SOGGY SUMMER’S PENULTIMATE SALUTE
According to the calendar, 30 days or so are left of summer. But the summer season, like sisal mats sprawled across Mount Gretna’s porches, soon will be rolled up and tucked away --- even before autumn’s official start Sept. 22.
After the tumult of art show weekend, life slows to about half speed. In Mount Gretna, Labor Day festivities absorbing the rest of America seem almost anticlimactic. More than a third of us get ready to pack up and head elsewhere. Crowds dissipate. Parking woes seem but a distant memory. And those who remain welcome the change of pace.
So even as the town gets ready this week for its biggest event of the season, an eagerness to resume fall’s facile tempo seems more earnest than usual. Perhaps that’s because we associate the coming season with falling leaves, golden sun and crisp days.
This probably isn’t the wettest summer on record, but it’s surely the soggiest that almost anyone can remember. And its effect on a community that delights in outdoor summer events has been, in a word, dismal. Crowds were down at the lake. Patrons who planned to take in a show at the Playhouse sometimes abruptly changed plans, occasionally for reasons that defy explanation and at other times when power failures suddenly darkened the theater. Two performances had to be canceled altogether. Two others saw power restored only minutes before curtain time, after many patrons already were in their cars and heading home.
A soggy summer, yet with uneven patterns. While attendance in some settings sagged, in others it soared. Overflow crowds last week set up lawn chairs outside the Playhouse to catch the Cicada Festival’s Army Chorus concert. Audiences gathering for presentations in the Tabernacle nudged against all-time records, with 750 turning out last month to hear Elisabeth von Trapp, whose family inspired “The Sound of Music.” And visitors at the 20th annual house tour Aug. 7 equalled last year’s numbers, beckoned by sunny skies and low temperatures on one of the most delightful Saturdays of the entire season.
Yet rainfall could affect turnout again at this year’s art show. A deluge last year cut the crowds to around 14,000 stalwart patrons, down from 17,000 in 2002 and over 20,000 four years ago. Rain or shine, however, the artists will be here: about 285 of them from more than 20 states. So will the food vendors (including the What If Café, Hershey Pantry, The Goodie Shop, Hess’s Barbecue, Bon Appetite Catering and Lancaster’s Enchanted Forest vegetarian restaurant.)
Also here will be Dejango, the monkey who on Friday the 13th last month inexplicably vanished from the van of his owner, perennial art show entertainer Jerry Brown. Brown, who walks around the show on stilts dressed as Uncle Sam, had stopped here briefly to confirm arrangements for his appearance this year. Driving home a half-hour or so later, he suddenly realized that his profit-making, peanut-munching partner wasn’t snuggled in her usual spot under a blanket. Frantically retracing his route, he found the distraught Dejango clinging to a cluster of fast-thinking, fast-acting neighbors who had spotted and rescued her on Lancaster Avenue. It was proof once again, if any were needed, that even in the soggiest of summers, here in Mount Gretna, we know a monkey on the loose when we see one.
NECESSITIES ON HOLD
The No. 1 question we get from readers of this newsletter: What’s up at the store and the design center? And the answer: Plenty of interest. Plenty of inquiries. But, say realtors, no one yet coming forward with firm plans to lease space in either location. Yet no lack of ideas, either. Thirteen-year-old Abby Cook, whose family moved to Timber Hills last year, dropped us a note recently. She thinks a gas station and general store would be ideal, “one with an air pump so if your bike gets a flat tire you wouldn’t have to go all the way out to look for one.” Residents share her hope that someone will soon restore a familiar, convenient source of daily essentials they can walk to.
A SWINGING SO-LONG TO SUMMER
Something inspires Mount Gretna's energetic citizens to fill even tiny openings in the jam-packed summer calendar. Take, for example, that Big Band end-of-the-summer bash at the lake Aug. 28.
It's not a fundraiser, although the organizer says money left over after expenses will go to community groups like the fire company, Heritage Festival or Chautauqua's summer programs.
It's not a concert, although a mid-state band will play arrangements inherited from Les Brown, who hails from the same region of central Pennsylvania.
And it's not an annual event, although if 150 people show up under the moonlight to enjoy the music, dancing and wine tasting, it might just become one.
So what prompted Campmeeting resident Ceylon Leitzel, who moved here two years ago, to promote a Big Band concert? He and wife Karen like the music, they like people and they want to be part of the community, he says. "Most of the musical events here are concerts. Few offer opportunities for dancing. We thought it might be nice to close out the season with something different."
