Caroline Witmer brings a wealth of memories to Homeland, with stories from years of adventure, service to the country, and family connections to Milton Hershey and Dwight Eisenhower. The skilled care resident enjoys life at Homeland, where she loves the food and the elegance of the facility.
Born and raised in Harrisburg, Caroline remains proud of the family business, the prominent Manbeck Bakery in Lemoyne, bought by her grandfather in 1915 and continued by her father and brother through the late 1970s.
“They had quite an operation,” she says of the brick structure that today is the Antique Marketplace of Lemoyne. “There’s a picture of me promoting a new type of loaf, holding the bread in a baby carriage. My grandparents and father, and brother put the best in the bread and everything else they made. It was top of the line.”
Caroline recalls when a friend of her father’s called in 1953 to say that he was organizing a birthday party for President Dwight D. Eisenhower. This was no ordinary birthday party. It was Ike’s first birthday as president, and the GOP staged a massive fundraiser. They chose the Hershey Stadium and hosted 6,000 attendees, who ate box lunches under a Ringling Brothers & Barnum and Bailey Circus tent.
The organizer called Caroline’s father and asked for the use of the Manbeck Bakery plant, which roasted the chicken in the bread ovens and then transported the lunches in the bakery’s trucks.
Newsreel footage shows Eisenhower enjoying the party, though Caroline recalls her father being a bit less pleased with the cleanup involved.
“The ovens were kept very clean for bread baking, and my father said, ‘Never again, no matter the friendship, will I ever do that,’” Caroline says with a laugh. “But everyone commented that the chicken was very good.”
Caroline attended a junior college in Missouri and then returned to Pennsylvania to study history at Penn State University. At a wedding, she met David P. Witmer, Jr, and they married in the late 1950s.
Her new father-in-law was D. Paul Witmer, the talented, largely self-taught engineer and draftsman. He oversaw the construction of many Hershey landmarks, including Hershey Stadium, Hotel Hershey, and the Milton Hershey School.
The chocolate magnate lived across the street and often called David’s home to ask if Paul could try a new concoction. Hershey was always experimenting, and Witmer, Sr., never shied from sharing his honest opinions.
“My father-in-law would say, ‘Mr. Hershey, I’m sorry, but I don’t think that would sell,’” Caroline says. “You could disagree with Mr. Hershey, but don’t lie to him. He was very down to earth.”
Caroline’s husband grew up flying his father’s plane. In 1955, he began a 35-year career as an officer with the U.S. Air Force and 193rd Special Operations Wing of the Pennsylvania Air National Guard. He flew combat and special missions in hot spots worldwide, including Saudi Arabia, Iran, Iraq, Libya, and the Belgian Congo. He served three tours in Vietnam, and he worked with the Korean Air Force.
While he did not talk much about his missions, Caroline recalls some stories about close calls and tricky landings. One time, she says, her husband grabbed the plane’s controls before it crashed into a mountain range that the navigator only identified as “black spots.’’
“He grabbed the controls and turned,” Caroline says. “My husband was extremely calm. You could have five volcanoes going off, and he would say, ‘Here’s what we’re going to do.’”
David had his own plane, and Caroline loved flying with him. Sometimes, she would take the controls.
Caroline, David, and their two sons lived in Camp Hill, where Caroline volunteered with the Junior League and worked for AAA and Allegheny Airlines as a receptionist. They took full advantage of David’s 33 days of vacation every year and took up downhill skiing when they were 31, visiting slopes across the globe for the next 54 years.
“At age 55, I skied the Matterhorn,” she says. “It took four hours. You skied in sections because it’s so long.”
Caroline and David were married for 62 years, until his death in May 2020. She came to Homeland around that time and says she enjoys playing bingo, attending Pastor Dann Caldwell’s Sunday ecumenical services, and joining functions such as Homeland’s ice cream socials.
“It’s very nice here,” she says. “The facility is wonderful, and everything is kept very clean. The dining room is lovely, and the food is delicious.’’