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Mt. Gretna E-Mail Newsletter No. 42 December 2, 2004


With the approach of winter, the biggest news in Mount Gretna nowadays may be those gnawing beavers that suddenly showed up along the banks of Lake Conewago. Nobody knows exactly when they arrived or where they came from. And we admit, it’s not much of a story. But here in the newsroom of the Mount Gretna Gazette, at a time of year when both the days and the supply of newsworthy events grow increasingly shorter, it’s the best we could do.

Carol Mayer was the first to spot them, or the stripped bark and munch marks that clearly signaled their arrival. Presumably they migrated to the lake from the ice dam, where an industrious colony had been active for years. Barney Myer says he counted at least 18 tree trunks they’ve chewed so far. (See And Bill Care says the agriculture department has offered to help. Presumably the USDA will relocate them to other areas, just as they’ve helped us do with the vultures.

The vulture battle, incidentally, is one we’re winning. Max Hunsicker says efforts here have been among the most successful bird transfer projects in the state. The flock is now down to about 25 percent of its original size, thanks to the persistent, and tightly coordinated, efforts of volunteers throughout Mount Gretna’s seven neighborhoods. The campaign needs continued vigilance and support in coming weeks, however. If you’d like to help out, just ask one of the volunteers how you can join the effort. Powerful lights (some with 10 million candlepower) have proved remarkably effective in chasing the birds out of town.

But while the news on the vulture front is encouraging, the news from Verizon is a bit less so. True, the cell tower is now up. (You can catch a glimpse of it through the treetops, looking north from Yale Ave.) But deliveries of some electronic components needed to activate the tower have been delayed. Verizon says that cellular service, originally planned for January, now might not begin until some time in late February or March. Meanwhile, crews from Lebanon’s emergency communications unit are awaiting the go-ahead to begin placing police and fire antennas on the tower. Just when that will happen isn’t yet settled, but police and firefighters say the new tower will make emergency radio broadcasts much clearer and more effective.

As for other topics in the news. . .

Our readers have been asking about the new pizza shop, the design center, and what’s happening at the Playhouse. Mariano and Damian Aquino say their shop is all but ready, and they’re awaiting final approvals from a state regulatory agency in Harrisburg. They hope to soon begin offering Italian specialties and a few grocery items every day, from 7:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m.

The design center, John and Nancy Mitchell’s new 4,200-sq.-ft.-building along Route 117, is also just about ready. While awaiting their first retail tenants, John and Nancy will themselves be running a stand there, Thursdays through Sundays, offering the colorful French provençal table linens they’ve been selling through retail specialty shops across the country and at home and garden shows up and down the East Coast. They expect to be open most days from about 10:00 a.m. until 6:00 p.m., starting next Thursday. For a glimpse of the fabrics, colors and designs they’ll be offering, see

Readers have also been asking about activities at the Playhouse. Gretna Theater artistic director Will Stuffs, acknowledging that last season “wasn’t illustrious” from a financial standpoint, remains confident the shows on tap for next year (among them “Greater Tuna,” “The Fantasticks,” and “Stand By Your Man”) will help get things back on track. Gretna Music and Cicada are also enthusiastic about the coming year and will soon be announcing their 2005 lineups. And while the performing groups are preparing for next season, workmen are putting final touches on a new stage at the Playhouse. The original stage was the only section to survive the theater’s collapse under heavy snows in 1994. Reinforcements, repairs and expansions to the century-old stage are now nearly completed.

Also completed is that link between Mount Gretna Heights and Mount Gretna borough’s water systems. Officials hope to forge a similar link to the Campmeeting, one that will help protect residents throughout the community against droughts, collapsed wells and other calamities.

Readers also wonder whether PennDOT intends to install embedded reflectors, centerline rumble strips or other driving aids along Route 117, where nighttime visibility is poor, especially during fog, snow and heavy rains. Supervisor Dale Good says highway engineers were out to look at the roadway a few weeks ago, but he hasn’t yet heard whether hoped-for improvements here made it to the top of their priority list. He says the department is experimenting with rumble strips (such as those carved into the pavement along Route 72 to send warning bumps to drivers drifting across centerlines). They may consider something similar here. A few readers have noted, appreciatively, that PennDOT did recently repaint those reflective yellow and white lines along Route 117, improving visibility. Every little bit helps.

