In the eyes of Marsha Fisher, her parents, Merilynn Hart and Robert (Bob) Hart, made the perfect couple.
They went above and beyond to provide for their three daughters, eight grandchildren and 22 great-grandchildren, Marsha said.
Bob died of cancer in 1994, two days before the couple’s 50th anniversary. Merilynn died from liver failure on Sept. 2, 2020. She was cared for by Masonic Village Hospice staff at the Mennonite Home in Lancaster, PA. She was 96 years old.
“I was very happy with the hospice care [my mother] received – they were wonderful,” Marsha said. “Mom couldn’t eat much at the end, but she wanted white seedless grapes. [Hospice Director] Maureen Dolk-Metcalfe would buy grapes for her.”
It was in the middle of the pandemic, so staff and family members had to adapt to different ways of providing care and visiting their loved ones.
“She [Maureen] would also facilitate the family Zoom calls once a week, as mom had grandchildren spread out all over. We got everyone together on these calls, which made her so happy,” she said. “Maureen would use her own computer because we could not visit. She was like family to my mother. I was always able to contact Hospice if I needed anything. It worked out great.”
Marsha, a retired elementary school teacher, was already familiar with the benefits of hospice because she once volunteered at a facility in Lancaster. However, she was hesitant about placing her mother in hospice because Merilynn said she was scared about moving.
Fortunately, Masonic Village Hospice provides care in people’s homes and long-term care communities throughout Lancaster County.
Previously, Merilynn had lived in an apartment at Woodcrest Villa (a retirement community across from the Mennonite Home, a personal care and nursing care facility) for 14 years. Marsha lived only a mile or so from the community and was able to help her mother with whatever she needed. When Merilynn started having falls, Marsha knew her mother needed additional care, so she moved her to personal care at the Mennonite Home.
A well-put-together woman, Merilynn always took pride in her appearance, Marsha said. When the hair salon at the Mennonite Home closed due to COVID, Maureen would send someone to Merilynn’s room to wash and style her hair, which Merilynn and Marsha both appreciated.
“Everyone who ever knew my mom said she was so attractive,” Marsha said. “She was always made up. She was also a character, and I still meet people who remember her. She participated in the Senior Games for three years at the Mennonite Home. She won many medals.
“When she was 16, mom was a tennis player and the singles champion for Altoona. She was that good. But once her knee went bad, she and my dad started to take up golf and played a lot. She was always very athletic and in shape. She always looked younger than she was and just lovely.”
Merilynn grew up in California and played tennis and other sports through high school. While she was at junior college, World War II broke out, and Merilynn went to work at the local Army Air Force Training Center, where she met her husband, Bob. They married, he went off to war and Merilynn remained in California with friends before Marsha was born. When Bob returned from the war, the couple moved to Altoona, where Merilynn lived until she was 80 years old.
Bob was a Mason and a Shriner. Merilynn was a member of the Order of the Eastern Star and former Supreme Queen in The Daughters of the Nile.
Marsha has fond memories of her mother, including how “feisty” she was. “She always wanted us to be strong women, like she was, and I think she got her wish,” she said.
Every summer, Merilyn, Marsha and her two sisters would take the train back to California for vacation. Bob worked for the Pennsylvania Railroad as an industrial engineer. Merilynn worked at home until Marsha turned 12. Then, she got a job as a cashier at a local grocery store and was also the secretary of her church until retiring.
Merilynn always remembered all of her grandchildren and great-grandchildren’s birthdays with cards, something Marsha found fascinating.
“She had a calendar with every date and always had cards ready. Everyone got $5. When there were too many of us, she didn’t send money anymore,” Marsha said. “When I retired, I helped her keep doing it through the years. She kept it up until she was 92.”
Following her death, Merilynn’s daughters held a celebration of her life at her old church in Altoona. Nearly all the grandchildren and great-grandchildren were in attendance, as well as some close friends.
Marsha and her sisters later took a trip to California to honor their mother and celebrate their family.
“We’ve been fortunate to have a very Christian family,” Marsha said. “Everybody loves each other and knows they are going to see my mother later in life.”
Masonic Village Hospice provided Merilynn the dignified care she deserved, while providing support for her family during a difficult time, made even more challenging because of the pandemic.