The Mt. Gretna
No. 113 December 1, 2010
Discoveries in a Resounding Season:
A Mt. Gretna Christmas
The poet Robert Frost once said he never started out writing a poem knowing how it would end. Writing poetry, he believed, is a journey of discovery.
Mt. Gretna's Christmas season may be a little like that, too.
Although the official start of winter is still three weeks away, although half the people who were here in the summer are now in places like Sarasota, Sanibel and Palm Springs, and although Mt. Gretna's first snowfall has yet to arrive, the season -- ready or not -- will cross over the bridge and ease into a festive tempo this weekend.
Unlike the poet, we may have a vague notion as the year unwinds of what lies ahead. Yet what we can truly only know for certain is that the closing days of 2010 will lead to enriching assurances -- about the place where we have chosen to live and the anchors that secure us to a place, a time and a way of life that differs from most others.
Among those differences may be a shared belief that our strengths trace to a time when life moved at a slower pace, when values remained rooted in practical experience, and when the first order of business was to carve a path for future generations.
Is it old-fashioned to feel that such strengths may be slipping away from us in America? If so, perhaps it will be in places like Mt. Gretna that they will be rediscovered. And on a busy planet, amid a busy holiday season, such discoveries may be the supremely resonating gift of the season.
Herewith, our roundup of some of the joys this season may bring:
Wed., Dec. 1 CHRISTMAS AT "THE GATHERING PLACE"
Mt. Gretna United Methodist Church, noon. A special Christmas luncheon in this popular monthly gathering that extends from September to May. A chance to meet friends old and new. Everyone's invited; a freewill offering is taken.
Dec. 2-24 GRETNA THEATRE'S HOLIDAY BOOTH at Lebanon Farmer's Market. A call for volunteers to help distribute flyers for the upcoming season. Booth times: 8 a.m.- 7 p.m. Wed.-Fri.; 7 a.m. - 3 p.m. Sat. Sign up for the times you can help. Call 964-3322 or e-mail Gretna Theatre.
Sat., Dec. 4 LIGHTING OF THE COMMUNITY CHRISTMAS TREE It happens every year on the first Saturday of December, opposite the post office, 5:30 - 7:30 p.m. Carols, music and refreshments follow the illumination ceremony at the home of Peter Hewitt and Walter McAnney. (Coordinator Rhoda Long [717- 304-0248] will appreciate knowing if you'll bring cookies, other finger foods to go with her coffee and mulled cider.)
Sun., Dec. 5 ORGAN RECITAL Mt. Gretna organ prodigy Ryan Brunkhurst's Christmas recital, 4 p.m. Palmyra United Methodist Church, South Green Street. Reception follows the performance.
Dec. 5-12 ADVENT SERIES continues at Mt. Gretna United Methodist Church; a look at "supporting characters" in the Bible's Christmas stories, examining lessons that Jesus' birth can teach about the hope, peace, joy and love of the season. Sunday services at 8:30 and 10 a.m.
Tues., Dec. 7 WINTERITES' CHRISTMAS COVERED DISH LUNCHEON For the Winterites (year-rounders who live in areas served by the Mt. Gretna post office) it is a signal event of the year. The annual covered dish luncheon starts at 1 p.m. at the Mt. Gretna fire hall. (Please bring dessert, casserole or a side dish). Details: 964-2174, email@example.com
Sat., Dec. 11 SANTA ARRIVES at the fire hall, sometime around 11:30 a.m. For the next two hours, youngsters will discover food, favors and fun topped off by hot chocolate. (Note: Volunteer bakers, please drop off your baked goods early that morning. Santa's helpers also will welcome your non-perishable donations for the food bank.)
Sat., Dec. 11 "THE LITTLEST ANGEL" a holiday treat for youngsters and adults from Gretna Theatre, presented at Lebanon Valley Brethren Home in Palmyra at noon and again at 6 p.m.
Sat., Dec. 11 CHRISTMAS SCAVENGER HUNT at Governor Dick Park, 1:30 p.m. Details: 964-3808 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Sun., Dec. 12 AN OLD-FASHIONED HOLIDAY CELEBRATION and OPEN HOUSE at the Mt. Gretna Area Historical Society Museum (next to the Playhouse). View artifacts from the area's historical heritage, enjoy refreshments; both youngsters and adults can make holiday ornaments, 2 to 4 p.m. (Volunteers, please call 964-3412 or contact email@example.com to help decorate the museum tree, circulate flyers and spread the word in your area.)
