happens in November?
If there's anyplace in the U.S.A. where not much
happens in November, some folks believe, it's Mt. Gretna.
The visitors are gone, the summer cottages mostly shuttered, and the trees -- having reached their
crescendo a week or so ago -- now quietly surrender their vibrancy and,
like an artist taking down his easel, put away their colors for another
season. Changes both perceptible and imperceptible slowly creep across
the canvas that remains.
Among the subtle alterations is the inevitable
procession of change in Mt. Gretna's commercial life. At two of the
town's four restaurants, new owners are taking the helm but wisely
retaining qualities that made them customer favorites (see story below).
Yet the most pleasurable changes alight with the delicate touch of
nature's brush, transforming the landscape and filling the air with a
freshness that even long-term residents find invigorating.
"I love breathing up here at this time of year," said Betty
Miller, out raking leaves in front of the Playhouse the other day.
"Don't you just love the smell of the trees and the log fires in the
evenings?" she asks. No one has a more finely developed sense of Mt.
Gretna's grandest pleasures.
Others, like Anna McDonald -- who just moved to a home in Mt. Gretna Heights in July --
find stunning beauty in the trees.
Taking a break from her work-at-home duties for a mathematical software
company one afternoon in mid-October, she stopped along Route 117 to take
photos like the one at right. She, her boyfriend Luke and their
"sturdy Cocker Spaniel" are discovering unexpected treasures,
"truly enjoying life among the trees."
A place where not much happens in November? Hardly.
Family traditions abound at this time of year. At The Vireo, a
cottage in the Chautauqua, friends and family have for generations
gathered around an old dining room table that has become a kind of family
history book. Each year at such gatherings, those assembled carve their
names, initials and memories into the table. It's an essential part of
each holiday meal, especially at Thanksgiving. At other cottages, some of
which have been in the same family for longer than a century, similar
traditions flourish, enriching the lives of all.
Yet catching onto the subtlety of Mt. Gretna's less obvious qualities
often takes time. One man who bought a cottage in the Campmeeting several
years ago and still commutes here from Bethlehem on weekends told us
recently, "At first, I couldn't understand what you people saw in
this place. Now, I understand."
Elsewhere, photographers capture scenes that amplify the pulsations that
can exert a magnetic hold on passersby: In the Campmeeting (left), for
instance, where a giant tree towers above its neighbors in a grand golden
Or in the Chautauqua (right), where berries sprouting outside a cottage
window herald the arrival of fall and foreshadow the coming of winter.
Some readers may have noted that this is our 100th
issue in a chain of newsletters that began in January 2001. Since then,
we've written a little over 350,000 words about goings on in Mt. Gretna.
Our grist is the news that most readers won't have already read
elsewhere. A long time ago we decided that politics and other
controversial stuff are better left to the public media -- newspapers, TV
and, more recently, bloggers. Having concluded that there's already
enough cacophony in the world, we've focused on news that uplifts,
invigorates and celebrates those things that probably ought not be
overlooked. Namely, the ingredients that could otherwise go unnoticed by
anyone tempted -- even for the briefest moment -- to think that not much
happens here in November.
Tonight! The Mt. Gretna Halloween Parade begins whirling, twisting
and cavorting down Route 117. Spooks and demons side by side with
princesses and pumpkins that walk,
talk and dance. . . including SuperPumpkin (inset, right), the
greatest of them all!
If you've never seen a Mt. Gretna Halloween Parade before, don't miss it. There's nothing like it anywhere from sea to sea.
The parade begins forming at the Jigger Shop at 6:30 tonight (Friday,
Oct. 30) and officially begins at 7:00 p.m. Nicole Roberts'
Halloween Band, with musicians guided by the flamingo-hatted Max
Hunsicker, is accompanied by fire engines, goblins and gremlins
(Dale Grundon photo, right)
Newcomers note: Those in the parade usually outnumber those
watching the parade ten to one. But that doesn't diminish the fun,
which continues at the fire hall where there's a cake walk, hot dogs,
sodas and cookies in abundance for revelers of all ages. Volunteer
bakers note: More goodies are needed for tonight's revels. Please
drop off your baked goods at the fire hall after 5:30 p.m.
the news this month
Two of Mt. Gretna's four restaurants are changing owners, but
retaining their distinctive names, atmosphere and menu favorites.
