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Mt. Gretna Newsletter

Mt. Gretna, Pa. "Not a place, but a spirit."   Marlin Seiders (1927-2008)

No. 125                                                                                                December 1, 2011

The warmth that counts  

On a recent Saturday morning, at probably the only pizza shop in America that thrives on its breakfast fare, a well-dressed couple sat along windows that look out onto Timber Road as they finished their eggs benedict and blueberry pancakes. Against bright sunlight unusual for late November, they looked as if they might just as well have been in Florida. We shared that thought aloud as we passed their table.  

"We'd rather be here," said the woman, who looked as if Florida was clearly an option but one they no longer cared to take.

What is it about Mt. Gretna that makes people who have a choice wish to stay here in the winter? That thought lingered as we paid our bill and walked across the street. After all, we are among those who have spent several winters down South in recent years. 

Why do so many of us do that? To escape an occasional snow that others seem to enjoy? To avoid slipping on the ice? (Darlene Eckert introduced us to WinterTrax, which solves that problem in a twink.) Or is it that we truly enjoy conversations with people we barely know who struggle to find something in common to talk about? "Er, how's your golf game?"

Except for skies that are blue, winters aren't all that great in warm but unfamiliar places where you go to the post office and see nobody you know. Conversations with casual acquaintances are polite. But seldom do they engender deep, from-the-belly laughter that comes naturally with old friends. And snowbirds have to work hard to maintain satisfying relationships a thousand miles from home. Their handful of casual friends will soon melt away -- either to retirement homes, to move closer to grandchildren or because they die.

Contrast that with the gifts of Mt. Gretna, where -- in terms of their ability to warm hearts in ways that truly count -- friendships, firesides and post office chats dwarf sunshine, cocktail parties and golf.  

Mt. Gretna is a place where most of us know each other well. Even if someone dies, even if they're among our best-known, best-loved neighbors, the bounce-back factor for those who remain is high. Others are here to provide the support we need. A deep reservoir of strength that usually sees us through.

Among our breakfast companions last week were Ron and Karrie Hontz, summer residents on the last visit of the season to their barely heated Campmeeting cottage, where they spent on November's final weekend what Karrie called "a two-dog night."

Ron shared a tale of how they met neighbors Betsy Barnhart and Tim Dailey. Looking for a place to watch Penn State football soon after they bought their cottage a couple of years ago, he headed to the Hideaway since his tiny TV couldn't pull in the game. On the way, Betsy, whom he hadn't yet met, was out on her porch talking with Karrie. "Oh, Tim's in watching that game," she said, and took him inside. "Tim, this is Ron." With that, she left them to the game and a spontaneous new friendship. "Things like that don't happen in Skippack," says Ron.

An item in this issue relates how Ted Martin met new friends Harry Short and Frank Romonoski when he set out to borrow two tablespoons of cornstarch one afternoon last month. Another tells of how Mt. Gretna's Christmas tree tradition began when Tom Miller's dad died one November day, and Tom suddenly had an extra 12-foot tree on his hands. Friends and neighbors decorated it as a memorial to his father.

 The stories are telling. So when snowbirds ask themselves, "Why do we do this?," they may decide that sure, there are sunnier places than Mt. Gretna in the winter. But few give rise to the warmth that really counts. 




The Sights and Sounds of Christmas 

Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays Dec. 1-24  

Gretna Theatre's Holiday Booth at Lebanon Farmers Market
. Gift certificates and other items including Madelaine Gray note cards and Nancy Bishop watercolor prints.

Saturday, D
ec. 3

16th Annual Christmas at Cornwall House Tour

10 am - 4 pm.

14th Annual Community Christmas tree lighting, 5:30 pm. Carol singing, hot mulled cider and organ music at the home of Peter Hewitt and Walter McAnney, opposite the post office. No admission charge; please bring a holiday treat to share.

Lionheart, 7:30 pm. Among the world's best all-male vocal ensembles, at Gretna Music's winter performance venue, Elizabethtown College

Sundays through Dec. 18

Advent series on Jesus' family tree, 7 pm. Says Mt. Gretna United Methodist Church minister Mike Remel, "I know this probably sounds boring, but once you learn about some of the characters in Jesus' family, our own families don't seem so bad."

