses dedicated to the community who have no other reason to be in Rotary other than to be of service,” he says. “I love the people and still do.”

Bob and his former wife, Martha, raised two children, supporting their son’s love of soccer and daughter’s love of music. His own, lifelong passion for art led him to help create the Allied Arts Fund, a former regional arts facilitator.

For many years, Bob has lived along Harrisburg’s Susquehanna riverfront – first, in the historic Shipoke neighborhood, and then in the equally historic Riverview Manor. From his sixth-floor apartment, he can “see right up the river, where the views are just striking.”

“You can stand in the living room and see a storm coming,” he says. “It’s a magnificent jewel we live with.”

Bob believes that Homeland’s commitment to delivering excellent care sustains support from the region’s generous donors. Their backing directly benefits residents through Homeland’s cheery spaces, diverse activities, and the benevolent fund that assures no resident is ever displaced due to depletion of resources.

“Those women who started Homeland would be stunned to know and see what their efforts have grown into,” he says. “The day-to-day life here is so positive. People are friendly. You pass someone in the hall, and whether you know them or not, they say hello. Anyone who has the need for help like I do would be a fortunate person to come here.”