Sun., Dec. 12 AREA ARTISTS AT LA CIGALE A companion event to the Historical Society's open house, this 2 to 4 p.m. exhibit next to the miniature golf course features noted artist -- and former Mt. Gretnan -- Barbara Fishman (displaying "funky" handmade scarves, oil paintings and watercolors, and Mt. Gretna notecards); Luise Christensen-Howell (stained glass work in authentic Tiffany style); Madelaine Gray (photographs of Mt. Gretna, France and Italy in prints and note cards); Betsy Stutzman (watercolor and ink impressionistic paintings that reflect her love of nature); Lydia Dierwechter (handbags and decor created from reclaimed natural fibers and found objects); Nancy Perrotti (whimsical, impressionistic mixed media works of landscapes and botanicals, including "funky folk art").
Sun., Dec. 12 RAIL-TRAIL HOLIDAY FUNDRAISER features Mt. Gretna entertainer Scott Galbraith at the Women's Club of Lebanon, 5:00-8:00 p.m. Reserve tickets ($35) at 272-1930.
Tues., Dec. 14 CHRISTMAS TRIP TO NEW YORK CITY Yes, it's a "Go"! The bus leaves at 7:30 a.m. from the Chautauqua parking lot. Proceeds benefit the fire company. Five bus seats left; Rockettes show tickets are now sold out. Call Rhoda Long (717) 304-0248.
Sat., Dec. 18 BREAKFAST WITH SANTA Le Sorelle Cafe, 9 to 11 a.m.; includes a discount for kids and a free 5"x 7" photo with ol' St. Nick himself. (The restaurant is closed Dec. 20-Jan. 6.)
Sat., Dec. 18 NOEL: FOUR CENTURIES OF CHRISTMAS MUSIC by a female a cappella quartet that has sold over two million CDs. Anonymous 4, hailed as the world's foremost period vocal ensemble, appear at Gretna Music's winter venue, Elizabethtown College, in a holiday concert that begins at 7:30 p.m. Click here for details.
Sun., Dec. 19 CHILDREN'S CHRISTMAS PROGRAM during the 10 a.m. service at Mt. Gretna United Methodist Church. Presented by Sunday School children, ages one to 12. "I don't know all the details yet," says Pastor Mike Remel, "but I do know they'll be singing and having fun."
Thurs., Dec. 23 BELSNICKEL NIGHT AT THE TIMBERS with a reading of "The Night Before Christmas," Pennsylvania Dutch-style, which begins: "It vas the night before Christmas und all over the farm nothing vas schusslich, no cause for alarm. . . .Four cows and four steers, harnessed somehow; and vere dragging behind them an old-fashioned plow. And there, chust behind it, sour as a pickle, Vas a fella ve knew had to be the Belsnickel." Starting sometime after 7 p.m. by the fireside, downstairs. Prime rib special ($17.95, with appetizer and dessert) available. Reservations recommended for this grand occasion, officially known as "Vin-der Stoltzfus:" 964-3601.
Fri., Dec. 24 CHRISTMAS EVE CANDLELIGHT SERVICES at Mt. Gretna United Methodist Church, 7 p.m. and 11 p.m. with Pastor Remel.
Fri., Dec. 31 NEW YEAR'S EVE DINNER close to home at the Timbers. Buffet dinner ($22.95) at 7:00 p.m., accompanied by pianist Andy Roberts and continuing until 1:00 a.m. with after dinner party tunes by Mr. Roberts, Scott Galbraith, Bart Briody, Max Hunsinker and others joining "Galbraith, Briody and Friends" at The Timbers Restaurant. Limited menu service also available. Reservations: 964-3601.
Sat., Jan. 1 PORK AND SAUERKRAUT DINNER at, believe it or not, the Mt. Gretna Pizzeria, starting at 11 a.m. and continuing until 2 p.m. Oh yes, they'll serve breakfast that day, too. Starting at 7 a.m. Meanwhile, if you're craving a pizza, call 964-1853.
race to the finish line:
In terms of its size, swiftness and scope, the Mt. Gretna Fire Department's fund-raising campaign ranks as one of the most impressive in the town's 118-year history.