Tuesday, Dec. 6

Winterites' holiday covered dish luncheon. Noon. Bring a meat dish, casserole, vegetable, salad or dessert to share. At the fire hall. Everyone's invited, women and men, as well as friends and neighbors. 


Wednesday, Dec. 7
The Gathering Place
. Mt. Gretna United Methodist Church, noon. A special Christmas luncheon where everyone's invited, old friends and new. Freewill offering. 


Friday, Dec. 9
Le Sorelle Porch and Pantry candlelight dessert buffet, 7 pm. Holiday music, eggnog mousse, pear frangipani tarts and more. Reservations: 269-3876 or email


Saturday, Dec. 10
Lunch with Santa
at the fire hall, 11:30 am. (Cookie bakers: please drop off your Christmas treats early that morning.)

Christmas Scavenger Hike, 1:30 pm. Governor Dick Park. 


Saturday, Dec. 17
Breakfast with Santa
at Le Sorelle, 9 to 11 am. Free photos. No reservations.

Thursday, Dec. 22
Belsnickel Night at the Timbers
, 7 pm. Tom Baum and Max Hunsicker present their annual account of Chet Williamson's Pennsylvania Dutch Night Before Christmas:  "Four cows and four steers, harnessed somehow, 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." By the fireside, downstairs. (Reservations recommended: 964-3601.)

Saturday, Dec. 24
Candlelight services
, 7 and 11 pm. Mt. Gretna United Methodist Church.


Sunday, Dec. 25
Special service
at Mt. Gretna United Methodist Church. 10 am only. "How often do we have opportunity to celebrate Jesus' birth on Christmas Day?" asks pastor Mike Remel. "Don't miss this one."
(Note: The Jan. 1 service on New Year's will also be held only at 10 am.)

Saturday, Dec. 31

New Year's Eve party at the Timbers. 7:00 pm. Buffet dinner ($20.95) accompanied by pianist Andy Roberts and continuing until 12:30 am with after-dinner party tunes by Andy, Scott Galbraith, Bart Briody and friends in a six-piece dance band. Reservations: 964-3601.



Christmas Surprise:

A Donor Who Knows What Makes Mt. Gretna Tick Offers Matching Funds to Fix Up the Fire House Kitchen  
Guess what showed up in the mail last week? An anonymous donor's offer to provide $15,000 in matching funds to pay for a renovated kitchen in Mt. Gretna's fire hall.

The offer is straightforward: The benefactor promises to match dollar for dollar, up to $15,000, checks that arrive earmarked "KITCHEN."

Obviously, it comes from someone who understands full well the value of a fire company kitchen in Mt. Gretna. It's the place where tummies are fed, spirits are lifted and people take pleasure from renewed contacts with neighbors they know but don't see every day.  That's why events like Sunday morning breakfasts, Italian Night suppers, and pig roasts score high on the sociability index here. 

A drive to upgrade the kitchen for the dedicated folks who make the meals. 

Trouble is, the fire company's kitchen needs help: a new commercial refrigerator is the top priority. Then comes a new hood system for the stove.

Before it was replaced just last year, the old stove looked as if it had barely survived Sherman's March Through Georgia. We remember the time a few years ago when volunteer cooks were busy preparing Alice McKeone's legendary ham and bean soup for a block shoot. That's when a fire suddenly broke out under the ancient stove. But the ladies, armed only with soup ladles and wet towels, somehow managed to extinguish it before the alarmsounded. Thank goodness. Otherwise, imagine the embarrassing headlines that would have ricocheted around the globe: "Firefighters Called to Quell Flames at Firehouse Kitchen."

So no more putting this one on the back burner, says the note that accompanied this $15,000 challenge. It's high time for the Mt. Gretna Fire Company to have a kitchen that ranks among the best, matching the dedication of those who serve the meals.

Matching funds? It's the offer of someone who knows instinctively the essential ingredients of a life well-lived.




Exploring a Tradition:

Origins of Mt. Gretna's Community Christmas Tree

For the past 14 years, Peter Hewitt and Walter McAnney have more or less officially launched Mt. Gretna's holiday season from their home across from the post office. They'll do the same again this year, with a tree lighting ceremony, carol singing, organ music and a harvest of treats brought in by all Mt. Gretnans who stop by for this festive occasion around 5:30 pm on Saturday, Dec. 3.