Ceylon, who runs the family jewelry business in Myerstown and discovered a swing and jitterbug passion six years ago, says the music’s popularity is surging. He and Karen sometimes take off to New Hampshire for swing lessons from "Lindy Hop" expert Frankie Manning (now in his 90s), seek out Big Band events in places like Lancaster and Reading, and this summer helped get swing lessons started in Chautauqua’s summer series.
He's not sure just how his big dance party idea will turn out. "A lot depends on the weather," he says. But he wants to give it a try. Who knows? It may become yet another annual Mount Gretna tradition. Details: 7:30 to 10:30 p.m. Aug. 28, rain or shine; $15 in advance or $18 at the gate. Tel. 964-1829.
IN BRIEF (45 words or less)
 Everybody in Zip Code 17604 is invited to that “pot luck picnic” planned outside the Hall of Philosophy Sept. 4, from 4:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m. Reservations required: 964-1830; leave your name, number attending and whether you’re bringing an entrée, salad or dessert to share.
 An ATM going in under the back porch at Le Sorelle Café will soon become a permanent fixture operated by Jonestown Bank. During this week’s art show, officials will set up temporary ATM service at another location.
 Broken bikes, skinned knees and chilly waters didn’t stop athletes at the Xterra triathlon Aug. 8. Oldest competitor in the group: Cyclist Paul Enck, celebrating his 60th birthday. Sons Jason and Corey handled the swimming and running. Their team finished second in the men’s relays.
 Xterra organizer Brad Kurtz says they’ll decide in a few weeks whether to do another off-road triathlon here next year. Good weather, favorable reactions from competitors and enthusiastic support from Mount Gretnans contributed to a successful event, he says.
 Mount Gretnans began placing bets on just how many residents will forget that Monday’s trash pickup shifts to Tuesday on Sept. 7, the day following Labor Day. Well, OK. Sometimes we have around here what one might call “a slow news day.”
 A reminder that Tuesday nights are Mount Gretna Fire Company night at Farmer’s Hope Inn along Route 72 just north of the turnpike. Mention you’re from Mount Gretna, and owners Tim and Terri Brown will donate 10 percent of your bill to the fire company.
 Afghan quilt sales also benefit the firefighters. Each purchase of the colorful $50 afghans, with scenes depicting Mount Gretna history, adds $15 to fundraising coffers. See them on display at the post office; buy them at Gretna Computing, tel. 964-1106.
 Crews will this week complete that permanent link connecting borough and Heights water supplies. For nearly five months after an 80-year-old well collapsed in January 2002, an emergency fire hose supplied 7,000 gallons a day (about half their normal usage) to 69 Heights homes.
 PennDOT’s Lebanon office says they’ve asked the Harrisburg traffic unit to look into installing embedded reflectors along Route 117. It’s a roadway where motorists (including late-night concert and playgoers) often find visibility difficult, especially on rainy, foggy nights.
 The fire company’s annual $15 all-you-can-eat pig roast picnic starts at 4:00 p.m. Sept. 18. Several generations of appreciative Mount Gretnans usually join the fun, with generous extra donations often exceeding their appetites and underscoring their gratitude.
 Governor Dick’s board hopes to soon appoint a part-time Nature Center staffer and open the building for limited use this fall. Weather woes delayed final landscaping touches, causing muddy conditions that discouraged visitors and postponed plans for a grand opening this summer.
 An old-fashioned community sing along for the whole family is on tap Thursday, Aug. 19 at the Hall of Philosophy. Admission is free. The program starts at 8:00 p.m.
 Rounding out the World’s Great Religions 7:30 p.m. series at the Hall of Philosophy are presentations Aug. 18 on the Islamic Empire and Aug. 23 on Protestantism.
 Gretna Theater officials promise this year’s gala, with silent and live auctions at Hotel Hershey Oct. 9, will be another (black tie encouraged) event to remember. Details, including announcement of this year’s master of ceremonies, will be posted at http://mtgretna.com/theatre/gala.asp.
 Mount Gretna playwrights Maureen Grape (Aug. 26) and Eton Churchhill (Sept. 2) present their works in the Cicada Festival’s staged play readings at the Hall of Philosophy. Readings begin at 8:15 p.m.; free admission.
 Paul and Jane Digiacomo joined Mount Gretnans extending kindness to Campbelltown neighbors ravaged by last month’s tornado. As home rebuilding efforts got underway, the Digiacomos opened their Pennsylvania Avenue cottage to a displaced family.
