- Written by Gabriele Amersbach Gabriele Amersbach
When you think of a fundraising tour-de-force, you immediately think of Betty Hungerford. Hungerford has repeatedly broken down barriers for women in Harrisburg’s public relations profession throughout her remarkable career.
As Homeland Center’s director of development for more than 20 years, she has played a crucial role in raising funds for benevolent care, ensuring personal and skilled care residents are never asked to leave because they can no longer afford to pay.
This year Homeland Center and Homeland at Home celebrate their 155th anniversary. The event marking this historic occasion will honor Hungerford for her exceptional charitable fundraising and community dedication.
At times, it may be hard to get this busy lady on the phone, but when you do, Hungerford always has time to listen, discuss current events, provide advice, or simply have a chat. Her days are filled with meetings where she strategizes with her team as well as meetings with families, residents, and community members.
“I love what I do,” she says. “I have never gotten up in the morning and said, ‘Oh no, I have to go to work.’ Never! I look at my schedule and consider how each interaction will be productive and rewarding, not just for me but for our residents.”
Sounds like a typical highly skilled and motivated leader at the top of her game. What is surprising is that Hungerford exudes this level of enthusiasm and joy in her work at the age of 89.
“I can’t imagine getting out of bed and not having a purpose,” she explains. “Retirement has never been part of my thinking. I am grateful each day I can focus on how to enhance our community.”
Hungerford was born in Kentucky and moved to Palmyra, Pennsylvania, when her father’s work in the shoe business brought the family to Pennsylvania in the late ’40s. She learned to set her goals high at an early age.
“My father always told me, ‘Betty, you can do anything you want to do,’” she says. “He expected me to always try to be the best I could be and to live each day better than the last.”
Hungerford met her first husband at Lebanon Valley College, where she graduated in 1954. While raising her family of four children — and lots of neighbor kids — she always found time to volunteer for a variety of organizations.
In the early ’70s, Hungerford was recruited as a volunteer for the March of Dimes. It is there she met her second husband.
“At first I thought he was a snob, and he thought I was a dizzy blonde,” she laughs. “Yet, we ended up married. For 36 wonderful years he was the love of my life, and my kids simply adored him.”
A Heart for People
Hungerford realized that her volunteer experiences were marketable and started a public relations career that continues today. She especially enjoyed working with nonprofits, and her skills and enthusiasm led to the leadership roles that defined her career path.
Hungerford served as the first director of public relations and alumni affairs at Penn State Harrisburg. For six years, she served as assistant director of development and volunteers at the Harrisburg Polyclinic Hospital.
At age 69, while engaged as an independent contractor, she was recruited by Homeland Center, which occupies a full block along Fifth Street in uptown Harrisburg.
Homeland Center is a continuing care retirement center providing exceptional personal care, skilled nursing care, memory care, and short-term rehabilitation. Homeland consistently receives the highest recognition for quality care, staffing and safety, ranking it among the best in the country.
After getting to know the compassionate staff and engaging residents at Homeland, Hungerford quickly learned what a gem Homeland Center truly is.
“It is a place of beauty and caring, and a model of excellence,” she says.
Homeland’s tradition of care began 155 years ago after the Civil War. Eighteen women of nine churches in the city of Harrisburg vowed to help orphaned children and widows left homeless in the wake of the war.
They rallied support to establish the “Society for the Home for the Friendless,” which, by the 1950s, became Homeland Center with a new mission: caring for the community’s seniors.
Homeland Center is part of a broader continuum of care. Homeland at Home, a community outreach program, provides quality care and support to patients and clients in the comfort of their own home.
Homeland at Home Services include compassionate end-of-life hospice care (Homeland Hospice); daily nonmedical assistance and companionship (Homeland HomeCare); and at-home, physician-ordered medical treatment (Homeland HomeHealth).
A Focus on Gratitude
“There’s a great spirit at Homeland,” says Hungerford.
She has had firsthand knowledge of the compassionate environment fostered by all who work there. Her husband Paul received interim care at Homeland, and her father lived there for more than two years and died 40 days short of his 100th birthday.
“The staff embraced me both physically and emotionally,” she says. “I will always be grateful for their attention and support. Gratitude has gotten me through a lot of tough times.”
With her emphasis on expressing gratitude for all the good in her life, Hungerford has always focused on giving back through volunteering. She is a proud Rotarian and is happy to be part of an organization that supports young people in their educational endeavors.
For her, rising to a leadership position with her local Rotary club was as natural as taking a step. With a fond laugh, she tells the story of coming home after her first Rotary meeting.
“When I told Paul I was joining the local Rotary club, he said, ‘Don’t tell me you’re going to become president of this as well.’”
Hungerford did serve as president in 2015 and continues as an active member today.
She also has lent her fundraising expertise to other cherished nonprofit organizations, including Theatre Harrisburg, Polyclinic Medical Center Auxiliary, and Harrisburg Symphony Society, to name a few.
Recognizing the Value of Seniors
Hungerford relishes opportunities for young people to interact with older individuals and hear their stories.
“Young people can learn a lot of lessons from older adults if they take time to listen,” she emphasizes.
She was instrumental in establishing the Interact Club at The Nativity School, in which students can enjoy talking with residents at Homeland Center, and likewise, the residents have a chance to visit with and help mentor these students.
This volunteer program is right in line with her personal goal: to help society recognize the value of seniors in their community, in the lives of family, and in the lives of their friends.
She is quick to point out, “Those who are older still want to be of service and continue to have a lot to offer.”
Hungerford suggests the best way to encourage respect for seniors is to start in one’s own home.
“My parents had many older friends,” she says. “As an only child, I learned a lot from them, including information about Rotary.”
Her own children also were exposed to a wide variety of visitors since all were welcomed to her home.
“I wasn’t the doting type of mother,” Hungerford explains. “I taught them to think for themselves and give back to the community.”
Today, her children are proud of their mother’s independence. Since Hungerford is still active and involved in her own career and social life, her children can focus on their own lives.
Her son David lives in Florida, while Christopher has made a home in Portland, Oregon. Only her daughter, Deborah, lives in Pennsylvania. Hungerford’s oldest son, JT, lost his battle with cancer 10 years ago.
Hungerford sees her children and eight grandchildren as often as possible but also has gathered people of all ages into her social circle, from residents and staff at Homeland to many younger friends.
“Often times, my peers aren’t physically able to get out and socialize,” she explains. “I feel so blessed to have younger friends to do things with socially in the community.”
When Betty Hungerford isn’t busy going out with friends and keeping her full social calendar, she says, “I’ll keep working as long as I feel I can offer something to the residents and staff at Homeland. It’s all part of not getting rusty.”
To find out more about Homeland’s 155th anniversary celebration event honoring Betty Hungerford, including tickets, tributes, and sponsorships, visit homelandanniversary.org.