In fact, some would say that a community unable to yet make 911 cellular calls, while simultaneously under assault by buzzards from the skies and beavers along its shores, needs all the help it can get. Some would say that. Others might just pull up a rocking chair, shrug, and recall the motto of Joe and Reenie Macsisack’s all-time best-selling Tee-shirt: “Mount Gretna, Pa. The Way Life Should Be.”

IN BRIEF (45 words or less)

[] Everyone’s invited to the annual Christmas tree lighting Saturday (Dec. 4) at The Point, 1 Princeton Ave. for singing, hot mulled cider and other refreshments, 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. Plus music by organists Walter McAnney and 11-year-old Ryan Brunkhurst and clarinetist Emma Herr.

[] Volunteers from Mount Gretna’s seven neighborhoods are needed to encourage this year’s diminished buzzard flock to roost elsewhere. Although the 500-bird throngs of a few years ago have dwindled, “if we stop now it won’t take them long to rebound,” warns coordinator Max Hunsicker (

[] Nonprofit theaters are struggling these days. The Theater Communications Group reports that 58 percent of the nonprofit theaters it surveys ended last year with deficits. That’s 30 percent more than reported deficits four years ago.

[] Santa will skip his usual roundabout trip through town Dec. 11 and head straight for the fire hall where, at 11:30 a.m., youngsters will find favors, sandwiches, soup and hot chocolate. Volunteer bakers: please bring your Christmas cookies in early that morning.

[] Want Christmas carolers to show up outside your door Sunday, Dec. 12? Judy Wimer (964-3568) is taking requests. Everyone’s invited to join carolers at United Methodist Church for refreshments at 6:00 p.m. Afterwards, singers will “do our best” to cover all areas throughout Mount Gretna.

[] Christmas Eve candlelight services begin at 7:00 p.m. and 11:00 p.m. at Mount Gretna’s United Methodist Church. All are welcome.

[] LeSorelle Porch & Pantry café’s reservations-only theme dinners resume on second Saturdays, starting Jan. 8 with “Italian night”. Regular winter hours are 8:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. Fridays-Sundays. They’ll be closed Dec. 24 through Jan. 2. Tel. 964-3771 or see

[] Supervisor Merv Lentz says that new $2,600 brush attachment instantly transforms his Gehl hydraulic skid loader into a street sweeper. Now in his 26th year of looking after things, Merv says it’s perfect for the Campmeeting’s narrow streets with their assorted bumps, gutters and indentations.

[] “The Buried Treasure of Mt. Gretna,” Charlotte Valentine’s new adventure novel (previewed in our Oct. 12 issue), has just gone on sale at “Remember When” gift shop, open weekends through Dec. 12. Call Joe or Reenie Macsisak (964-2231 or 964-0404), or e-mail:

[] Gretna Music honors its 2004 volunteers at Elizabethtown’s Lynden Gallery Dec. 11. (Volunteers who have not yet received an invitation should call 361-1508.) The reception precedes a 7:30 p.m. holiday concert by Lionheart, a male vocal ensemble, at Leffler Chapel and Performance Center. See

[] Carpools to Gretna Music’s Dec. 11 “bring a friend” Lionheart seasonal concert at Elizabethtown College are being organized by Susan Wood (964-3069). Gretna Music’s special “bring a friend” offer provides 50 percent discounts on some tickets. Details: (717) 361-1508 or e-mail

[] Evelyn Duncan frequently finds folks with ties to Mount Gretna as she motorhomes her way across America. One Florida couple spoke admiringly of “Mr. Coglan,” Gretna Theater’s legendary director. In 2002, before launching her travels, Evelyn won the theater’s Coglan Award, which honors outstanding volunteers.

[] Mount Gretna artist Barb Fishman’s exhibition of abstract oil paintings continues weekdays, 9:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m., through Jan. 31 in the Harrisburg lobby of Penn National Insurance Company, 2nd and Walnut streets.


35 Years of service completed by former French teacher Debbie Clemens, who retired Nov. 5 and now looks forward to overseas travels. Especially (not surprisingly) to France.

102 Years that a Mount Gretna cottage has been in the same family. We thought the record was 99 years, but Polly Dunn says her cottage, at 118 Columbia Ave., was built by her great great aunts in 1902 and has been passed down through her family ever since. The 503 Second St. cottage now owned by Peg Hicks Byford was built by her maternal grandfather, Samuel Erb, in 1905. Peg and her sister Kate spent many happy years there while their father, Col. William Hicks, commanded the National Guard installation here.