At the Hideaway, restaurant veteran Allen Funck, who's lived along
Horseshoe Trail Drive for the past 10 years, says he likes the things
that have made the Hideaway popular and intends to keep them.
He also likes Mt. Gretna. "One of the biggest reasons I was
interested in the Hideaway was because of where it's located. It's a
unique area, one that I really enjoy," he says. His official
takeover of the restaurant is expected before year-end.
At the historic Chautauqua Lodge, which operates as an art gallery,
professional offices and Le Sorelle cafe, new owners Ken and Judy
Shertzer, who have lived on nearby Northwood Drive since 1979, officially
take over the restaurant's operation Nov. 1. They, too, expect to build on
the best traditions, menus and qualities that have won customer
loyalties. For now, they plan to retain the winter hours Fridays through
Ken, a plastics engineer for more than 30 years, says the restaurant
business will be a "new challenge, but I love this community,
cooking is my passion, and we're hoping to do well." The Shertzers
have a son, now in college, and a married daughter who is a professional
Coming Saturday: an art studio tour that radiates from Mt. Gretna
and sweeps across three counties. It's the 11th-annual self-guided
driving tour with the works of 35 artists, potters, weavers,
glassworkers, photographers and other artisans -- 11 of them in Mt.
Gretna -- in a two-day exhibit at home studios and the lively La Cigale design center along Route 117.
Exhibiting artists in Mt. Gretna include, in the Campmeeting: Frederick
Swarr, Elizabeth Stutzman and Madelaine Gray; in Timber Hills: Eva Stina
Bender, Floss Russell and Shelby Applegate; and at La Cigale: Bob
Terwilliger, Monica Baebler, Susan Afflerbach, Barb Fishman and Garrett
Also on Saturday: The 7th
annual Mt. Gretna Fire Company Soup Cook-Off, from noon to 2 p.m. Sixteen
of the area's super soup-makers will assemble at the fire hall, with steaming crock pots filled to the brim, sampling
cups and soups in tantalizing varieties that will test your ability to
choose the three best of the bunch. All to the music of Mt. Gretna
vocalist Scott Galbraith, who helps run South Londonderry Township
by day and, on nights and weekends, entertains audiences throughout
(Inset: Among 2008's top vote-getters: Sioux
Chef Dan and Big Chief Pat Hottenstein of Timber Hills, with their New
Mexican green chili and chicken soup)
Dale Grundon Photo
Your $10 admission fee goes to the fire company -- part of a "burn
the mortgage" campaign that seeks to raise $400,000 and pay off the
2,300-sq.-ft. addition to house new engines and buy firefighting
Coming this Sunday, Nov. 1:
Another of those popular fire company breakfasts where you stuff a donation in the
fireman's boot as you enter, then enjoy scrambled eggs, sausage, sliced
potatoes, fruit, juices and coffee -- as much as you want -- all in the
company of friends old and new.
The doors open at 8:00 a.m. Fire company volunteers will be serving til
may have been her undoing. Shortly after discovering that the glass door at the
post office provides an almost perfect mirror for any girl wishing to surreptitiously check her
hair and makeup before the day begins, Dolly took to making daily trips
across the busy highway as part of her morning ritual.
Doodle (below), who arrived in March -- three months before the
enchanting Dolly had made her debut here -- always dutifully followed.
It wasn't long, however, before breakfast patrons at the pizza shop began
fretting about their safety amid the trucks, cars and motorcycles.
Waitress Rose Bair, who had tried valiantly to keep them on the north
side of Route 117 with lures that included leftover pancakes and cheese
curls (their favorite) has now reluctantly concluded that it's time to
find them a home. Several nearby farms, offering a long and happy
retirement, are among the possibilities.
Yet as the date approached for them to be gently coaxed into a cage and
taken to a farm -- possibly as early as this weekend -- some melancholy
notes were heard.
"He was fine until she came along," said Rose, sadly.
Scarcely looking up from his bowl of hot baked oatmeal, a breakfast customer
replied, "Yes, I know. You can read all about it in Genesis."
