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Homeland resident Mary Robinson: A blessed life

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Ask Mary Robinson one of her favorite gospel songs, and she’s happy to sing it for you.

“Blessed assurance, Jesus is mine,” Mary sings from her home in Homeland’s Skilled Care. Her daughter, Delphine Walker, sings harmony.

Mary believes that God brought her to Homeland, where she is a regular presence at activities and a beloved friend to many.

“I know she’s getting well taken care of,” Delphine said. “The people love her, and she loves them.”

From her bright room filled with family photos, Mary reflects on a life devoted to family and God, serving her church and being a mom to all.

Mary was born in Philadelphia, the oldest of nine children. Her father was a World War I veteran and worked with the Civilian Conservation Corps. She enjoyed attending church, including Sunday services that stretched into the afternoon. It’s where she learned to play the piano – self-taught, without lessons.

Mary’s mother was busy raising the kids, with considerable help from Mary. Her mom would say, “I don’t have to worry about anything while Mary is there because she takes care of everything.”

And Mary would think, “As soon as I get to 18, I’m going to get out of here.” Then again, those early responsibilities nurtured her growth into a reliable adult.

At age 18, she did exactly as planned: Mary married Jamaican immigrant George Robinson – and then introduced her mother to her new son-in-law.

“My mother really loved my husband,” Mary said. “He was a good man. He was a good father.”

In 1949, Mary and George left Philadelphia for Harrisburg. She didn’t consider it a culture shock.

“I liked Harrisburg because it was smaller,” she said. “Philadelphia was nice, but it’s a big city.”

George worked for the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania as an auditor. Mary devoted herself to their four kids, volunteering for everything from helping with Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts to chaperoning school trips.

“They kept me busy, going all the time,” Mary said. “They would volunteer me for things sometimes. They didn’t even ask me, but they knew I enjoyed it. It was a lot of fun.”

Everyone at school knew her mom, Delphine said.

“She was ‘Mom’ to everybody,” Delphine recalls. “We didn’t mind sharing.” Her parents included the kids in everything, she adds. There were country drives, outings for ice cream, excursions to watch planes taking off, or visits to museums.

“All the other kids used to say, ‘Where are you going? Ask your mom if we can go with you,’” Delphine said with a laugh. “There wasn’t a whole lot that we had, but we felt rich just because of the love and support they gave us. They were always looking for ways to enrich our lives that, now when we think about it, made us what we are today.”

The church continued to play a central role in family life. Mary played piano, sang, and taught Sunday school. George was an elder. During services, the kids sat by themselves in a pew. Usually, they behaved well, and if they did start to act up, their mom, sitting at the piano, would stop it with just a glance over her shoulder.

Even after their kids were grown, Mary and George adopted and raised a niece. They were married for 64 years until his death 10 years ago. Mary came to Homeland in November 2021. Knowing of Homeland’s reputation for excellence, the family felt there was only one place for her, and a room opened at just the right time.

Mary hangs a calendar of Homeland activities on her wall and attends nearly everything offered, from music programs to weekly Bible study.

“I love this place,” Mary said. “People are very friendly, and everybody is nice. Whatever I need, they’re right there.”

She can even practice on the chapel piano when she wants to, maybe playing and singing another favorite hymn, “What a Friend We Have in Jesus.”

“God has blessed me,” Mary said. “I’m very thankful. I’m very blessed. God is the love of my life. He’s first in my life and then my family. I enjoyed my life and family and felt like I was the queen.”

“They call her the queen here, too,” Delphine adds.

Mary nods. “They sure do.”

Betty Hungerford: A Homeland resident and cherished friend

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Betty Hungerford, Homeland residentSipping a Coke float delivered by a kind Homeland Center aide, Betty Hungerford shared why life is better in a top-rated continuing care retirement community.

“When you reach a certain age, you’re better off in a place like Homeland than you are at home because you build friendships and relationships and have opportunities you couldn’t have if you lived alone,” she said.

At Homeland Center, Betty is a resident, and she is a treasure. For 20 years, she was Homeland’s development director, raising the funds that propel Homeland’s growth and sustain its stellar reputation for unmatched care.

Betty recently retired at the age of 90! Even as a Homeland resident, she volunteers to serve on the Board of Managers and advises the Board of Directors chair.

A native of Kentucky, Betty was born in a tenant house on her grandfather’s farm. Her father worked in local shoe factories, rising to supervisor, until he moved the family to Palmyra, PA, to work in a plant there.

