When Chuck Armstrong vowed to love his wife, Bernadine (or “Bunny” as he calls her), through sickness and in health more than 60 years ago, he meant it. Prior to her passing on Oct. 22, 2023, he visited her daily in the Masonic Health Care Center for upwards of eight hours, and through it all, counted his blessings to be by her side in a beautiful home.
Chuck and Bunny, from Mechanicsburg, spent five years searching from Colorado to Florida for a senior living community that met their needs. Their pastor recommended Masonic Village at Elizabethtown, and after one visit, they knew, “This is it.”
Bunny had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease in 2015, and Chuck learned the campus had an excellent memory care neighborhood.
They initially moved into the Brown Apartments in 2019, and once the construction of the Sycamore Townhomes was completed, they moved into one of the buildings. Bunny sang in two Sell Chapel choirs, and they enjoyed walking on campus as long as they were able.
In fall 2021, Chuck knew he could no longer care for her safely by himself, and Bunny moved to the memory care neighborhood in the Masonic Health Care Center. The following fall, she was placed on hospice and moved into the new Evergreen neighborhood to receive end-of-life care. She was one of the first residents in this dedicated care area. Chuck walked, drove or took the campus shuttle from his townhome each day to be with her.
“This was home for both of us,” Chuck said of Evergreen. “It’s all-encompassing and provides life transition care. It’s also family oriented. One of the greatest joys was seeing little children who come to visit their loved ones.”
As a daily visitor, Chuck appreciated what Evergreen has to offer, including a small chapel, library and patio where they could watch the cattle grazing across the valley to the South.
“I don’t know how you could do any better,” Chuck said of residing at Masonic Village. “They go above and beyond to take care of the residents. Any level you look at is very good. It’s one of the best decisions we made in our lives.”
While staff were willing to help with all aspects of Bunny’s care, Chuck felt a sense of responsibility and fed her lunch and dinner each day.
“I lived through a concept called presence,” he said. “I brought her calmness. She was comfortable, and it was two-sided. After 62 years together, to hold my wife’s hand each day was a blessing.”
Family is everything to Chuck and Bunny. The two met in their home state of Montana at a restaurant. It was love at first sight for Chuck, and he was pleasantly surprised when one day this past September, she confessed it was for her, too. They have four sons.
Chuck was a career U.S. Army officer, and his assignments took them to various states. Bunny has played the piano since she was 5 years old and majored in music in college. She taught music and piano lessons to children on the different Army bases, as well as led church choirs. The couple eventually settled in Pennsylvania.
With Bunny’s musical background, Chuck found one of the best offerings at Masonic Village is the music therapy program. They never missed the bi-weekly sessions offered on Evergreen. They were also blessed by volunteer Andy Anderson who drops by weekly and plays spirituals on his harmonica.
“It was very enjoyable for her,” Chuck said. “She listened intently and tapped her feet. She even sang me ‘Happy Birthday,’ and I was flabbergasted.”
Chuck also appreciated the spiritual care services, especially Pastor Erin’s Wednesday morning service.
“It was a largely musical acknowledgment of God’s presence in our lives,” he said. “All the services provided peace and comfort and reinforced our beliefs. The sermons were marvelous.”
Chuck has taken advantage of the monthly caregiver support group hosted on campus, which allows him to connect with others going through a similar situation. He appreciates the knowledge shared by staff, including Rick Schies, assistant director of nursing, who has extensive experience with dementia and Alzheimer’s disease, and Desiree Ecker, social worker.
Wherever Chuck and Bunny found themselves on life’s journey, nothing else mattered as long as they were together.
“Every day I count our blessings,” Chuck said, “one of which is Masonic Village.”