 Those who’ve never sampled Alice’s unforgettable bean soup will have another opportunity Oct. 16. Alice McKeone’s grandmother provided the recipe half a century ago; Alice herself provides the soup; and fire company volunteers provide the prizes. The block shoot --- and the fun --- begin at noon.
 Two restaurant caterers at this year’s art show are Central PA Magazine reader’s choice award winners: Hershey Pantry (best breakfasts) and The Enchanted Forest (best vegetarian). Note: whenever the magazine includes an ice cream parlor category, Mount Gretna’s Jigger Shop is always the hands-down winner.
 Forester Barry Rose begins his survey of Governor Dick Park this fall. His mission: promote healthy native plants and wildlife, protect saplings from ravenous deer and restore vitality to the forest. Permanent solutions will take years, says Rose. (See Newsletter No. 34, April 2004)
 Le Sorelle Café resumes regular hours (8:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m., Friday-Sunday) after Labor Day. See http://www.porchandpantry.com/ for menus, reservations and special announcements.
 Nicole Roberts, age 10, is out beating the drums for musicians to join her and others in a band that’ll lead Mount Gretna’s Halloween Parade --- one of the best things that happens here all year long, she thinks. To join the fun, call 964-2029.
 Another nature walk with naturalist, photographer, artist and raconteur Dale Grundon starts Aug 28 at the Mount Gretna store (former Deli) at 9:30 a.m. Everyone’s invited, and this popular Chautauqua-sponsored event is free.
 Pennsylvania Covered Bridges (Aug. 27), Fall Gardening (Aug. 30) and Fall Bird migrations (Sept.3) remain in the Chautauqua’s Hall of Philosophy 7:30 p.m. series. Free admission; donations accepted.
3 (Maybe 4) big trees in the Campmeeting likely to be removed this year. A Penn State forester annually decides the fate of trees that look questionable, says Merv Lentz.
35 to 40 Percent of house tour visitors discovering Mount Gretna for the first time, according to estimates by volunteer host David Gontz. Coordinator Emi Snavely expressed gratitude to homeowners and all volunteers whose help each year brings financial support essential to preserving Gretna Music’s place among America’s top music festivals. (TIME magazine once rated it among “six of the best.”)
60 Mount Gretnan Paul Enck, celebrating a birthday Aug. 8 and, the same day, winning the “oldest competitor” prize in Pennsylvania’s first Xterra off-road triathlon.
177 Entrants who registered for the Nissan-sponsored Xterra race. Coming from California, Nevada, Louisiana, Tennessee, Virginia, Maryland, New Jersey and Pennsylvania, only about 150 contestants finished. But 30-year-old Jonestown resident Scott Gray took top honors, completing the rugged circuit in 2 hours 25 minutes. One of 40 sites in the nationwide Xterra series, the challenge included a chilly half-mile swim, a 15-mile bike ride and a 5-mile trail run up Governor Dick hill. Following a blowout along the rocky route, one cyclist churned through the rest of the race on a tireless rim. Others limped home with broken pedals, fractured chains and shattered dreams of qualifying for the international finals this fall in Maui.
750 Attendees at this year’s most popular Bible Festival event, the July 24 return of vocalist Elisabeth von Trapp. Biggest crowd in Tabernacle history? Nope. In the early 1980s, newspapers reported that a record 1,100 worshipers flocked to the Tabernacle for one religious service. It must have a squeeze. “You have to scrunch up very tight to get 800 people in,” says the festival’s Tom Meredith.
QUESTIONS READERS ASK
 Where is Evelyn Duncan?
<> The former Mount Gretna resident and peripatetic winner of Gretna Theater’s 2002 Coglin Award honoring outstanding volunteers is, says her business card, “Wherever My Motorhome Is Parked.” Just now that happens to be at Great Oaks Campground, south of the Turnpike off Pinch Road. But come fall, the adventurous traveler will head West. This week, she’s pursuing another passion: serving as a volunteer on both days of the art show.
 What’s happening with Verizon’s cell phone tower along Mine Road?
Jack Thomas, Verizon’s man in charge of tower construction here, says work will begin next month, and the 190-ft. tower should be up by October. Cellular service probably won’t start right away, however. He says the tower wasn’t originally planned for this year, “but we’re trying to fit it in as an extra. A worst case scenario would put it on the air for our customers by January 2005.” Jack notes that Lebanon County emergency teams will also place antennas on the tower, which South Annville Township officials approved last April. “So we want to get it up as quickly as we can,” he says.