“He was a learner,” Betty said. “He was a reader. He liked people. He talked as much as I do and lived to 40 days short of 100.”

He was also married to Betty’s mother for better or worse, as he once told a psychiatrist who advised him to get a divorce. Betty’s mom was mentally ill with manic depression and schizophrenia. She was institutionalized for 13 years until new medications helped her manage. Some friends didn’t know about her struggles in her final years.

“That’s her miracle story,” Betty said. “It’s a story I don’t mind sharing because it can give some people hope and understanding about mental illness. It’s a good lesson in never giving up your faith.”

Betty is a proud graduate of Lebanon Valley College, where she majored in economics with minors in political science and English. Music always played a central role in her life, and she sang with the LVC Glee Club.

After graduating in 1954, Betty married and had the family she had always dreamed of – a houseful of three boys and one girl.

“Everybody came to our house,” she said. She laughs about when one son got permission to invite “a few friends” after graduation rehearsal, only to bring the whole class of 125 kids.

Betty’s professional life began in the Pennsylvania Department of Highways (now PennDOT) communications office. She learned to stand up for herself, once telling her boss to stop slamming his door in anger because it disrespected her and the women she supervised.

“He was so shocked, I thought he was going to fall out of his chair,” Betty remembers. “We became long and fast friends.”

It was the beginning of a career devoted to communications and development. She learned fundraising as a March of Dimes volunteer. When she believed in the cause, she didn’t hesitate to ask for money. “If you tell your story and get people to understand how important it is, then it makes them want to give,” she said.

Betty was an independent contractor for Homeland projects. But Morton Specter, the late Homeland board chair, and Homeland President and CEO Barry Ramper II “just wouldn’t give up until I came to work here.” She relented in 2002 and started her remarkable run in an office equipped with a wingback chair and a telephone table.

She built connections to the community and raised funds as Homeland grew. Homeland Center’s 155th Anniversary Celebration Event in 2022 wasn’t meant to honor her, she insists, but she was humbled when organizers and her kids convinced her to let it become a tribute to the “Queen Bee.”

The event raised record amounts for Homeland’s benevolent care fund, ensuring that no resident is ever forced to leave Homeland due to depleted resources. The outpouring of love was “a little overwhelming,” she said, but it served as a testament to her love of people.

No profile of Betty is complete without her love story with Paul Hungerford. They first knew each other through friends, but in those days, she thought he was a snob, and “he thought I was a ditzy blonde.”

Then again, he had a dry sense of humor and “always looked like a million dollars.” In 1974, she joined him in Florida to get married. Until he died in 2010, they played cribbage before dinner, attended concerts and theater, and enjoyed each other’s company.

“We truly adored each other,” Betty said. “Everyone should be so lucky.”

Today, Betty provides fundraising guidance for Homeland Board Chair Carlyn Chulick – “She is marvelous,” said Betty. Betty also serves on the Board of Managers to help maintain Homeland’s homelike feel.

“I’ve never worked with such a dedicated group of volunteers,” Betty said. “Never. They all believe in Homeland and what we do.”

As a Homeland resident, Betty enjoys the activities, including musical performances. She loves reading as much as she did as a child when she hid under the covers with a flashlight and a book. Her room is filled with photos of Paul, her children, and grandchildren. The people of Homeland, she said, “have very kindly taken care of me.”

“I feel very secure and well-cared for,” she said. “I know that if my needs change, they will be met. I feel I’ve been blessed.”

 

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 resident Mike Conte: A life steeped in Harrisburg history

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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.

Resident Carl Barna grows a community garden

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Resident Carl BarnaCarl Barna is looking over the Homeland vegetable garden when he spots a tomato, ripe and red.

“Oh, my gosh,” he said. “Did you see that? Look at that. Holy cow.”

Carl is a lifelong gardener who never ceases to delight in his creations, and now, he gets to share his fresh produce with his fellow Homeland residents.

At Homeland, “They’re nothing but the best here,” said the good-natured Carl. “Everybody who works here, all the people – they’re great.”

In June, Homeland was a featured stop on the 2023 Historic Harrisburg Garden Tour. The 5th Street garden in full summer splendor was on display, with its fountain, roses, and shady seating.

Visitors also saw the vegetables and herbs thriving in the sunny Catherine Elizabeth Meikle Courtyard. That’s where Carl has been making his garden grow since 2018, soon after he arrived. He found some home-store managers who were happy to donate their late-season plants to Homeland, and before long, he had tomatoes and peppers growing.

