The doors to the residents’ rooms at Baptist Homes senior community are decorated with colorful wreaths, welcome signs and American flags. Some doors are open and residents smile at passersby, while residents having lunch down the hall chat away. If it weren’t for the nurses in the hallway, it would be more freshman dorm than senior facility.
This year marks the 100th anniversary of the residence on Castle Shannon Boulevard. The parent organization, the Baptist Homes Society—which has a second, newer area residence, Providence Point in Scott Township—was established by a collection of American Baptist churches in 1910. Baptist Homes Society built the first residence in West Newton, Pa., as a home for widows and orphans. As the resident population increased, the Baptist Homes Society built a new location, Baptist Homes, in Mt. Lebanon in 1915.
Baptist Homes, now a residence for seniors, offers several levels of care depending on what people need, from independent living to personal care, skilled nursing, short- and long-term rehabilitation and memory-support services. Residents can move among those levels, too, when they need to. The facility has 100 units.
Cindy Conway, Hazel Drive, says the Baptist Homes staff was consistent and compassionate in their work when her father moved into the residence in his mid-90s.
“Our family was very impressed with the professional attitude and caring nature of all employees at the Home, including volunteers who came on a regular basis to just sit and talk to the residents,” she says.
Conway’s father, Walter “Red” Hussing, who died in 2013 at age 100, adjusted well to his new home. Conway was happy to see her dad bond with the other residents and staff.
“And the staff in turn, treated Dad and the other dementia patients like royalty,” Conway says.
Sitting rooms at Baptist Homes look much like a grandparent’s comfortable living room. In one area, a china cabinet lines the wall. Behind the glass are delicate dishes and relics of the facility’s past, including an orphan’s leather shoe, long outgrown by its owner who likely stayed at one of the cottages on the Baptist Homes grounds.
Over the years, the campus has expanded, with additions to the original building. Baptist Homes’ Director of Marketing and Public Relations Marilyn Walsh says she can tell when she’s entered an older part of the building by the way her footsteps sound against the wood beneath the carpeted walkways. These days, Baptist Homes takes up most available space on its 12-acre campus.
Despite the limited expansion options, Walsh hopes Baptist Homes will always have a place in Mt. Lebanon.
“Our home is in Mt. Lebanon and the South Hills,” Walsh says. “That’s where the people come from, that’s where our history comes from and that’s where we want to be.”
A boy from McKeesport
Tihamer Revak has fond memories of Baptist Homes, where he lived from 1943 to 1948, when it was still a home for orphans and the elderly. He was 10 years old when he, his brother, Bernie, and his sister, Pearl, moved into the Baptist Homes from McKeesport. Revak, now a California resident and retired software engineer, has visited twice since he and his siblings moved out.
He says Baptist Homes wasn’t a typical orphanage. “A lot of the kids there did have a parent or two,” Revak says. “They maybe had a problem with an illness or alcohol or divorce, as in my case.”
“It was just really a great place, all things considered,” Revak said. “If we would have been left to our devices, we would have been in trouble. We needed supervision, and we certainly got it there.”
Revak remembers roller skating on the Baptist Homes grounds, which flank the steep part of Crystal Drive, on warm days and sledding down the hillside in the snowy seasons. Every Christmas, the children would put on a pageant for the old folks.
On Saturdays, the children would go to the movies, where they could watch films for free. Baptist Homes would give the children 10 pennies to buy drinks and snacks at the theater. Revak also remembers the fruit trees that lined the property, holding pears, apples and cherries. “We would climb those cherry trees, and our housemother would bake a cherry pie,” Revak says.
The cottages, one for the boys and one for the girls, had two or three housemothers, who cooked and cleaned for the children.
The kids’ days at the home were pretty typical. They walked to school, sometimes playing a game of kickball before they started their trek. Revak and his brother loved to play sports, even making a peach basket into a basketball hoop on the fire escape.
Academics in Mt. Lebanon schools were tougher than Revak’s former schools, but he was determined to do well. “There were these kids in school with professional parents and I’d work harder just to keep up with the rest of them.”
The lessons he learned at Baptist Homes went beyond the classroom. Living there taught him independence, and he developed a work ethic that has stuck with him. “When I saw something that needed done, I didn’t have to ask anyone if I could do it. I just did it,” Revak says. “That has followed me all my life.”
Looking to the future
Alvin Allison, President and CEO of Baptist Homes, is planning for the future—about a hundred years into the future. “We have a great history,” he says. “We want to build on that.” He says the Baptist Homes Society will move into phase two of Providence Point in Scott Township, adding 80 apartments. The Society also will broaden its focus to surrounding communities. Plans include expanding home-health care service so more elderly people can live independently longer.
Allison says working for Baptist Homes Society and meeting the residents has been humbling. “We have an unbelievably diverse group of residents who have amazing life stories,” Allison says. “It’s amazing to me how involved they have been in the South Hills, Pittsburgh and the country at large.”