Charles Wilson took a career with the former Allegheny Airlines and turned it into a lifetime of travel that has taken him to 23 countries.
Until quite recently, he was a resident of Homeland skilled care, joking with staff and rediscovering the joys of walking with help from Homeland’s physical therapy partner, Genesis Rehab Services.
As a child, Charles first lived in Johnstown before moving to the small town of Hooversville, in southwestern Pennsylvania. There, his father was a coal miner. After graduating from high school in Hooversville, he attended school in Kansas City.
He then returned to Pennsylvania, where he worked for the state Department of Labor & Industry, operating an Addressograph Multigraph. Addressographs were early and once revolutionary machines that mechanized address labeling.
At L&I, Charles met his wife, Jayne and they were married in the Hershey Rose Garden on a beautiful day in June. Today, they have been married for 60 years.
The work at L&I wasn’t very inspiring, so Charles looked for a new job at the New Cumberland airfield, making repeated visits before landing a job with Allegheny Airlines. The company would soon move to Harrisburg International Airport, and he would work for Allegheny and its successors – USAir and American Airlines – for 40 years before retiring.
“I’d have gone back any time if they would have called me,” he says.
He worked on the tarmac, fueling planes and deicing the wings in the winter.
The best benefit was free flights to the airline’s destinations for himself and his immediate family.
“It’s nice when you don’t have to pay,” he says. “My mother and father flew all the time, and it didn’t cost them a dime. My kids flew until they were 25.”
Charles has visited 23 countries, but his favorite spot was in the U.S. – Alaska.
“It was daylight all day there in the summertime,” he says. “I could get up in the morning, and the sun would be shining, and it didn’t matter when.”
He wanted to see the sun rise and set simultaneously, so he asked lots of questions about how and when to do that. He would set up a chair “and wait for it to happen.”
“It was hard to tell because when the sun was going down, it was also going up,” he says. “When it got right over the North Pole, that was when the day changed.”
At Allegheny Airlines, the board chairman would make it a point to greet every employee when he stopped in Harrisburg.
“He talked to every person,” Charles remembers. “Every single one. He bought us a meal, too.”
Today, Charles and Jayne have three children, six grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.
Before and after retirement, Charles and Jayne took the opportunity to fly worldwide, taking trips once or twice a year.
“My wife didn’t like the idea of flying, but once she went, you couldn’t keep her out of planes,” Charles says. “For a woman that didn’t like flying, she sure did a lot of it.”
They have been all through Europe. Their excursions included a 10-city cruise of the Baltic Sea, including St. Petersburg and Estonia.
After his stroke, Charles spent time in a hospital, a rehab facility, and a local nursing facility while the family waited for a Homeland opening. Homeland Center’s superior quality made all the difference in his recovery.
“The therapy department has been really great,” says his daughter, Cindy Zelko, a Homeland accountant. “He’s come such a long way. He’s walking way better than when he came here. They have definitely improved his quality of life.”
Wherever he goes, he laughs and smiles.
“He’s a jokester on the unit,” says Cindy. “Everybody knows to kid around with him.”
Charles agrees that “this place is pretty darn nice to me. I like just about everything. There are a lot of good things happening here.”
Homeland’s activities offer something that everyone can enjoy. Charles especially likes the performances of Roy Justice, the “Singing Historian” whose history lessons through song help spark memories and generate intellectual engagement for the residents.
“That guy is really good,” says Charles. “He has old songs that I’ve never heard of, which was great.”
Charles looks forward to traveling again, perhaps this fall.
“I’m getting ready to get better and see if I can do something,” he says.
Since this article was prepared, Charles returned home following his rehabilitation at Homeland Center.