It was enough to stop passersby
in their tracks: A road crew where everyone had tools in hand,
everyone was busy, and even the supervisor was helping to spread hot
asphalt on a stretch of roadway along Pennsylvania Avenue.
Where, pray tell, had they come from?
Answer: Martins Limestone in Ephrata, the
same firm that resurfaced Route 117 from Colebrook to Cornwall last year
-- finishing that five-mile job in record time, two weeks ahead of
Last month, they were here again -- patching a small area in Mt. Gretna
Borough -- with the same brand of enthusiasm, verve and sense of urgency.
Before you could say lickety-split, they were done, packed up and outta
here. Said an observer, wistfully: "No, I didn't think they were
"It's better than joining a
gym, going to Curves, or any of those things that a lot of people
do," says Betty Miller, a volunteer who's helped keep the grounds
surrounding the Playhouse in tip top shape for more than a decade.
"The rewards are better for the body and the spirit," she says.
A retired kindergarten teacher, Betty has owned a cottage here for years.
She shows how to get the most out of helping out: "I love breathing
up here at this time of year. Don't you just love the smell of the trees
and the log fires in the evenings?
"I do love the hustle bustle of summer, but when it comes to an end,
I love this peaceful time, looking at the beauty. And I don't care if
it's wet or dry. I like rainy days, too. It's just gorgeous."
When she's not at her cottage, Betty's at Luther Acres, the Lititz retirement
home where she and her late husband Barry moved nine years ago.
"It's nice because I only have outdoor work in one place," she
says. And she makes the most of it.
Most distant Euro
style bumper sticker honors go to Kathy Dugdale, right, who helps keep the
mail moving in Mt. Gretna.
Kathy's decal, from her grandfather's ancestral home in Jakubany,
Republic of Slovakia, was given to her by a family friend in Philadelphia
who recently returned from a visit to the central European town.
A Lebanon native whose parents were teachers in area public schools,
Kathy spent 20 years with the Army, stationed in both Korea and Hawaii.
She has been serving in the post office here since her retirement from
the military and says that of all the places she's been, Mt. Gretna's
Bill Gifford's Oct. 25 Washington
Post Book World review of "The Big Burn: Teddy Roosevelt and the Fire That
Saved America" by Timothy Egan describes the fire that destroyed an
area the size of Connecticut out West a century ago.
Concludes Bill, a Princeton Avenue resident: "As the West fills up
with dead and dying trees, killed by beetles and blights brought by
climate change, another Big Burn seems likely, if not inevitable."
A frequent Book World reviewer, Bill is an "adventure
journalist covering anything on skis, wheels, dirt, road, dope, graft,
hooves, paws, wings, fins, waves, cheese, red wine, high heels and
wingtips." He is also editor at large of Men's Journal.
Town's Global Swath
One of the delightful discoveries
for anyone writing a community newsletter these days is, thanks to the
Internet, its surprising reach.
And perhaps even more than most places its size, Mt. Gretna spins a web
that attracts people around the world who enjoy reading about what goes
Sometimes they're missionaries in Africa or India, or military folks on
assignment in remote regions.
Other times, they're simply Mt. Gretnans on vacation. Steve Gibble sent us a
note the other day from the top of Obersalzberg, a mountaintop stretching
2,000 meters above Berchtesgaden in Germany, where he was catching up on
the latest news from Mt. Gretna with his Blackberry.
Still others are folks who spent time in Mt. Gretna as youngsters and now
live permanently in other countries.
Typical is the author Elizabeth Wein (right), a writer, housewife, mother
and private pilot who grew up in Mt. Gretna Heights and now lives in
Standing alongside a huge oak overlooking the banks of Lock Katrine near
Glasgow, she and her children Sara and Mark watched as a century-old
steamboat ferried visitors along the waterway. Elizabeth spent much of
her youth in Mt. Gretna Heights at the home of her grandmother, Betty
Flocken, whom she still visits each summer.
Out in the French South Pacific is Sheryl Mellor, a translator whose
parents (Jack and Evelyn Yocklovich of Maple Avenue) moved to the Heights
when she was ten years old. Now a grandmother herself, she appears along
the coast of New Caledonia with 9-month-old granddaughter Fiddih
When the newsletter is dispatched, usually around 3 a.m. Eastern Time,
Sheryl receives it immediately (but late in the afternoon of the next
day, her time) and says, "Nothing is better at the end of the work
day than to read the news of what's going on back in Mt. Gretna."