Coming up soon, organizers hope to add a fourth "S" to that alliterative pattern -- success.
They're not quite there yet. But a little over a year after they began hurtling toward what many considered an impossible $400,000 goal -- amid the worst economic conditions since the Great Depression -- they crossed the three-quarter mark last month. So far, more than $300,000 has been collected, paid or pledged to their sweeping effort.
"We're ready now for the final push," says campaign leader Tom Mayer, who collected the first funds for the firefighters shortly before August 2009.
That was when Conewago Hills resident Ed Phillips (inset, right), a former superintendent of schools at the Cornwall-Lebanon School District, pledged $5,000 as a memorial gift honoring his late father, a former Pittsburgh firefighter.
Since then, others have joined in the campaign, sometimes with contributions honoring family members, other times with gifts made in memory of those who they consider especially important in their lives. Still others have turned in contributions because of their love of the community itself. And some because of their appreciation for firefighters who, although many of them live outside Mt. Gretna, nevertheless risk their lives and give up their time to help save lives and property here. It requires hundreds of hours of training to keep skills sharp for the tough national standards demanded of emergency teams.
Higher national standards, in fact, helped create the need for the Mt. Gretna firefighters to launch their massive fund drive in the first place.
Not only were new fire engines needed to replace vehicles approaching the 20-year age limit, but they would have to be larger to meet current standards. Thus the need for a new 2,300-square-foot addition. The former facility, built to the requirements of three decades ago, was simply too small to house the bigger fire trucks now specified in national standards.
So the decision to go ahead with a fund-
raising campaign despite a poor economy was not optional. "We had no choice," says fire company president Joe Shay, who's also Mt. Gretna's mayor and operates the town's only computer repair shop. When the fire alarm sounds, he drops what he's doing and races off to put out fires, rescue motorists and sometimes remove downed trees from blocked roadways. Joe has been doing that for 17 years. Now, at 62, he sees the drive to pay for a building and equipment that will serve Mt. Gretna for decades to come as a goal worth fighting for.
Yet it's a spirit that Joe shares with his team.
Standing alongside him in that goal are the 30 or so volunteers at Mt. Gretna's Station 38, widely regarded as among the best-trained, best-led and best-equipped volunteer fire companies in the county. It is a distinction that Joe, and fire chief Bob Dowd, regard with both honor and humility. For them, and the men and women who drop what they're doing and respond to an average of 220 emergency calls every year, the calling is more than a labor of love. Something deep inside volunteer firefighters stirs them to action. Fortunately for the citizens and the community they serve, it's a spark that one hopes will never go out.
To help in the final push toward the $400,000 mark, send your tax-deductible gift this month to: Mt. Gretna Fire Company, P. O. Box 177, Mt. Gretna, PA 17064. To contact campaign chairman Tom Mayer, call 964-1987 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
Had this photo of a golden 24-inch leaf come from a tobacco farm in the South rather than outside Mt. Gretna's Playhouse on a cold day in November, you might (if you're old enough) think it had evolved from a 1940s LIFE magazine advertisement for Lucky Strike cigarettes.
But the two-foot specimen that Harrisburg nursery school teacher Deb Lambert discovered alongside Carol and Tom McMahan's cottage at the corner of Princeton and Pennsylvania avenues last month fell from a tree of unknown origin, which has stood on the site for at least 60 years, and probably longer.
The cottage was purchased in the early 1950s by the late William and Kate Sutcliffe. (Kate was the older sister of Borough councilman John Hambright. He doesn't think that she planted the tree. "Kate never planted anything," said John, now up in years but nevertheless still with an affection that younger brothers typically display toward their often annoying big sisters.)
Tom McMahan, who bought the cottage from the Sutcliffes in 1993, doesn't know how the tree got there either, although he says it often stimulates interesting conversations with passersby, especially in autumn when its huge leaves begin dropping.
One visitor, a botany professor from a local college, told Tom he thought it was a Catawba Tree. Yet Mt. Gretna experts, including botany specialist at Milton Hershey's Nature Center Nan McKay, who lives down the street on Pennsylvania Avenue, identified it as
a Big Leaf Magnolia (Magnolia macrophylla).