Today, the garden is a cornucopia of summer goodness.

“We have tomatoes out there,” said Carl. “We have all kinds of peppers. We have jalapenos. We have bell peppers. We’ve got a red cherry pepper. Serrano. Cubanelle.”

He adds, “I like hot. We have a habanero. Now that’s hot.”

There are also carrots and turnips, and then there are the herbs – parsley, cilantro, sweet basil, and oregano.

“We don’t have any rosemary and thyme, but I like the song,” said the Simon and Garfunkel fan, singing the first line.

He suddenly remembers the time he and his mother, who was bedbound and living with dementia, were singing “Amazing Grace” when she suddenly stopped.

“Carl, you don’t want to sing,’” she told him. “You can’t hold a tune.” He laughs heartily at the memory, saying, “I’ll never forget that. Those were the exact words out of her mouth.”

As for enjoying the bounty of the garden, that’s where Carl’s garden helper, Homeland Activities Coordinator Diomaris Pumarol, enters the picture. Carl keeps the hot peppers for himself – “because nobody likes hot peppers” – while Diomaris chops up the rest into a seasoned medley for residents to enjoy.

“They get to taste it,” Carl said. “Everybody shares it.”

Carl, who worked his career in railroads and real estate renovations, taught himself to garden at his first home. There in the small backyard, he planted every square inch that got sun.

“Peppers, tomatoes, zucchini, lettuces,” he recalls. “I always wanted to get into asparagus, but you need a big area for that.”

When he’s not in the garden, Carl might be found in his bright and spacious Personal Care suite, fiddling with his computer, watching “Gunsmoke,” or chatting with neighbors who pop in. He makes friends everywhere, staying in touch with neighbors who move to Homeland’s Skilled Care.

“I try to have fun with all the people,” said Carl. “The good Lord put me here, so you have to plant your seed here, and hopefully, you grow; whatever you grow, it’s a good, happy plant – or person. I try to be happy every day and try to make other people happy in life.”

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Homeland resident Katherine Harrity: Self-sufficiency and a sense of humor

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Homeland resident Katherine HarringtonKatherine Harrity calls herself a smart aleck, but in reality, she is a satisfied Homeland resident with a quick, self-deprecating wit.

“I’ve been here for a while, and they haven’t put me out on the street with a sign that said, ‘Take me,'” she said with a laugh.

In her spacious personal care end unit, Kathie enjoys the comfort and security of life at Homeland.

Kathie grew up in the western New York village of Hamburg, outside of Buffalo and near the beaches of Lake Erie.

“Hamburg was a nice community to live in,” she said. “The people that lived in the village looked after each other. When you lived in Hamburg, New York, you’d better mind your P’s and Q’s because it wouldn’t be a secret. At least, not when I was growing up.”

The keepsakes in her room include a framed advertisement for the 1940s “Design for Happiness” home model. It’s not just any home, though. Kathie’s father, an architect, designed it and built one for his family.

“We were the first family to live in that house,” she said.

She remembers her father’s patient ways. When he was laying the home’s flagstone patio, Kathie would bring stones as he needed them from a pile by the breezeway.

“If it wasn’t the right size or shape, he wouldn’t fuss at me,” she said. “He would just put it aside and ask me to get another one.”

Kathie was active in intramural sports in school, “not very well, but I was pitching in there and doing my share,” she said.

In her high school yearbook, filled with well-wishes from classmates, Kathie is described as having: “Graceful feet dancing to the song in her heart.”

That’s because she had dance training, even dancing in toe shoes. She would also fill in when her dance teacher took dinner breaks during evening ballroom dancing lessons, donning one of the lovely dresses she bought with her babysitting money and demonstrating ballroom steps with the teacher’s husband.

Kathie’s Class of ’56 was the first to graduate from a brand-new high school, a centralized school for Baby Boomers and an influx of students from the surrounding countryside.

“I graduated on Friday night and went to work on Monday morning in an office,” she said.

Adept at shorthand and typing 120 words a minute, she worked in office administration until her children were born. When they were old enough, she returned to work.

Married soon after graduating from high school, Kathie had four children. The family moved to Indiana, Ohio, and Pennsylvania and back to Hamburg.

When Kathie was in her 40s, she decided it was time to get the college degree she bypassed after high school. She enrolled in the University of Pittsburgh, older than many of her teachers, and earned her bachelor’s degree in information science.

After earning her degree, she returned to work in office administration, “showing up on time and working when I was there.”

