The Homeland picnic returns: Residents host guests and share happy memories


picnic collage

Freda Fontaine and her four sons always enjoyed their summer picnics. What did the gang eat?

“Everything we could!” she said, laughing.

Homeland was awash in summertime memories with the revival of the annual picnic in the beautiful Chet Henry Memorial Pavilion. The party celebrated two momentous events – the return of summer and a continuation of Homeland’s 155th anniversary celebration honoring the beloved Director of Development Betty Hungerford.

In the years before COVID, the picnic had become a cherished Homeland tradition. Held in the pavilion adjoining the 5th Street garden in full bloom, the picnic enabled Homeland residents to host family and friends for summer fun. Everyone enjoyed music, picnic fare, and sweet treats.

COVID restrictions limited Homeland’s events, but the 2022 picnic felt like a return to a masked version of normal. The pavilion was decorated in a mini-version of Homeland’s recent 155th anniversary gala, with roses and giant balloons saying “155.”

Residents and guests enjoyed all the foods prepared by Homeland staff – hot dogs and burgers, corn on the cob, coleslaw, pickled eggs, and watermelon. Homeland Chef Manager George Chum’s grilled chicken in a homemade marinade was a popular new addition to the menu this year.

Resident Elner Mann’s great-grandchildren politely but anxiously awaited their favorite course – dessert. Goodies from the Pennsylvania Bakery included macaroons and mini eclairs. The grand centerpiece of the dessert table was a sheet cake celebrating Homeland Center’s 155 years, adorned with a picture of Betty Hungerford, three roses (Betty’s favorite flower), and a “Queen Bee,” the fond nickname given her by her many friends and admirers.

Janice Hutchison, visiting her mother-in-law, was pleasantly surprised to find that, unlike homestyle picnics, guests were served by Homeland staff. Her 98-year-old mother-in-law, Nancy Hutchison, has lived at Homeland for six years and Nancy’s church is very active with Homeland, supplying volunteers. In fact, Nancy is one of three members of her church living at Homeland.

“It’s the only place she wanted to go,” Janice said. “Everyone’s great here.”

Resident Jill McDonel and her sister, Joy Lustig, reminisced while enjoying their picnic lunches. They remembered packing picnics and taking them to parks all around the region, from Williams Grove and Willow Mill to Hersheypark.

“I love picnics,” said Jill. “I’m having a good time seeing my sister.”

Homeland, Jill added, is “a nice place. Very nice. And the people are great. The staff, they are wonderful.”

Joy called her exposure to Homeland and its support for her sister “an eye-opener” that changed her perception about continuing care.

“It’s been a lovely experience,” she said.

Guests were treated to serenades from guitarist-singer Kirk Wise, Susquehanna Style magazine’s 2022 Best of Harrisburg musician. He provided a versatile array of musical accompaniment, from Johnny Cash’s “Folsom Prison Blues” to Frank Sinatra’s “Fly Me to the Moon.” When one table called out a request for “Hound Dog,” he happily complied.

Those guests calling for an Elvis classic included Freda Fontaine, hosting her son, Ken Kramer, and daughter-in-law, Susan Kramer.

“It’s nice to be with everybody again,” said Susan. “It’s so sweet that we get a picnic with our loved one.”

Ken remembered the big family picnics at local places like Pinchot State Park, where his mom’s fried chicken was the star attraction. His mother has made many friends at Homeland, he added.

“I’m very impressed every time I come here,” added Susan. “The staff is so attentive.”

“They are so caring,” added Ken. “They take her concerns so seriously.”

Ken is a retired nurse who lives near Homeland. When his mother was widowed, he brought her to Harrisburg from Maine and made sure that she came to Homeland to live.

“We’re just honored that she could be here,” he said. “I’ve always known about the quality of care here, and I was really happy she could be here.”