For Don Lauver’s 82nd birthday, more than 20 family members trickled into Homeland Center on a picture-perfect autumn afternoon, with Tupperware in their hands, smiles on their faces, and love in their hearts.
Don’s wife Joanne and daughter Jen Mark worked to set up the retro diner as Don greeted his guests from a chair situated strategically by his granddaughters.
The Tupperware contained all of Don’s favorite foods: German Chocolate cake (made with Splenda, as the doctor ordered), soup, wings, ribs, potato chips, cheese cubes, and more.
When Don arrived at Homeland in September, he was recovering from several falls at his former home, and was very ill, he and his family say. But in the few weeks he has been here, he has already gained 10 pounds, which has helped him rebuild his strength.
The marvelous meals are one of his favorite parts of Homeland.
Don readily shares how breakfast features hot and cold items, including poached eggs, sausage and bacon, and Sunday dinners are like a year-round Thanksgiving feast, with roast turkey, gravy, stuffing and potatoes.
He also praises the kindness of his caregivers and marvels at the array of activities that run all day.
Perhaps it takes a kindness connoisseur to know some. Like the devoted grandfather that he is, he asked the dietary staff to bring him some bags of snacks so that he could give them to some young ones who were expected to arrive at this party. It was his birthday, but he was more concerned about giving gifts to others.
That is just like him, say granddaughters Madison and Lauren Mark. Their granddad knows everybody and will talk to anybody. His “friends” collection grows wherever he goes. He was thrilled to discover that five of his former church friends from Progress Immanuel Presbyterian Church were already residing at Homeland.
He is such a “sharing” man that he even shares his Oct. 7 birthday with his twin brother, Bob, of Mount Gretna. Bob ran Harper’s General Store in Annville.
“We were really close,” Don says of their childhood. “We did everything together.”
Initially, they set out for different colleges, but Don wound up transferring to his twin’s university –Elon University--after his first semester.
Don is surrounded by educators. His son-in-law Eric Mark is a popular social studies teacher at Bishop McDevitt High School. Eric’s wife teaches school in Dillsburg.
Don’s wife Joanne also was a long-time teacher in the Susquehanna Township School District.
Don attended Susquehanna Township High School but later transferred to Perkiomen Prep School. He graduated from Elon University in North Carolina and worked in a tax office as an accountant. Born in Richfield, Juniata County, he lived in Harrisburg for most of his lifetime.
Joanne and Don lived in the same neighborhood, growing up. When asked if he married the girl next door, he replied with a broad smile, “No, I married the girl down the street!”
The relationship had a rocky start. When he tried to ask her out, Don accidentally drove his convertible into Joanne’s family hedges and had to apologize to her father.
On their first date in New Cumberland, his friends dared him to drink so many gin and tonics that Joanne had to drive him home.
Joanne described her husband as someone “Who knows what he wants.”
Lauver says yes, he lost the gin and tonic bet, but he got the girl. They also remember how she was so cold that night, he gave her his coat.
It was the dawn of a beautiful 54-year marriage, beginning at a ceremony in Progress Immanuel Presbyterian Church.
In addition to his career as an accountant, Don also served in the Air National Guard as a medic.
He always embraced the fresh air and wildlife of the outdoors. He had a cabin in Snyder County, surrounded by 300 scenic acres, where he enjoyed hunting deer and small game.
And he is a legacy at Homeland. Don’s parents both lived in Homeland, as did his wife’s aunt, Dottie Pickel.
He has six grandchildren, ranging in age from 13 to 20, who are clearly his pride and joy.
“I’m really blessed,” he says. “They’re all honor students.” He is happy to catalog their majors and accomplishments.
Don’s son-in-law Eric says it sounds corny, but he thinks the lesson he most learned from his father-in-law is that every day is a gift, so enjoy every second.
Clearly, Don has done that for 82 unbroken years, with a twin to double the fun.
Update: Don Lauver passed away on January 4, 2020.