That's now a tradition. But how did it get started?

From his home in North Carolina, former Mt. Gretnan Tom Miller recently shared with us its origins, which actually began on a cold November day in 1995. That was the day when Major General William Miller, Tom's father, died. As usual that year, Tom had pre-ordered a
Christmas tree from Jeff' White Birch Farm in Fontana as part of a deliberate strategy to circumvent his dad's repeated threats to "go artificial." Yet with his dad now gone, what to do with an extra 12-foot Christmas tree?

Tom asked permission to place it at the point where Pinch Road and Princeton Avenue intersect with Route 117. The home at that location was then unoccupied, just before John Balmer began a remodeling project that would take several years. Tom got not only permission to place the tree on the site but also received help from borough staffers who connected the lights as a festive pre-Christmas touch that would also serve "as a sort of memorial," says Tom. Friends and neighbors added ornaments.

That tradition continued for the next few years as the remodeling project progressed, right up until 1998, Tom recalls. From that point, Peter and Walter planted a live pine tree at the point, and the heritage -- now enriched by music, singing, and shared treats swathed in fellowship -- continues.





2011 Soup Cook-Off Winner

Cool in a crisis, he wins with half a pot of hot soup

By training, John Noullet is accustomed to handling an emergency. He is, after all, the Director of Crisis Intervention for Lebanon County.

But even that didn't prepare him for the one that accompanied his Limited Edition Mushroom entry in the soup cook-off last month.

He had prepared it the night before at the home of a friend in Hershey. On John's way back to Mt. Gretna, with a crock pot tucked into the passenger seat, a deer jumped in front of his car, and about half a kettleful of soup spilled onto the floor. He carefully lifted his now half-empty pot back onto the seat and limped home to his Chautauqua cottage, where wife Betsy had been preparing a soup of her own. But what remained of John's entry wasn't nearly what he'd hoped to offer some 120 judges who would cast their votes the next day.

A spill didn't spoil the soup


Yet he won. Clear proof of not only John's culinary skills but also his now undeniable distinction as a cool man in a crisis with hot soup.

Runners-up were 2010 finalist Bob Hertzler (with crab bisque) and Jean Ditzler, a former cookoff winner whose Italian Cheddar Broccoli squeaked out second place in a tight contest where single-digit margins determined the top three finishers.

All the entries in this year's contest were top shelf, Thatcher Bornman said later. "Someone told me, 'If I were in a restaurant and they served me any one of these 15 soups, I'd be delighted,'" said Thatch, who organizes this annual event to benefit the fire company. 

Taking top honors in both the Best Presentation and Most Unique categories was newly elected West Cornwall Township supervisor Glen Yanos, whose ties to Mt. Gretna stretch back over many years. "I love it out here," says the Mine Road resident, who also happened to be the Best Presentation winner last year.

The most distant contestant was Roseann Battistia of Hartly, Del., a friend and co-entrant of Conewago Hill resident Laura Feather. Other Mt. Gretnans in the contest were Amy Steiner (who placed second last year), Deb Vollmar, Pat McGough, Betsy Noullet, Sid and Evelyn Hostetter, and Gloria Rust, the 2010 winner. Contestants from other areas included Kathleen Herr and Linda Martin of Lancaster, Doug Wentz and Lewis Fewfell of Manheim, Lucia Vella of Lebanon and Jeanie Krause Bachard of Mt. Joy.





No, you don't often see them in Mt. Gretna. So where did this infrequent visitor turn up? Where else but right in Sid Hostetter and Evelyn Koppel's front yard. They're the couple who moved to Valley Road several years ago and promptly founded the Mt. Gretna Bird Club. Perhaps this chukkar arrived on Thanksgiving Day just to honor them.

Unlikely, says Evelyn. "He's not a native partridge, and he probably had just been released by the Pennsylvania Game Commission."  

Maybe so. But he knew precisely where to land in Mt. Gretna. And until yesterday morning, just hours before this month's issue was scheduled for release, he was still hanging around the home where Sid and Evelyn created "A garden that recreates a sense of place -- and helps preserve wildlife," as an entry on the 2011 Mt. Gretna Tour of Homes brochure pointed out. "Our chukkar seems to have moved on," a wistful Evelyn reported.

