Good Shepherd traces its pioneering spirit for innovation and compassionate care to its founding family, The Rev. John “Papa” Raker and D. Estella “Mama” Raker, who set the stage for Good Shepherd’s continued growth as a rehabilitation groundbreaker.

1908: Good Shepherd Home Opens

One night in 1906, The Rev. John (affectionately known as “Papa”) Raker was riding a train from Reading, Pennsylvania, when he ran into James Fritz, a parishioner of Papa Raker’s from many years before. Papa Raker, a Lutheran minister, shared with James a deep desire to build a home for the needy. James was so moved by Papa Raker’s vision that he asked for the honor of making the first donation towards that home. With Papa Raker’s permission, James handed him fifty cents.

After getting off the train in Belfast, James walked six miles to his home in Pen Argyl. He could have paid for a ride, but he had given the last of his money to Papa Raker. Some time later, James would remark that he still would have donated his last fifty cents even if that meant walking a hundred miles.

On September 30, 1907, Papa Raker’s dream of a home for the needy was put on hold as he and his wife, D. Estella Raker, celebrated the birth of their daughter. Her name was Viola. Sadly though, Viola passed away in December of that same year. She wasn’t even three months old. Returning home from the funeral of their beloved daughter, the Rakers found a letter from a local minister asking if they had room in their Lutheran Church for a crippled child. 

Her name, too, was Viola: Viola Hunt. The Rakers took Viola into their home.

And on February 21, 1908, so began the tradition of charity and care that became the Good Shepherd Home in Allentown, Pennsylvania.

1908: First Edition of Sweet Charity 

In 1908, The Rev. John Raker printed the first edition of Good Shepherd’s official magazine, Sweet Charity. Within the pages of the bi-monthly publication, Raker shared his thoughts on spirituality and chronicled the growth of the organization. Sweet Charity would become Good Shepherd’s seminal publication and an official account of the organization’s pioneering spirit of innovation and compassionate care.

1909: Ladies Auxiliary Begins

Good Shepherd’s Ladies Auxiliary was founded on August 26, 1909. Its purpose was to aide the board of trustees in properly furnishing and maintaining Good Shepherd Home and to provide clothing for the home’s residents. Miss Laura V. Keck of St. John’s Church was the auxiliary’s first president. Mrs. Robert W. Kurtz of St. Michael’s Church was the secretary and Mrs. R.S. Diehl of Christ Church was the treasurer.

By 1914, there were 10 Good Shepherd Ladies Auxiliary groups in existence besides the original group in Allentown. Those groups were found in Bethlehem, Birdsboro, Coopersburg, Harrisburg, Hegins, Mauch Chunk, Quakertown, Reading, Sellersville and South Bethlehem.

1915: Two Farms Purchased on the Lehigh River

In 1914, Papa Raker convened Good Shepherd’s advisory board to discuss a new idea. He wanted to purchase two farms comprising 225 acres of land in Salisbury Township, about 1 mile southwest of Good Shepherd Home. The farms would give the able-bodied children and elderly individuals at the home a place to find employment, recreation and an occasional change of scenery. The advisory board accepted the idea. In 1915, Good Shepherd Home purchased the farms.

Upon purchasing the farms, The Morning Call wrote, “The acquiring of the farms was a happy event at the home. The achievement of Mr. Raker to secure the farms is considered a master stroke and one essential for the larger work of the Home.”

In the following years, Good Shepherd Home residents helped hired farmers tend to the farm. They grew apples, beans and peas, and they raised cattle and pigs.

Good Shepherd would operate various farms until 1960. Today, the original farms owned by Good Shepherd are part of Queen City Airport and the Allentown Park System, including the property where the Allentown Police Academy is located.

1924: New Home Dedicated

In 1924, Good Shepherd opened the first accredited nursing home in the Lehigh Valley. It was one of many innovative initiatives to come.

1938: Physician Services

In 1938, Good Shepherd opened a space with a part-time in-house physician on staff. It was housed in a renovated workers building on South 6th Street. The building was furnished with supplies and equipment from the Allentown District Luther League. In September 1938, Atty. Henry V. Scheirer, a past president of the State Luther League, gave the dedicatory address.

Five years later, The Rev. Dr. Conrad W. Raker wrote of the space in Sweet Charity: “Our children and aged people received the best possible care. They could not have been cared for better if they had been paying guests in private rooms.”

1941: The Rev. Dr. Conrad W. Raker Becomes Administrator

The Rev. John Raker was Good Shepherd’s superintendent until his death in 1941. During his 33 years at the organization’s helm, Rev. Raker established Good Shepherd as a leader in providing care to individuals with disabilities, orphaned children and senior citizens.

In 1941, the Rev. Dr. Conrad W. Raker took over as administrator of Good Shepherd following the death of his father, John.