"Night Senses, How Our
Nighttime Senses Compare with Animals" That topic -- plus
"Myth Busters: Bats Aren't Blind and More," a roaring bon fire,
refreshments and fun -- are what's in store for those who walk (or take
the shuttle) up the hill to the tower at Governor Dick Park's November
Nocturne on Nov. 6. Bring a flashlight.
Walks and rides up the hill start at 6:30 p.m. The program at the tower
begins at 7:00. A small fee and preregistration are required. Email
email@example.com or call 964-3808 for
details. (Photo: Amy Spangler)
of the Year honors for retired Mt. Gretna teacher Dick Brown, who lives along Mine Road.
He founded the Environmental Advisory Council in South Londonderry Township,
served as its chairman, and created bird trails and bird boxes throughout
His award came at the Lebanon Conservation District's 60th anniversary
dinner a few weeks ago. Last April, he invited everyone in town to come
out to his home for a "plant dig," sharing plants from his
garden and his passion for gardening. His blog, "Native Plant Action Network," appears online. One
recent post: "Wildlife Watching: Getting Ready for Winter."
A holiday caroling event Dec. 13 will be sponsored by
the Mt. Gretna Area Historical Society, with open houses from 2:00 to
4:00 p.m. at the society's Pennsylvania Avenue headquarters (next to the
Playhouse) and the La Cigale design center on Route 117.
Organizer Evelyn Koppel (964-3412 or email) is looking for ideas, singers, and offers of help
with refreshments or other duties. Carolers will stroll through town
starting around 4:15 p.m.
First scuba dive for Mt. Gretna triathlon
director Chris Kaag.
What's unusual about that?
Chris, a former Marine stricken by a
rare neuromuscular disease more than 10 years ago, can't walk. But
prompted by a visit to the Lebanon VA hospital, he opted to give scuba a
"I loved it and was very comfortable in the water. It was
encouraging as well to see other disabled vets get in the water and do
things they have never done," he says.
The triathlons Chris has organized at Mt. Gretna over the past six years
have raised $160,000. That money goes to the Myelin Foundation, a research
group investigating cures for diseases like the one that crippled him.
His first scuba dive befits the mission of several groups he's founded,
including IM ABLE, which helps disabled people
get moving despite their challenges.
"I'm a big proponent of not being disabled but rather enabling
yourself to do more," he says.
He also runs a physical fitness center in Reading, managed a
triathlon in Lancaster in September, and somehow found time to get
married this summer following his successful Mt. Gretna race last May.
Chris plans to stage next year's event in Mt. Gretna a week earlier than
usual -- on May 22, before Memorial Day weekend. He thinks a change in
the course route will lessen congestion for residents of Timber Hills and
Next up for the
Valley College professor of English Kevin Pry discusses David
Lindsay-Abaire's new play "Rabbit Hole" (currently finishing up
a two-week run on the LVC campus) at the Winterites' Nov. 3 meeting, 1
p.m. at the Mt. Gretna fire hall. Details: Donna Kaplan, 964-2174.
a Mt. Gretna junior firefighter, the first ever to win the crown
as Lebanon County Firefighter
Association's fire prevention queen. Chelsea Jenkins, 15, is the
stepdaughter of Mt. Gretna fire company chief engineer Mike Keller, one
of 30 volunteer firefighters.
A high school sophomore, cheerleader, Future Farmers of America member
and Hersheypark summer employee, Chelsea has also found time to complete
the first three modules of an Essentials of Firefighting course, which
she sees as stepping stones that will lead to becoming an emergency
medical technician when she's 18.
 Last month's feature on the root beer barrel, now relocated to a
spot along the Lebanon Valley Rail Trail where it serves as a
fund-raising center for the trail, spurred a reader to ask about the fate
of Mollies, another familiar root beer landmark along Route 72 just north
of the Turnpike. "It has been lingering, abandoned, for decades. One
of these days, someone will acquire the property, and before we know it,
the structure will be demolished," he wrote. Is anyone attempting to
preserve this bit of local history that, for many Mt. Gretnans, holds
such fond memories?