Master Gardener Karrie Hountz, who lives in Skippack, Pa. and owns a Campmeeting cottage, agrees. "The tree is native to the southern U.S. and is pretty picky in where it grows," says Karrie. "It tends to exist in widely scattered locations."
Nan says she has been fascinated by the tree ever since she moved here last year and has observed it bearing flowers and fruit. She discovered another one, only three-feet tall, growing in her front yard at the opposite end of Pennsylvania Avenue.
Those scholarly details probably won't matter very
much to Deb Lambert's nursery school students, however. "We've been
studying leaves, and this one is going to make their eyes pop out," she
Coming in 2011: An Independence Day Celebration
The surging popularity of front porches across America (as an article in this newsletter trumpeted last year) might well trace its reemergence to the unique perspective of Mt. Gretna artists who over the years have made them the subject of their paintings -- and now to photographers like Dave Adams and Madelaine Gray.
Madelaine, who lives here full time but travels extensively to photograph the villages, flower gardens and lavender fields of Europe, has filled up a page of her website with photographs of Mt. Gretna, including its distinctive porches.
Dave (inset, left), who recently retired from City
University in New York, now has more time for his Campmeeting cottage, to which he and his wife, artist Mary Kopala, escape as often as possible. Dave's photographs of Mt. Gretna's illuminated porches, such as this one (right) of the Schmeta cottage at 5th and Kephart, turned out to be among the favorites at last month's Art Studio Tour.
All of which augurs well for the Independence Day plans that former Art Show director Karl Gettle is working up for next summer. What he envisions is a celebration of lighted porches throughout Mt. Gretna, in the tradition of Grand
Illuminations that, for more than a century, have been a hallmark of Campmeeting and Chautauqua communities across the country. The resurgent appeal of porches, together with the photography of people like Madelaine and Dave, should help give Mt. Gretna's annual Grand Illumination a distinctive role in celebrating the nation's birthday from now on.
Want to know more about plans for the Grand Illumination (described in our August 2010 issue)? Contact Karl, 964-2292, e-mail email@example.com, or write to P.O. Box 419, Mt. Gretna, PA 17064.
In other news
What started as the Mt. Gretna Chili Head cook-off in 2002 now has become a gastronome's delight. Having just finished its eighth year, the Soup Cook-off annually ignites a spirit of fun, imaginative cooks and yet another ebullient fire company fund raiser.
As a bonus, it not only satisfies hearty appetites
but also stimulates a warm glow that radiates through contestants and judges
For cooks, the quest is to concoct steaming kettles of soup based on recipes with tantalizing names such as Crabby Corn Apeno Chowder, Thai Garlic Shiitake, Conewago Sausage Chowder and Raspberry Chambord Soup.
For 100 or so judges, the task is to spend an hour or more greeting neighbors, strolling through assorted festive displays with spoons in mouth, pens in hand, and tasting one sample after the other until tummies are full, crock pots are empty, and coordinator Thatcher Bornman calls for the ballots.
Toughest assignment of the day: Selecting a winner from among at least a dozen lip-smacking entries. It is enough to challenge even the most discriminating gourmand.
as much time as possible at her Sixth Street cottage
in the Campmeeting. Gloria's Asparagus Crab
entry was the top vote-getter, edging out Third Street neighbor Amy Steiner's
Crabby Corn Apeno Chowder and Lakeview Drive
resident Bob Hertzler's Raspberry Chambord, which
also garnered "most unusual soup" honors.
For Gloria, a retired receptionist who decided to enter the contest only two days earlier, her first attempt may have resulted in her second-best achievement ever. The greatest, she says, was her decision several years ago to buy a Mt. Gretna cottage, where she now savors "hometown friendliness and the small town feeling I knew growing up."
Ever since it started in 1954, Mt. Gretna's Winterites have kept attuned to the expanding tastes, interests and curiosities of its members -- including a growing number of men who now regularly attend their First Tuesday
monthly sessions (October through April, except January) at the fire hall.
Planning the 2011 agenda at a recent Le Sorelle breakfast meeting: Barbara Kleinfelter with two-month old grandson Ben (youngest Winterite in history), Esther and Ted Mefferd, Joan Smith, Peggy McGuire, Sarah Ellis and Laura Feather. Coming Dec. 7: an annual favorite, the covered dish luncheon (bring a dessert, casserole or side dish). Starts at 1 p.m. Other details: Donna Kaplan, 964-2174, firstname.lastname@example.org.