Dr. Raker’s innovation would lay the foundation for the impressive growth that would define Good Shepherd later in the 20th and early 21st centuries.

1944: Last Able-Bodied Orphan Is Admitted to Good Shepherd Home

Until 1944, the Good Shepherd Home welcomed children of all abilities. In that year, the last able-bodied orphan child was admitted to the home. Phasing out the care of able-bodied children was a reaction to the climate in the nation. Across the country, orphanages were being closed and children were finding homes in foster care. Good Shepherd turned its attention exclusively to individuals with varying degrees of disability.

1958: Sheltered Workshop Opens

Opening the sheltered workshop was a dream that Papa Raker first articulated in 1929. Papa Raker’s son, Conrad, assumed the mantle of the Sheltered Workshop and worked diligently to make it happen. In 1958, the one of the Rakers’ loftiest dreams came true. That year, Good Shepherd opened a sheltered workshop for individuals with disabilities.

The Good Shepherd Workshop, a new concept in rehabilitation, sought to give men and women with disabilities the dignity and sense of worth that comes with gainful employment. The workshop opened with 25 employees, who produced component parts for electronic equipment on behalf of several local businesses.

1964: Vocational Services Program Begins

In 1964, the program that would become known as Good Shepherd Work Services began. Individuals with disabilities were evaluated and placed in employment positions with local companies and organizations. The program allowed these men and women to ease into the working world and gain the financial and spiritual independence that comes from gainful employment.  

1967: Rehabilitation Hospital Opens

The notion of opening a rehabilitation hospital in Allentown was evident from the early days of Good Shepherd. Papa Raker wrote about it in Sweet Charity in as early as 1912. In 1961, Conrad Raker wrote in Sweet Charity, “Now a vacant lot … soon a modern rehabilitation center. The joy of creating something from nothing is a godlike pleasure the entire Good Shepherd Home staff enjoys.”

In 1964, ground broke for the Rehabilitation Hospital. Conrad Raker said that “no event in our history … is of such magnitude and importance.”

Three years later, in 1967, the Allentown Rehabilitation Hospital, with the 23rd Psalm engraved around the top of its exterior, opened its doors. It was one of the country’s first inpatient rehabilitation hospitals. The 22-bed unit offered integrated rehabilitation care to individuals with orthopedic or neurological issues and injuries. Patients had access to medical care, physical therapy, social workers and psychological services.

In 2023, a brand-new Good Shepherd Rehabilitation Hospital opened 15 minutes away in Center Valley, Pa., maintaining Good Shepherd’s reputation as a leader in inpatient rehabilitation.

1980: Good Shepherd Home – Raker Center Opens

In August 1980, Good Shepherd Home – Raker Center opened on Good Shepherd’s South Allentown campus. The home provides 24/7 care for 99 individuals with severe disabilities, such as cerebral palsy, muscular dystrophy, multiple sclerosis, spina bifida and traumatic brain injuries.

Today, Good Shepherd provides long-term care at two sites — Allentown and Bethlehem — for individuals with severe disabilities. At both facilities, an interdisciplinary team seeks to help residents maintain as much independence as possible for the longest amount of time. The team consists of attending physicians, neurologists, psychiatrists and psychologists, RNs and LPNs, social workers, chaplains, and physical, speech, occupational and recreational therapists.

1983: 60-Bed Rehabilitation Hospital Opens in Allentown

In 1983, Good Shepherd opened a 60-bed rehabilitation hospital in South Allentown. The new hospital was an extension of the groundbreaking inpatient facility that opened 16 years earlier. The facility was dedicated at a ceremony on July 31, 1983. More than 700 people attended the ceremony.

1987: First Outpatient Satellite Opens

In 1987, Good Shepherd Physical Therapy in Kutztown opened its doors. The facility was Good Shepherd’s first successful outpatient site beyond Allentown’s city lines. It opened with a four-person staff of physical and occupational therapists. Today, the site has become the provider of choice for patients seeking outpatient rehabilitation in the Kutztown area.

The success of the Kutztown outpatient site laid the groundwork for what would become an organizational strategic direction to bring Good Shepherd’s quality care to more people closer to their homes.

1988: 15-Bed 4th Floor Added to Rehabilitation Hospital

In 1988, a 15-bed fourth floor was added to Good Shepherd Rehabilitation Hospital in Allentown. The unit served individuals with traumatic brain injuries. The Robert and Marian Edwards Center, located on Good Shepherd’s main South Allentown campus, opened in 1988 as a facility to provide outpatient rehabilitation.