You can be sure they'll soon have another adventure to share, however. So if you're looking to add a little zest to your life, join them: The Mt. Gretna Bird Club meets every Friday at 9 am in the Chautauqua parking lot. They usually top off their excursions with breakfast at a local restaurant. Email Evelyn for details


Something he can sink his teeth into. Remember Bo, the forlorn English Springer Spaniel that lost his favorite glove? Try as they might, his Village Cove owners Tom and Joanne Honeychurch couldn't come up with a satisfactory replacement. Although they still haven't found Bo's original glove after months of searching, last week they finally discovered an acceptable substitute. And guess what? Bo likes it! A former champion show dog, now retired at age 6 and less in the limelight, he has discovered the true meaning of Rod Stewart's Until The Real Thing Comes Along ballad (lyrics translated in Dog), "If that's not glove, it'll have to do. . . ."

A tip of the hat to Kerry Royer, who came up with the idea to recycle magazines printed on glossy paper with a collection bin at the post office to benefit the Ronald McDonald House. "It's amazing how many magazines accumulate, especially in the pre-holiday advertising frenzy," says Evelyn Koppel, who thinks Kerry deserves "a big thanks" as do the volunteers who haul the magazines to drop-off points. "This effort not only keeps all this material from our already overflowing landfills," says Evelyn, an avid conservationist, "but it also raises money and provides an unexpected benefit: the pleasure everyone gets from borrowing catalogs and magazines from the bin."  

A Nessie sighting in Mt. Gretna? Loch Ness has its monster and maybe we have one, too. It all depends on your point of view, says Chautauqua newcomer Lois Herr who has the gift of seeing things in a new way and brings them to our attention.
Lois, a former candidate for Congress, made the news this week in one of Lancaster Newspapers' best-read columns, the Scribbler. Author Jack Brubaker, whose parents once owned the Stevens Avenue Cottage next to Bill and Leanne Harrington, chronicled Lois' intense interest in following efforts to positively identify the remains of an American pilot who crashed in a Malaysian jungle 66 years ago. The pilot was her cousin.






1,248 visitors to the Mt. Gretna Area Historical Society on weekends from June through August, says the society's latest newsletter, which also recounts the impact of the 1893 depression on Mt. Gretna founder Robert H. Coleman's plans.




Keep this number handy:

When power outages occur, call Met-Ed immediately: 


Met-Ed gives top priority to outages affecting the greatest numbers of people. Your call not only helps pinpoint the scope of an outage but may also speed repair crews to Mt. Gretna.     

Call even though others in your neighborhood have also reported the outage. Each call helps nudge Mt. Gretna a little higher on the priority list. 

During extreme cold weather, the Mt. Gretna Fire Company provides emergency shelter in power outages that last more than three hours. Bring medications and medical equipment; a sleeping bag or blanket and pillows; food for yourself and family members; books, games and other materials to help pass the time and, if the stay is likely to be for several days, a change of clothes. Sorry, no pets.






Residents in the Timber Hills vicinity, who have sometimes expressed that they feel like neglected orphans in the sweeping expanse of South Londonderry Township (a municipality that's 150 times larger than Mt. Gretna itself), may take some comfort from this news: The supervisors have decided to move their meetings around a bit next year. That thoughtful gesture, apparently intended to make outlying areas seem a little less "out of sight, out of mind" will begin with a Wednesday, Feb. 15 session in Mt. Gretna, at the Timbers, starting at 7 pm.


Former Mt. Gretna Playhouse director Will Stutts appears at Philadelphia's Walnut Street Theatre this month as Noel Coward in Noel and Gertie. Based on Coward's relationship with Gertrude Lawrence (who happened to be a friend of Tallulah Bankhead,  Stutts' second cousin), the limited engagement runs through Dec. 31.


West Cornwall Township is setting up an emergency notification system for township residents who live near Philhaven. The system will alert residents if patients escape from the psychiatric hospital. Call township secretary Suzanne Heller (272-9841) to include your name, number and email on the notification list.


Cornwall Borough approved plans last month for the $300 million hotel, indoor water park and 500-home development to be called the Preserve at Historic Cornwall Village, four miles from Mt. Gretna. When will construction begin? "The economy will be the determining factor," says spokesman Paul Callahan, who expects that once the project gets underway, it will take 20 years to complete, The Patriot-News reported.  