Birds of a feather
Something was in the air. You could feel it when the year began, on the heels of the arrival of that Ash Throated Flycatcher last December. The year 2010 promised to be a thriller for members of the Mt. Gretna Bird Club. And as the months and the birds flew by, no one was disappointed.
Certainly not Sid Hostetter, who heads the enthusiastic pack of ornithologists on their treks through Mt. Gretna and the surrounding countryside every Friday morning.
The flycatcher was around maybe three
weeks -- just long enough to lure photographers from throughout the state to Mt. Gretna. Why the excitement? It was only the species' fourth sighting in Pennsylvania history.
Yet even that heralded event didn't produce the state's most photographed bird this year.
That honor went to the wayward Ichabod, or Icky as he came to be known. The GPS-challenged sandhill crane with a propensity for a bottoms-up view of life came to be the photographers' poster boy (or girl -- a detail that bird watchers never satisfactorily resolved).
What was known, however, was that Icky had veered decidedly off course from his normal flight pattern. During the winter months, he should have been nesting with his kinsfolk in warmer climes, in places like Florida, Texas or even Mexico.
But all winter long, a solitary Icky prevailed in the frozen straits of Mt. Gretna's ice dam region -- the befuddled but nonetheless adored darling of naturalists, hikers and photographers who captured impressive images.
The tantalizing sightings continue. Club member George Tallman, who often drives from Chester County on Fridays to join fellow Mt. Gretna Bird Club members, last month discovered this rare chucker (left) roaming nearby.
"You never know what you're going to find," says Sid's wife Evelyn Koppel. "It could be an atypical native plant, a bird blown off course or a flock of siskins coming further south than usual in search of food."
Yet the most famous bird of 2010, at least in Mt. Gretna, remains Doodle -- the irascible, uncatchable rooster. In a place brimming with Ph.Ds and other brainy folk, he likely savors his reputation as the smartest guy in town.
Now in his second winter (... just hitting his stride, with a life expectancy of three, maybe four years), he has become Mt. Gretna's living symbol of spunk, spirit and chutzpah.
Refusing to be captured and able to soar high above the 18-wheelers cruising along Route 117, he struts, crows and sometimes, by golly, even croons a tune that some residents swear sounds like Frank Sinatra's, "I Did It My Way."
(Of course, Doodle's not really part of the bird club's serious endeavors, but there's the sense that he's grown fond of a town where bird connoisseurs flourish. . . if only for the frothy chance to demonstrate that he can elude their best efforts, too.)
Care to join the club members on a Friday morning jaunt? It's easy. Just show up at the Chautauqua parking lot, near Le Sorelle Caf?, at 9 a.m. any Friday. For more information, e-mail email@example.com.
Special Event Tuesday, Dec. 14: Mt. Gretna Bird Club visits Conowingo Dam in the Lower Susquehanna River for a glimpse of the bald eagles and lunch with the Tyler Arboreteum bird group. Call Sid or Evelyn at 964-3412 (or e-mail) to join the car pool.
Questions Readers Ask
Garnett Beckman 1907-2010
Garnett "Kiki" Beckman, a frequent summer visitor to Mt. Gretna, died last week in Phoenix, Az., at the age of 103. An avid bridge player, she was the mother of Laura Feather of Conewago Hill and a first cousin of Gazelle Ware Kamp, who lived on Village Lane in Timber Hills until her death last year at the age of 97.
An outdoors enthusiast who began climbing the Grand Canyon at age 65 and continued into her 90s, Mrs. Beckman once told an Arizona Republic reporter, "Exercise is insurance for the quality of life, never mind the quantity of years." She and her husband had run a drugstore in Honolulu; they were there on the day Japan bombed Pearl Harbor. Click here to read the illuminating obituary that appeared Sunday in the Republic's online edition.
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We also like the practical wisdom expressed in Rotary International's Four-Way Test of the Things We Think, Say or Do. . . a useful guideline not just for writers of community newsletters but for everyone:
Is it the
truth? Is it fair to all concerned? Will it build goodwill and better
friendships? Will it be beneficial to all concerned?