572 Dollars paid by patrons flocking to the fire company’s second annual soup cook-off. Wearing feathered cat ears reminiscent of those Amanda Blake often wore on “Gunsmoke,” Elaine Baum (also 2003’s winner) took top honors with “Miss Kitty’s Seafood Gumbo.” Runner-up for the second year in a row was Dwight Smith, with his latest creation, “Brieutiful Mushroom”. Eleanor Sarabia took third place with “best presentation” honors for “Italian Wedding”. See

2,000 Applications for next year’s art show now going out in December’s mails. The deadline for response: April 1. Palmyra graphic artist Barbara Yashinsky, who has designed art show posters for nearly a decade, gave this year’s applications an updated look. See for Web-based entry forms. Show director Linda Bell says the number of Web-spawned entries isn’t huge, but it’s growing every year.

2,500 Dollars (at least) that Mount Gretnans have given to Cornwall police department’s neediest families over the past five years. Deserving families receive children’s gifts (often donated and wrapped by Bill Care, Linda Bell and others on the Mount Gretna borough crew) as well as fuel oil, coal and utility bill payments.

1.5 Million crashes involving deer and motor vehicles annually. The numbers seem to be increasing. Cornwall police say that at least six deer strikes occurred here in the past month alone. South Londonderry police filed similar reports. Nationally, the number of motorist fatalities from deer crashes jumped 27 percent last year. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety says there’s not much motorists can do except slow down and be extra alert. Deer whistles don’t work, say researchers.


[] "Is there talk of doing anything with the remnants of the train station and park? I just finished reading Jack Bitner's book, “Mt. Gretna: A Coleman Legacy.” After finding out the station and park are the roots of Mount Gretna, it's disheartening to see them in their present condition.
"I understand it's on private property, but I'm sure something could be worked out to at least clean up the fountain. Also, the last remaining building from the park desperately needs some TLC before it, too, is just a memory. Although there would be many structural and monetary obstacles, a restored Mount Gretna train station would be an appropriate permanent home for the Historical Society, museum, or visitor center."

<> Historical Society chairman Fred Buch says that park site “has been an area of conversation, but we have not been in a place to research sites just yet.” He says the group has just completed a strategic five-year plan and hopes to form a museum committee that will look into both temporary and permanent sites. “If there would be an interest on the part of the Otto family to do something in the park area, I believe our committee would wish to consider the site along with the others,” he says. “We are open to any sites that would be appropriate. It is not our intent to be a Wal-Mart and force our way into an area where there is community opposition. The Historical Society is for the community, and we want the community to be a part and proud of it.”

[] Will there be ice skating again this year, or do they plan to drain Lake Conewago?

<> Phil Schneider, who helps direct operations there, says skaters entering from the Route 117 side are free to “skate away” this winter once the lake is safely frozen. The owners drain the lake annually, but not until April, to repair ice damage to piers and other structures.

[] Where can I buy one of last year’s Art Show T-shirts?

<> Breckert’s Illustrated Shirts of Palmyra produces the shirts and sometimes has leftovers from previous years. Contact them at (717) 838-2903.

[] How did Mount Gretna vote in the presidential election? I couldn't believe how many people put out yard signs. My favorite was the guy in the Campmeeting who, after the election, trimmed his "Help Is On The Way" sign to read, simply, 'HELP'."

<> Mount Gretna borough was one of three precincts in Lebanon County that Kerry won (with 85 votes). President Bush had 78, Badnarik 2, Cobb 0, and Peroutka 1. Ralph Nader wasn’t on Pennsylvania’s ballot. Totals for Mount Gretna’s six other neighborhoods were mixed with other precincts, so it’s impossible to say precisely how the political winds blew through these parts in the last election.

[] How did Mount Gretna’s polar bear club (that frosty tradition in which Mount Gretna residents dove into the lake on New Year’s Day) get started?

<> At a lively New Year’s Eve party at the fire hall in 1980, Mayor Ralph “Hoagy” Hogentogler announced to one and all that he planned to jump into the lake the next day at noon. Everybody thought that was a good idea and promised to turn out. But the next day, only four brave souls in swimsuits appeared --- Fred Schaeffer, Bill Haag, Hoagy and 12-year-old Jeff Minnich. Hoagy and the gang walked out onto one of the piers. “Okay,” said Hoagy, “on the count of three, we’re all going to jump: one, two, three!"
Everyone jumped but Hoagy. “I stood on the pier laughing. But Fred and Bill said I’d better jump or they’d throw me in. So, hell yes, I jumped,” says Hoagy.
The next year, about 30 participants turned out along with 500 or so spectators. Plus a crew from WGAL-TV, which filmed the event for the syndicated program “PM Magazine,” shown on stations coast to coast. As crowds and media coverage grew over the years, however, so did the liability risks. And the swimmers eventually had to go elsewhere. Someone at first erected a huge above-ground pool outside the Hideaway, and dozens of swimmers jumped in. But it just wasn’t the same. The annual ritual then moved to a nearby quarry where, thanks to our former mayor’s sudden inspiration nearly a quarter century ago, the merry madness continues. But without Hoagy. He’s now warmly ensconced in Port Canaveral, Fla.


