Homeland resident Mike Conte: A life steeped in Harrisburg history


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 ( 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


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.”

pepper plants

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


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


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.”

Homeland resident Earl Soliday: A life of service and world travels


Earl Soliday FINAL2

Earl Soliday kicks a foot in lively fashion.

“I couldn’t even move my leg before, but look at that now,” he said. “I feel good. They’re treating me well in the rehab area.”

Earl slipped while cleaning snow off a car in December, breaking his femur. After surgery, he entered a local rehab facility but wasn’t getting better. His daughter, who works in health care, researched area facilities and learned about Homeland’s exceptional rehabilitation therapies, provided in partnership with Genesis Rehab Services.

Since coming to Homeland, Earl has made excellent progress and said he enjoys the people providing his care and the relaxed conversation during visits from his wife, Mary Ellen.

The Lower Paxton Township resident’s 20-year career with the U.S. Air Force put him in the middle of history, including the assassination of John F. Kennedy, and stoked his world travels, from Guam to Dover, Delaware, and from Vietnam to Rimini, Italy.

Originally from Lebanon, Earl’s father worked in a knitting mill until it closed, and then he became a chocolate maker for the Hershey Company, removing the candy from the huge stills that were the heart of the factory.

“They’d had him go in there with a mask, chop [the chocolate] and bring it all out,’’ said Earl, the eldest of five siblings. “Then they melted it and put it into the chocolate maker.”

Earl delivered milk for Hershey Creamery as a teen before enlisting in the Air Force, servicing B-47s and C-47s at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base in Arizona. He served four years and reenlisted only a few months after getting out.

Shortly after reenlisting, he met Mary Ellen when he and some friends leaving to serve in the Army invited him to go roller skating.

“Of course, I wore a pillow on my back,” Earl jokes. “I didn’t know how to roller skate. I was lucky I didn’t get any broken bones.”

One day, Earl asked Mary Ellen if she would marry him if he were assigned overseas. Thinking he would be around a while, she jokingly said yes.

“He no sooner got back to his base when he called me and said, ‘Well, I got orders. I’m going overseas,’” she said.

They married in 1959 and soon after, Mary Ellen followed Earl to his assignment in Tripoli, Libya, where they lived for two years. The next few years were spent in Dover, Delaware, Washington, DC, and California.

While in Washington, Earl served at Andrews Air Force Base and was on duty the day President Kennedy’s body was flown in from Texas. He was part of the honor guard escorting the late president.

Sometimes, Earl’s duties took him away from his family. When he spent a year in Vietnam, Mary Ellen put 365 pennies in a jar, and their daughter would take one out every night to count down the time until her daddy’s return.

After retiring from the Air Force, Earl worked at Mechanicsburg Naval Base for eight years. In his last job before retiring, he served as a crier for a Dauphin County judge.

Today, the Solidays have three granddaughters and two great-granddaughters. Their home in Lower Paxton Township is decorated with beautiful furniture they bought in Italy, and China that Earl bought in Guam for his mother.

Recently, Homeland Chaplain Dann Caldwell saw Earl’s last name and asked if he was related to Doug Soliday. The two were football teammates at Central Dauphin High School. Earl also discovered his roommate and a neighbor across the hall have relatives who graduated with the Solidays’ son.

“I couldn’t ask for better people here,” Earl said. “They’re nice. They are so friendly.”

Homeland resident Joyce Zandieh: Dedicated to justice, and loving the Homeland life


homeland resident Joyce Zandieh

Joyce Zandieh is a new resident at Homeland, but since moving into her personal care suite, people can see a difference.

“My friends say they can feel a change in me since I came here,” she said. “I always had to figure out who would cut my grass. Will the kids do this forever? Yesterday was the first snow in my adult life when I didn’t have to worry about who was going to shovel the snow. It’s like freedom, finally.”

Joyce brings a lifetime of activism and advocacy to Homeland. As a career nurse, she always found a way to speak up for others and help them overcome barriers.

On the day Joyce was born in Harrisburg, her father was in England, preparing to cross the English Channel with General George S. Patton’s 3rd Armored Division in the wake of D-Day. She grew up in Lemoyne before the family moved to the Mechanicsburg area.

After graduating from Cumberland Valley High School, she joined friends attending nursing school at Polyclinic Hospital in Harrisburg. In her last year, she found she enjoyed working in psychiatric care and providing care during labor and delivery. When she graduated, Joyce won an award for outstanding ability in obstetrical nursing.

“The miracle of seeing somebody being born was amazing,” she said. “I just loved it.”

Graduation launched a 45-year career in nursing, including time in her beloved labor and delivery. When she worked at Holy Spirit Hospital, she and a nurse who shared her interest in obstetrics and psychiatry co-founded the Maternal Assistance Program for pregnant women battling drug addiction.

Through the program, case managers helped women and babies get to doctors’ appointments and find whatever help they needed.

Joyce, who has a son and daughter from her first marriage, was single for 14 years after her divorce until she met Mehrdad Zandieh in 1985. A member of the Bahá’í faith, he fled his native Iran during the Iranian Revolution to escape persecution.

mehrdad and joyce zandieh

Making his way to the U.S., he met Joyce, a fellow Bahá’í drawn to the faith by its themes of one God, religion, and mankind. They married in 1990 and enjoyed movies, picnics, Bahá’í activities, and holy days. (For a good primer on Bahá’í, Joyce recommends

They also shared a love of Broadway shows, counting “Phantom of the Opera” and “Les Misérables” as their favorites. Joyce remembers her first Broadway experience when she was about 13. The family was driving home from a shore vacation when she and her sister urged their parents to follow signs to New York City.

“And they went!” Joyce marvels. They saw Ethel Merman in “Gypsy.” “She never used a microphone. That hooked me on Broadway shows.”

Joyce is a lifetime NAACP member who believes passionately in equality and fairness.

As a member and later chair of the Harrisburg Human Relations Commission, she and a Latino woman once separately answered the same rental ads, busting the landlords whose blatantly inequitable treatment of the two violated fair housing policies.

“I’ve always been an advocate for people,” Joyce said. “I never wanted anybody to be mistreated.”

Joyce’s ties to Homeland go back many years, knowing its sterling reputation from her mother’s time as a resident to the support from Homeland HomeHealth nurses after knee and hip replacements.

When Mehrdad, a cancer survivor, was diagnosed with a new tumor early in the COVID pandemic, Joyce cared for him at home. In his last few weeks, Homeland Hospice sent a nurse to help with the medical care and an aide to take care of Mehrdad’s personal needs.

“I felt relief because I could be the wife again,” she said.

Mehrdad died in May 2020. Joyce grieved deeply but continued living in her Harrisburg home, still doing favorite things like renting a limo to take her daughter and daughter-in-law to see Hugh Jackman in “The Music Man.”

However, looking back on the last year, Joyce realizes that she was building up towards the move to Homeland, having her house cleaned and giving family and friends her beautiful Persian rugs from Mehrdad’s native Iran.

An avid fan of Freddy Mercury and Elvis Presley, Joyce brought a Freddy Mercury doll crocheted by her daughter to her bright Homeland suite. As she settles in, Joyce looks forward to starting a new jigsaw puzzle featuring the album covers of Queen. She loves playing bingo and enjoys the musicians who entertain the residents.

“Sometimes, an older gentleman will get up and dance with some of the aides, and it’s so sweet,” she said. “I don’t have to cook. I don’t have to do housework. I don’t have to clean. I’m really happy to be here.”