The 64-acre Heisey family tract where Verizon’s tower will be built already has an 80-ft. structure, erected for radio communications in 1941. The new joint-use tower, while bringing dependable cellular service to Mount Gretna, will also save Lebanon County taxpayers $160,000, officials say.
 What’s PennDOT planning to do about the deteriorating conditions along Route 117, particularly that stretch westward toward Colebrook?
<> PennDOT’s Dale Good says Route 117 is one of the roads he’s scheduled for an “A-Team Ride” in a couple of weeks. That’s when PennDOT district engineers and local maintenance teams get together to decide which highway improvements in the area merit top priority. “I’d like to make Route 117 a little wider and put blacktop shoulders all the way out,” says Dale. “They already have the schedule set for next year, so we’re looking at 2006. But we’re probably going to have to do some maintenance work before then because Route 117 is not going to last that long.”
He’s aware of Mount Gretna’s growing popularity as a mecca for runners, bikers, and horseback riders. Triathlon organizers consider the area’s lake, hills and trail combination ideal for athletic competitions. The Xterra series was one of two triathlons here this summer. Chris Kaag’s “Got The Nerve” minitriathlon in May attracted over 500 competitors. Almost as many spectators and athletes flocked here for the Xterra races Aug. 8. Summertime crowds and increasing truck traffic year ‘round add to the roadway’s demands.
 Where can I find trail maps for Governor Dick Park?
<> Carol McLaughlin has them at the West Cornwall Township office, tel. 272-9841. They’re also available at Gretna Computing. When it’s finally open, Governor Dick’s Nature Center will also have maps. Park officials plan a grand opening sometime this fall.
 If we come to Mount Gretna in September, will anything be going on?
<> Mount Gretna’s pace slows in September. Except for a few events clustered around Labor Day, the calendar shows only a pig roast fundraiser at the fire company Sept. 18. But the gift shop will be open. Leaves will be changing. And, other than ever-increasing numbers of hikers enjoying the rail-trail, crowds will dwindle. Those delighting in nature, quiet, and contemplative calm often find September among the best months of the year.
 Where can I get that videotaped program about Mount Gretna?
<> A few copies are available at Le Sorelle Café. And, as we mentioned last month, producer Jim Forney has copies of the 30-minute PBS minidocumentary “Golden Days In Mount Gretna” for sale (VHS or CD: $20, or DVD: $40. To order, add $3 for USA shipments, $6 elsewhere: Jim Forney, 106 Elm Lane, Sewickley, PA 15143.
 Are audio tapes of Jack Bitner’s July 2 “History of Mount Gretna” talk available?
<> Dick Smith (firstname.lastname@example.org) taped Jack’s talk. He also recorded Mary Alice Wheeling’s July 9th presentation on the life of “Ladies Home Journal” magazine writer and author Ann Hark, a Mount Gretna summer resident whose books dealt mainly with the Pennsylvania Dutch. Dick says the programs “were taped to preserve history, and I assume that if people are interested we’ll duplicate them and offer them for sale.”
FINALLY. . .
“Was everything all right?” That’s the question restaurant cashiers almost always ask departing guests. And 99 times out of a 100 they hear, “Yes, everything was just fine.” Often, however, neither the question nor the answer is precisely apt.
A much better inquiry might be, “What’s the ONE THING we could do to make your experience with us more enjoyable?”
Few restaurants ever ask that question. If they did, we suspect they and their patrons would benefit greatly.
As a purveyor of community information --- one who serves up all sorts of obscure data for the good of the order --- we might ourselves ask: “What’s the one thing we could do to make your experience with this newsletter better?”
We delight in hearing from readers, many of them living in other states, cities and countries. Yet all of us, it seems, share a fondness for Mount Gretna. So while gathering and reporting the news is for us a satisfying hobby, it’s even more pleasurable when we hear that others enjoy it as well. Making it better is a constant quest. So whenever you have a moment and wish to share an idea, question or inspiration, please do so. It’s part of the fun --- and links to friendship --- that makes this modest endeavor so enjoyable.
Our thanks to all who take the time to read this bulletin, especially those who share copies with friends and relatives in far-flung places, even neighbors next door who lack connections to the Internet. Thanks also to Keith Volker, who posts back issues at http://www.mtgretna.com/news, and to Dale Grundon, whose photographs at http://dalesdelights.com add a colorful visual framework for scenes we can only describe.
Roger Groce, 213 Stevens Avenue