From Bill Care and Merv Lentz, who, over their combined more than 50 years on the job, have seen just about everything. Including, every year, frozen pipes, frantic calls, and frequent frustrations. We also asked former biology teacher Chuck Allwein, a man who seems to know just about everything—from removing recalcitrant critters to unfreezing pipes. Over the decades, all three have been more than willing to lend a hand to neighbors in need. Here are some of their tips:

[] If your cottage won’t be used all winter, drain the pipes and have a plumber run an air compressor through the lines. Otherwise, pour nontoxic antifreeze (the type used in RVs) in traps, bowls and tanks. (RV fluid is available through places like Tractor Supply or Lowes.)

[] Drain all water from your unoccupied cottage --- including pipes, toilets, water heaters, even water lines running to the ice cube maker of your refrigerator.

[] If you’re leaving the heat on, consider posting a “winter sentry” light in the window, to signal neighbors if the indoor temperature drops below 35 degrees.

[] Remove soft drinks and other containers with liquids that will freeze if the heat is off, especially during power outages.

[] If you rely on someone to turn off your water line from the street, call them in plenty of time. Don’t wait until the first freeze warning.

[] Clean leaves off the roof to reduce the chance of fire.

[] Check fire extinguishers. Do that at least yearly; winter’s onset is as good a time as any.

[] Pump RV fluid through the drain cycle on the dishwasher and washing machine.

[] Remove cartridges from drain water filters.

[] If you have hot water heat, shut off the main water valve even though you leave the heat on. Should a hot water baseboard pipe freeze, when it thaws water will begin squirting like a fire sprinkler system throughout the house. You might even consider having a plumber fill your hot water heat system with antifreeze.

[] Install an air compressor quick disconnect male fitting for ease of winterizing.


All the news that’s fit to print? Nope, you won’t find it here. Some items, we believe, are best left to commercial newspapers.

But we do share other goals with newspapers. Constant vigilance against MEGO, for example. (That’s short for “My eyes glaze over,” a malady that results when writers overwrite and editors underedit.) We try to keep our items short. Especially those “In Brief” summaries. The 45-word limit is sometimes a challenge. But we stick to it because people often read this newsletter on laptops, desktops and the tiny screens of handhelds. Many times they’re dashing between appointments, skimming over this bulletin from trains, planes and automobiles. Or while answering the telephone or cooking dinner. It’s a busy world out there, we hear.

Unlike most printed newspapers, we take advantage of hyperlinks (underlined “.com” words you click on to jump to another website). We think a newsletter’s purpose is mainly to convey the gist of what’s happening. Readers wanting more detail can click on the link and delve more deeply. Those with only casual interest can zip to the next item. The hyperlink theory of journalism is not one we started with. But it’s one we like because it proves so useful.

Politics are out. One of those things better left to daily newspapers.

So are items without a direct tie to Mount Gretna. Readers pass along many good stories, sometimes about worthwhile causes deserving financial or other support. But unless there’s a definite link to Mount Gretna, we pass them by, preferring to focus instead on what’s happening here. We do not, by the way, happen to think there’s no better spot on earth. Simply, it’s a place that suits us, and most others who live here, whether full- or part-time.

Finally, in deciding what to say and how to say it, we prefer a standard first proclaimed by Rotary International, one that applies to everything one does or says a simple four-way test: “Is it the truth?” “Is it fair?” “Will it build goodwill and better friendships?” “Is it beneficial to all concerned?” Those four questions, we’ve found, make up one of the most markedly useful guides to living --- and to writing a community newsletter --- that anybody ever devised.

Kindest regards,

Roger Groce, 213 Stevens Avenue

P.S. A reminder that thanks to Keith Volker, back issues of this newsletter appear on the web at Also remember that when you dine at Farmers Hope Inn on Tuesday nights and mention that you’re from Mount Gretna, owners Tim and Terri Brown donate 10 percent of your tab to our fire company.