<> Warren Meiskey, whose mother still owns the building and
sold homemade root beer, ice cream and other summer treats there for
years with her late husband, says there are no plans to do anything other
than preserve the building. "We are not planning to sell it or
re-open for business," he says.
Mollies began operating around 1925 and
continued for nearly 70 years, says Mr. Meiskey, who lives nearby and
runs a spring water dispensing facility at the site. He believes that
Mollies closed sometime in the early 1990s. (A sign still hanging inside
advertises "Banana Splits $2.50.")
He also recalls early memories of Mt. Gretna, including the time he and
his brother, accompanied by their mom, pedaled their tricycle all the way
into Mt. Gretna to see his dad, then a repairman who was working on a
balky juke box in town one day. "We rode from Mollies over the hill
and down Route 117, since there wasn't much traffic in those days. He was
sure surprised to see us," recalls Mr.Meiskey.
Claude Edward Benseman (1922-2009)
Claude Benseman, who flew in the China-Burma-India (CBI) Theater of World
War II as a B-29 Superfortress pilot and was for 30 years a pilot for
Delta Airlines, died Oct. 22 at the age of 87. He and his wife Geraldine
divided time between their cottage in the Campmeeting and a home in
A native of Pottsville, Pa., he was an avid reader who enjoyed Civil War
history, clock-making and fishing in the Florida Keys.
In Mt. Gretna, he was known to his friends as a gentleman, gracious host
and devoted husband and father who earned the dedication and devotion
shown to him in return by his wife "Geri."
He was a life member of Elks Lodge 1872 in Florida, the Veterans of
Foreign Wars in Pottsville and the 58th Bomb Wing, the unit called
upon to take B-29s from the drawing board into combat against Japan,
earning a reputation as one of the elite bombing units of the Second
World War. For his heroism in personally dislodging a bomb stuck inside
the bomb bay doors of his plane returning from a mission over Japan, he
was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross. It was a decoration this
quiet and private man never talked about, disclosed only during his
funeral at the Cornwall Manor Chapel here this week.
Scenes From a Scrapbook:
Mt. Gretna has seven distinctive neighborhoods and most of them have
welcoming signs to guide newcomers, truck delivery drivers and other
visitors. Timber Hills lacks a formal entry sign, but the one to
its apartments at least gives newcomers a clue. Visitors seeking to find
Stoberdale, however, often scratch their heads. It's the only Mt. Gretna
community without any sign at its entrance.
With about 29 homes, Stoberdale traces its origins to around the turn of the last century when
attendees at a campmeeting assembly in Stoverdale, near Hummelstown,
sought a site that would be more conducive to their worship practices.
An early newspaper account reports that they objected to the camp store
selling cigars and newspapers on Sundays. So they packed up and moved to
Mt. Gretna's Campmeeting, which they found a perfect place to begin
"their days with sunrise services and continue with songfests,
sermons and worship in the open-air tabernacle."
In the late 1920s, Jake Stober and his brothers John and Willie,
established a restaurant that would ultimately become known as the
Hideaway. Phil Stober, John's grandson, now divides his time between
Manhattan and Mt. Gretna, where he and wife Barbara own a cottage. They
enjoy pointing out to friends the family name on maps showing the
location of their favorite getaway.
Editor's Note: We cordially
invite readers to send their Mt. Gretna Scrapbook scenes throughout the
year (in .jpg format) to firstname.lastname@example.org.
A Tote-all answer for
everyone on your gift list
It's a gift that
everyone on your list who loves Mt. Gretna will treasure.
The Mt. Gretna Arts Council Tote Bag is perfect for all the treasures
they'll carry next year -- from the grocery store, to family picnics,
to the ball game and -- of course -- from the Mt. Gretna outdoor art show
in August. . . featuring an original design created by Timber Hills
Studio's Art Clagett.
The cost: $5 each, with all proceeds going to help the Arts Council
provide scholarships, artistic programs and those indispensable Summer
Calendar of Events booklets. (Available locally from any Arts Council
member or at Penn Realty.)
Mail orders: Mt. Gretna Arts
Council, P.O. Box 430, Mt. Gretna, PA 17064.
Be sure to add $4.00 for postage and handling.