1993: Dornsife Pediatric Center Opens

In 1993, Good Shepherd opened the Dornsife Pediatric Center on its South Allentown campus. The Pediatric Rehabilitation Program provides comprehensive outpatient rehabilitation care to children with a host of physical or cognitive conditions, including autism and other developmental delays, cerebral palsy and muscular dystrophy. It eventually moved into the Hyland Center for Health & Technology on the South Allentown campus.

2000: Good Shepherd Specialty Hospital and Good Shepherd Home – Bethlehem Open

When individuals have an accident, suffer a stroke or need surgery, the first place they go is an acute-care hospital. There, the doctors and nurses fix their injuries, perform their surgery and stabilize their condition. Many times, after being stabilized at an acute-care hospital, patients are too medically fragile to go home or to a rehabilitation facility. Perhaps they have an underlying chronic disease, like diabetes or heart disease, which delays the healing process.  

To assist these patients, Good Shepherd opened Good Shepherd Specialty Hospital — or long-term acute care hospital — in 2000. The hospital, which was the first of its kind in the Lehigh Valley, was built to treat patients for several weeks until they are well enough to move on to the next level of their recovery.

Good Shepherd Specialty Hospital was originally located at Lehigh Valley Hospital-Cedar Crest in Allentown. It moved to Lehigh Valley Hospital-Muhlenberg in Bethlehem in 2005.

Also in 2000, Good Shepherd Home – Bethlehem opened its doors. The long-term care facility is home to 60 individuals with severe disabilities. Like Good Shepherd Home – Raker Center in Allentown, Good Shepherd Home – Bethlehem offers an interdisciplinary team approach to help residents maintain as much independence as possible for the longest amount of time.

2003: Supported Independent Living Apartments Open

In 2003, Good Shepherd opened the Supported Independent Living Apartments on its South Allentown campus. The 18-apartment facility is designed to help people with disabilities, who would otherwise need 24-hour care, live independently with the help of state-of-the-art assistive technology.

Many of the apartments, which were featured in the New York TimesThe Morning Call and on TV Tokyo, include lifts to transport tenants from bed to shower, environmental aides to daily living to operate appliances, shades and doors with voice control and other technologies.

2006: South Allentown Campus Transformation Is Complete

In 2004, Good Shepherd representatives presented a plan to Allentown City Council. The plan was to create an integrated South Allentown campus, complete with a parking deck and a new outpatient center. The plan called for closing a portion of St. John Street and transforming it into healing gardens and greenspace. John Kinnaird, a resident at Good Shepherd Home – Raker Center, who through the use of assistive technology had gained the ability to synthesize speech, spoke on behalf of Good Shepherd. The members of City Council were moved, and the South Allentown campus transformation project began.

Two years later, in 2006, the campus transformation was completed. The anchor of the project, the Hyland Center for Health & Technology, consolidated all of the outpatient services formerly scattered throughout the campus. Numerous new services, including a fitness center, an imaging center and more, opened in the building. At Good Shepherd Independence Days on October 13, 2006, more than 600 members of the community came to Good Shepherd to dedicate the new campus.

At the time of the campus dedication, Sally Gammon, Good Shepherd’s then-President and CEO, said, “This beautiful campus is now making a positive difference – for our patients, residents, neighbors and staff, for the city of Allentown and beyond. This campus transformation resulted in a $41.7 million investment in Allentown, created about 130 new, well-paying jobs and will inject more than $8 million into the local economy annually.”

2008: Good Shepherd Penn Partners Launches

In 2008, Good Shepherd Penn Partners, a joint venture between Good Shepherd Rehabilitation Network and Penn Medicine, opened its doors.

Good Shepherd Penn Partners provides specialized inpatient, long-term acute care and medical and physical rehabilitation for patients transferred from medical, surgical and intensive care units at Penn Medicine. Outpatient centers are also operated by Good Shepherd Penn Partners, as is rehabilitation therapy. Good Shepherd is the controlling interest in Good Shepherd Penn Partners through majority ownership and a majority board membership.

2009: Good Shepherd Announces Inpatient Pediatric Rehabilitation Unit

In July 2009, Good Shepherd opened the region’s first pediatric inpatient rehabilitation unit. The Good Shepherd Rehabilitation Hospital Emily Howatt Pliskatt Pediatric Unit provides acute, physician-directed rehabilitation care, including rehabilitation nursing, physical, speech and occupational therapy, and psychological services. Conditions treated at the unit include stroke, brain injury, spinal cord injury, neurologic dysfunction, burns and post-traumatic amputations.

2023: Good Shepherd Opens State-of-the-Art Rehabilitation Hospital

In July 2023, Good Shepherd cut the ribbon on a four-story inpatient rehabilitation hospital in Center Valley, Pa. The 123,000-square-foot facility features 76 private rooms and offers world-class care care for stroke, brain injury, spinal cord injury and complex medical rehabilitation.