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Bringing the Arts to Homewood

Dr. Lori J. Bechtel-Wherry

Support for RLEEF was lesson from childhood

The first time the Altoona Symphony performed a concert at Homewood at Martinsburg it was the catalyst for the creation of RLEEF (Resident Life Enrichment Endowment Fund). It was that same performance – and the reaction from residents – that cemented one donor’s support.

Growing up, Dr. Lori J. Bechtel-Wherry said her parents placed great importance on the arts. Books, music and travel were a regular part of family life, as well as an emphasis on hard work and service to others. A visit to the 1964 World’s Fair in New York City was an eye-opening experience for her – showing her the vastness of what was possible.

The youngest of three siblings, Bechtel-Wherry said she was taught to value and support the arts – especially music. “People relate to music and it reaches people like nothing else,” she said. Those in attendance at that first symphony concert at Martinsburg saw first-hand the power of music and how it can touch people – especially those with dementia.

Bechtel-Wherry saw that first-hand, too, from her own mother, Zana W. Ferry. Bechtel-Wherry said her mother, who will celebrate her 91st birthday this month, was a force. She graduated from high school at 16 after having been advanced two grades due to her academic abilities and worked in a variety of positions while caring for her three children, serving her church and any number of other worthy causes.

The concert, held in the newly completed Givler Cultural Center in December 2016, was played to a packed house that included Homewood residents from all levels of care and community members. Bechtel-Wherry said her mother had moved to Homewood as she was coping with the effects of dementia. Long a supporter of the local symphony, Bechtel-Wherry said her mother seemed to “come to life” when the music started, tapping her foot in time and singing along during the sing-along portions of the concert.

“The music brought residents out of their shell. My mother was the best mother in the whole world….It was wonderful to see how positively she reacted to the music,” Bechtel-Wherry said. She credited Homewood with recognizing the importance of the arts and other life-enriching programs and is gratified to lend her support.

Homewood CEO Ernie Angell was also touched that night by the response to the music and believed there was a way to make these types of programs available to all at Homewood. In early 2017, RLEEF was established as an endowment to fund special programming and events – such as the symphony concerts, speaker’s bureaus and special trips. The goal was to raise $5 million – of which close to $4 million is already accounted for – to fund the endowment. The income from the endowment will be distributed annually to each of Homewood’s five communities. This year, RLEEF funds sent Spring House residents to see a performance by members of Celtic Thunder and allowed Frederick residents to enjoy Homewood Night at the Frederick Keys.

It seems altogether fitting that this unique program should have its beginnings in a center named for the Rev. Samuel Givler since it was his vision and drive that led to Homewood building a community in Martinsburg, Pennsylvania. As a child, Bechtel-Wherry said her family was a part of the Rev. Givler’s congregation at St. John’ Church in Martinsburg. Givler was indeed the driving force behind Homewood at Martinsburg – raising the funds and the support needed for construction to commence in the early 1970s. She remembers Givler as an animated preacher and tells the story of the Rev. Givler catching her as a very young child, standing in the pulpit “pretending” to preach in Givler’s style. She said she was afraid he would be angry with her, but rather, he was flattered.

“He inspired me,” she said.

It’s Homewood’s hope that RLEEF will inspire and serve as the catalyst for programs and events that will enrich all who are a part of the Homewood family.