“I made a decent living,” she said. “I’ve taken care of myself.”

Kathie’s parents died young – her father at 44, her mother at 67. Both were smokers, but Kathie is not, “and I’m an octogenarian!” she said today.

Her room is filled with the mysteries she likes to read and also with penguins. Her love of penguins started when she was chaperoning her daughter’s Campfire Girls group, and she needed a camp name.

“Knowing where I was raised in Western New York, which had terrible weather, I picked ‘Penguin,’” she said. “Kids will remember a name like that. Somehow or other, the penguins followed me.”

She is happy at Homeland, adding that she likes the food and the mealtime table seatings with only two or three other people.

“If you don’t feel like you’re part of a mob, you can get acquainted with people,” she said. “I’ve been very, very comfortable here.”

Homeland resident Margie Welby: Seeing the world and raising a family

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Homeland resident Margie Welby

Just back from living in Germany and Japan, where her father was stationed, 16-year-old Marjorie Welby and her family in the late 1950s moved to her dad’s new posting: Fort Dix in New Jersey.

One day when Margie was working in the post-exchange men’s department, a young soldier asked for “brass,” the term for uniform insignia. He motioned to a group of soldiers behind him and said he was paying for their brass, too. Then he asked for dress shoes.

Going into the stockroom to check, Margie found her coworkers in a tizzy. “Do you know who that is?” they squealed.

After her time overseas, Margie didn’t know U.S. pop culture, so she didn’t know that her handsome customer was Elvis Presley.

“He was so generous,” she said. “He picked up the whole tab and was just as nice as he could be.”

Since leaving a rehab hospital and coming to Homeland just before Christmas 2022, Margie has been getting stronger daily. Today, she enjoys reading in her personal care suite, participating in Homeland activities, and sharing stories of growing up in post-World War II as the daughter of an Army officer.

Margie was about seven years old when her World War II veteran father returned to the Army, getting posted to Munich, Germany, which was still devastated from bombings. Although her father was there to suppress post-war Germany’s black market, Margie’s mother had a secret. When she needed something like a pound of coffee or sugar, she would ask the German housemaid, who knew where to find things.

While in Munich, Margie’s father taught his children about the horrors of war and the evil humans can do by taking them to the Dachau concentration camp. The raw sights and smells of the Nazi death camp still lingered.

“When I hear people saying, ‘No, they didn’t do that to people then,’ I know that they did, because I saw the evidence,” she said. “I’ll never forget it as long as I live. We just don’t know how close we are to maybe having something like that happen again. So we’ve got to be careful.”

The family’s next overseas posting was in Japan. When the Army fielded a football team, the call went out for majorettes to round out the American experience. By now a teenager, Margie got one of the spots and was proud to march in her uniform with the Army band.

In the season’s final game against Air Force, Margie was knocked down on the sidelines by an Air Force player running to catch a ball. Still, she insisted on performing at halftime.

“I wanted to do my routine,” she said. “We had practiced so hard. Why not?”

Several years later, that perilous moment led to an incredible coincidence.

After graduating high school, Margie enlisted in the Air Force and met her future husband, Mike Berry, while stationed in Florida. Meeting his Boston-area family for the first time, she learned that Mike’s brother had played football for the Air Force in Japan – and he turned out to be the player who knocked her down!

“I ‘fell’ for my brother-in-law before I ever fell for my husband,” Margie jokes.

Margie loved the Air Force but left when she became pregnant with her first child. She and Mike had five children while he traveled as a daring motion picture photographer and pilot. Working for Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, he once descended into the ocean depths with Jacques Cousteau in the Alvin submersible as cinematographer for an award-winning film.

“He was the adventurer,” Margie said. “He was not afraid of anything. He would hang out of a helicopter to get a good picture.”

Two of Margie’s children, her eldest son, and daughter, have passed away. After her daughter died in her mid-40s from Alzheimer’s, the family turned tragedy into hope, raising money for Alzheimer’s research through an annual golf tournament.

“It brings a good crowd,” she said. “We have a fantastic day, with a little luncheon and great prizes. We’ve given away a car!”

Now at Homeland, Margie attends activities, reads Gospel passages for worship services, and even has an autographed photo of an Elvis impersonator who performed for the residents.

“It’s nice here,” she said. “There are so many people here who are so intriguing. They have amazing stories.”

The staff, she adds, are “so sweet. They’re kind. I’m sure I drive them nuts, but they forgive me. They’re wonderful. They really are.”