As inspirational speaker and author Dr. Anthony Campolo stepped into on Thursday, he was greeted with smiles and applause from residents gathered in the foyer to welcome him as the 2012 Hance Award winner.
Campolo shook hands and spoke to the residents as he made his way into the nursing home chapel where a welcoming ceremony was held in which St. Barnabas President and CEO William V. Day gave him a gigantic key to St. Barnabas, which has campuses in Richland Township and Valencia.
The Hance Award is named for Gouverneur P. Hance, who founded St. Barnabas more than a century ago. The honor is presented annually at St. Barnabas' Founder’s Day to a national figure who has had a significant impact on the lives of Americans.
Campolo joins a prestigious list of winners that includes former Steeler Rocky Bleier, entertainer Debbie Reynolds, astronauts Chuck Yeager and Edwin "Buzz Aldrin, former First Lady Barbara Bush and Pittsburgh legend Fred Rogers.
He also was the honored guest and speaker Thursday night at a fundraising gala at the Omni William Penn Hotel. The event raises thousands of dollars for the St. Barnabas Free Care Fund, which ensures that no patient is turned away from St. Barnabas based on their inability to pay.
"I think this is a terrific place," he said as he sat down with his wife Peggy for this interview at St. Barnabas Nursing Home after getting a tour of the nursing home.
He said he has known about St. Barnabas for years and was honored to be invited to speak.
An ordained minister, Campolo is the president and founder of the Evangelical Association for the Promotion of Education, which benefits and supports programs for at-risk children across the U.S. and Canada. He also assisted in establishing schools and universities in developing countries.
As a media commentator, Campolo has appeared on TV programs including Nightline, Crossfire and Larry King Live. He also is the author of more than 30 books that focus on inspiration and related topics. The latest book is titled Stories That Feed Your Soul.
Asked what his reaction was when he found out he had been selected as this year's Hance Award winner, Campolo said the award was secondary to the speaking opportunity.
Campolo said he was not as deserving of the award as the people who work at St. Barnabas, who emanate a presence that translates into a "joyful ministry to make people feel loved."
After the meet-and-greet with residents, the Eastern University sociology professor emeritus was asked what he said to the residents and vice versa.
He said he asked for the residents' names as he was introduced to them.
"It's so important that they be recognized as persons ... deserving of respect and reverence," Campolo said.
And the residents asked for his name too.
"Some told me their age; they are proud of living a long life."
He lamented that he did not have more time to talk to them and hear their stories.
When asked what message he wanted the St. Barnabas community to receive from his visit, he answered in two parts.
"One is to the staff," Campolo said. "Thank you for caring.
"Being elderly is something all of us have to face. To be cared for by loving people ... is a gift from God."
His second message was to the elderly.
"Thank you for all the work you have done over the years," he said.
"We need to stop to listen to people who have stories to tell," Campolo continued.
To those who still get around, he had yet another message.
"To them I say, 'Don't retire.' Keep on keeping on for the kingdom."