Pete Wambach recalls how, as he played a sentimental song for retirement community residents, he noticed a woman wiping away tears. He asked her what was wrong.
“My husband sang that song and got down on his knee in Riverfront Park and proposed to me,” she said. “And he’s been gone for seven years.”
|Pete Wambach brings his outgoing personality and love of songs to Homeland every month for a song-along with residents.|
Pete responded gently. “Isn’t it nice to remember?” he asked.
“It sure is,” she said.
Wambach is well-known around Harrisburg. He is the namesake of his father, beloved journalist and radio personality Pete Wambach, famous for starting his broadcasts by saying, “It’s a beautiful day in Pennsylvania” in his gravelly bass voice. Pete Jr. is a former state representative who served the Harrisburg and Steelton areas from 1981 to 1993.
Now retired, Wambach brings his outgoing personality and the love of songs he inherited from his parents to a new venue – Homeland Center’s monthly sing-along. Using his own karaoke equipment, Wambach plays tunes from the early to mid-20th century, songs made famous by performers such as Eddie Cantor and Mel Torme.
Wambach first took his karaoke gear to the nursing home, where his late parents had lived, in the early 2000s. In mid-2013, he and his wife, Urszula Wambach, started volunteering at Homeland “for the smiles,” he said.
On a rainy Wednesday evening, Wambach told his group of about 25 residents and family members, plus a lively Maltese-Yorkie named Duke, that he and Urszula never miss a month.
“You know I always enjoy coming,” he said. “I love to take your smiles home. I think about you all month long. I really do. It’s so great that you have the desire to come and sing and enjoy yourselves and just have a good night and a good time.”
The sessions are held in Homeland’s chapel, under the vaulted ceiling and amid the stone altar and the showcase of religious-themed Hummel figurines. Wambach greeted guests as they came in.
“Hey, Carl, how are you, buddy?” he asked one.
“Not bad for 93,” Carl answered.
After he got things going with “Chattanooga Choo-Choo,” projecting the lyrics on the wall, Wambach proclaimed that it wasn’t a bad start. “I heard half of you singing and half of you humming,” he said.
Guests sang along with the Bing Crosby standard “Swing on a Star” and the nostalgic favorite “In My Merry Oldsmobile” (“Here’s a car they don’t even make anymore,” Wambach joked when the title appeared on the screen.) He shared his memories of family sing-alongs, the Wambach parents and all 14 kids singing show tunes and songs made popular by the likes of Frank Sinatra, Bing Crosby and Barbra Streisand.
When Wambach played “Tiptoe Through the Tulips,” someone crooned in falsetto, Tiny Tim-style. During “Let Me Call You Sweetheart,” one couple held hands and leaned their heads toward each other.
“The residents love to sing. They just love it,” Wambach said. The event is even “a complete brain workout,” because residents reading words on the wall are using one side of the brain while they use the other side to sing.
“If you have some nice memory songs you want to hear, let me know,” he said to solicit requests. “There’s thousands upon thousands of songs, but if I have them, I’d love to play them for you.” One woman requested “A Bicycle Built for Two.” Another asked, “Do you have ‘You Are My Sunshine’?”
“I’m your sunshine?” Wambach responded.
“No, he is,” she said, pointing to her husband. Wambach found the song quickly, introducing it by saying, “See? If we have it, we’ll play it.”
Wambach ends every session with the Irving Berlin classic “Count Your Blessings.” He does so because “it’s a song that soothes you.”
“When you hear ‘count your blessings instead of sheep,’ you think about what blessings came to you that day and what’s in store the next day,” he said as his guests were leaving. One added her own thoughts.
“Look at the people that don’t have a nice roof over their head, plenty to eat and care,” she said. “That’s all you need to think about.” She thanked Wambach for coming.
"You’re bringing back all these wonderful memories,” she said.