So why did the lights often flicker but not go out altogether during the pre-Halloween snowstorm that swept through Mt. Gretna? It's Met-Ed's new adaptive relay system, says spokeswoman Karen Baxter. "It gives power lines a chance to 'self-heal,'" she says. "We use it only during storms. Often, a branch will hit a line and then fall off. Under the old system, that branch would cause a fault and a truck would have to be dispatched to fix it. With the new system, if the line goes out for a couple of seconds, it tries to close again. If it can, it self-heals and no one has to go out to make the repair. In a way, it's annoying because sometimes the power can be off just long enough for you to have to reset your clocks, but it does save maybe a three-hour outage if you must wait for someone in a line truck," she says.

Timber Hills residents plan another mid-winter community get-together. They'll gather at the Timbers Friday, Jan. 20, starting at 5 pm. "Or whenever it's convenient for you to get there," says co-organizer Esther Mefferd, who helps husband Ted and friends Bob and Patsy Oburn plan the social affairs that residents in the Timber Hills area now organize as means of  helping new and old neighbors get to know one another better.
Order what you want and pay for what you get, says Esther, suggesting that you call the Timbers for reservations (964-3601), preferably before Jan. 13. Questions? Drop her a note or call 964-3123. You can reach the Oburns at 964-1342.

What to do with your old computer? Donate it to the new Computer Lab that Anna McDonald will set up at Mt. Gretna United Methodist Church next summer. "We already have a designated space in the church, a donated printer and one offer of a few machines," she says, "but some are outside our preferred age range." Volunteers will teach classes on learning to use computers, mastering online shopping, Facebook, and how to pay bills safely. Laptop clinics are also a possibility, so people can learn on their own machines. As for donations, Anna hopes to get equipment that's no more than five years old. She can also use a projector and networking equipment. Contact her at  





No grocery stores? When you run out of something in Mt. Gretna. . . 

Just Keep Knocking on Doors 

Ted Martin says sometimes his friends and former state government colleagues in Harrisburg simply don't believe his stories about Mt. Gretna.  

They probably don't believe we have a bantam rooster that rules the town, for instance. Or that maybe half the people here know one another on a first-name basis.  

Or if you run out of cornstarch in the middle of whipping up a dessert to accompany your Fidget Pie, you can simply walk down the road to ask Pat Pinsler. If she doesn't have it, she'll walk you across the street to the Mt. Gretna Inn where inn owners Harry Short and Frank Romonoski had just the right amount Ted needed to fix the dessert that would add the coupe de grace to his English meal on a Saturday afternoon last month.

The Fidget Pie turned out great, said Ted -- "almost too pretty to eat." So we asked for his recipe to include in the upcoming fire company cookbook.  

Here's Ted's formula for what he says is the perfect meal at his own cottage, Uneeda Rest in the Campmeeting, or anywhere else for that matter, especially on a cool or cloudy day.  

Shropshire Fidget Pie  

Traditionally this pie is not served with vegetables, but Ted served his with dilled carrots.  


3 Medium Potatoes, peeled and finely sliced

2 Onions, sliced

2 Cooking apples, peeled, cored and sliced

3 Slices Sweetcure gammon (bacon), de-rinded and cut into strips

1 1/2 oz Butter

2 Teaspoon Brown sugar

Salt and black pepper

1/2 Teaspoon Ground nutmeg (Ted substitutes Mixed Spice. "Not allspice," he insists; "Mixed Spice is British.")

5 fl oz Pork stock, or vegetable stock
8 oz Shortcrust pastry

Milk or beaten egg, to glaze



Preheat the oven to 350 F.

Lightly fry the potatoes, onions and apples in the butter until just golden. Remove with a slotted

Ted finds this perfect for a cool, damp day at his cottage.

spoon and keep hot.  

Place the gammon (bacon)  in the pan and fry lightly in the remaining fat.  

Layer the gammon and the potatoes, onions and apples in a 1 1/2 - 2 pint pie dish, seasoning with sugar, salt, pepper and nutmeg. Pour on the stock.  On a lightly floured surface, roll out the pastry and cover the pie, trimming the edges. Make a steam hole and decorate with the trimmings. Brush with milk or egg.  

Bake for 30 minutes, then reduce the oven to 325 F for a further 10-15 minutes or until the pie is golden brown. Serves four to six

Cookbook volunteers still need lots of recipes for their 2012 edition. Have a favorite you can contribute? Send your entries now to: Mt. Gretna Fire Company Cookbook, P.O. Box 177, Mt. Gretna, PA 17064. 





Friday, Dec. 2

Madelaine Gray's "Paris: As Seen by Two Photographers" exhibit opens, 5 to 8 pm. A month-long run at Lebanon Valley Council of the Arts, 734 Willow Street, Lebanon.

Saturday & Sunday, Dec. 10-11

Artist Fred Swarr opens his studio to holiday gift shoppers, Saturday 9-5; Sunday 12-5. Original paintings at 50% off. At 301 Bell Avenue in the Campmeeting.




Notice: The family of Dale Grundon seeks to locate the owner of a stained glass hanging light that they believe was left with Dale for repair. "It does not appear to have been made by Dale," says his nephew Gaye Liddick, who may be reached at 717-362-8783 to identify and reclaim the lamp.




Thomas Charles Herald (1938-2011)

Tom Herald was never officially a resident of Mt. Gretna, but his heart and soul was always here. "He was one of those people who personify the spirit of Mt. Gretna, and only his deteriorating health kept him away," says Tom Meredith, a friend of long standing. He had come to Camp Mt. Gretna as a teenager, and then, after 20 years in the

Navy, returned here from his home in Highspire as often as possible. A summer vacationer who loved what he called "taking in the green" from the porch of a Campmeeting cottage, he served on the Bible Festival Program Committee and had first suggested bringing Elisabeth von Trapp to Mt. Gretna after hearing her on the radio. He played his Celtic harp at one of the Pennsylvania Chautauqua worship services for the past decade and paid for the Sunday Bulletin covers on those occasions, noted Chancellor Nancy Besch. He also presented the Wooden Cross on display at every Chautauqua Sunday service. A complete obituary appears online.








This unofficial community newsletter has neither any attachment to a particular group or organization nor any political or commercial ax to grind. Mainly, it's a retirement hobby, much as golf, fishing or woodworking might be for others. Although it produces no income, what it yields is a great deal of personal satisfaction, mainly because it keeps us busy and in touch with lots of folks who have come to be good friends. Formula for a good retirement? All things considered, it's about as good as we could come up with.    

We send it by e-mail to anyone who asks, without charge and with no expectation of anything other than a gentle prodding when we err. And errors, we have discovered in our 70s, are important touchstones along the pathway to lifelong learning.  

We don't cover everything. Some topics are better left to daily newspapers, TV and others with greater skills, resources and insights.

Generally speaking, we try to cover things that readers may not have already read elsewhere. Yet since the majority of our readers live not in Mt. Gretna but in other cities, states and countries, we sometimes summarize stories that appear in local newspapers. We also depend on readers to alert us to news, including obituaries, relating to present and former Mt. Gretnans.

In preparing each issue, we try to keep in mind the example set by the late Philadelphia Phillies broadcaster Harry Kalas, who felt as if listeners had invited him into their homes. We also value the practical wisdom of Rotary International's Four-Way Test of the Things We Think, Say or Do: "Is it the truth? Is it fair to all concerned? Will it build goodwill and better friendships? Will it be beneficial to all concerned?" It's a good guideline not only for writing a newsletter but also for conducting a life.

We've been writing this newsletter since January 2001, usually once a month unless we're 1.) traveling, 2.) ailing or 3.) attending to duties that, in the interest of domestic tranquility, take a higher priority.

We thank the many people who help us gather the news, take the photos, then edit, fact-check and proofread this newsletter. They include folks with special skills and knowledge of Mt. Gretna who live not only here but also in places like New York City, St. Paul, Minn., New Cumberland, Pa. and Hilton Head, S.C. 

If you have difficulty reading or printing the newsletter, please click on the online version appearing at  

Thanks to our friends at Gretna Computers, you can always find back issues of this newsletter on the Web at 

That online archive sometimes proves helpful to people planning to move here and want to know more about what goes on in a community which, as the late Marlin Seiders once observed, "is not a place, but a spirit."

Kindest regards,

Roger Groce



Mt. Gretna Newsletter: Winner of Constant Contact 2010 All-Star Award