Mt. Gretna E-Mail Newsletter

"A Bulletin For Folks Who Love Mount Gretna. . . Wherever They Happen to Live"
Newsletter Home
Join Our Mailing List
Email: The Mt. Gretna Newsletter

Mt. Gretna Newsletter No. 52 Oct. 11, 2005


Assembled here in Mt. Gretna are some of the grandest experts imaginable-on almost any topic you can think of.

Acorns, for example. Several readers wrote wanting to know about this year's bumper crop of acorns. "Why do they seem so much bigger this year?," they asked. "Does a big acorn crop mean that we're in for a rough winter?"

Well, here in Mt. Gretna, you don't need Google to find answers. Experts abound: One of the many benefits of living amid smart folks.

They keep us up on everything from acorns to antique lamps to pizzas. Those laboring to help Damien Acquino, for instance. They're helping him prepare the former deli for its new role as an emporium of Italian delicacies, guiding him through the thickets of government regulations-a new stack of which just landed at his doorstep. But Damien, surely among the world's most patient and determined entrepreneurs, isn't discouraged. Even though the latest pile of regulatory hurdles will probably delay plans for a grand opening until sometime next spring.

Meanwhile, John Mitchell, the colorful entrepreneur whose equally colorful French provençal tablecloths now are on display at his new building, hints that buying out-of-town newspapers in Mt. Gretna might soon be possible once again. No formal announcements yet. But John, a take-charge guy who's always cheerful, sounds these days even more upbeat than usual.

And those responsible for getting things done at Mt. Gretna's water authority are in a take-charge mode, too. Following our article ("Signs Our Readers Would Change Dept.") last August, they replaced the old "sewage treatment" sign along Route 117 with one that now reads "Mt. Gretna Public Works," a decided improvement. And Pennsylvania Turnpike officials, also responding to our August article, last month painted over the big red letters "MT. GRETNA MTCE" on that decaying salt shed which turnpike travelers sometimes mistook for Mt. Gretna itself. Three cheers for "take-chargers" who make a difference in our busy world.

Meanwhile, the folks planning Lebanon County's roadways are busy finding funds and starting preliminary engineering studies to someday transform Route 117 into an official Pennsylvania scenic byway. Before they start changing anything, however, they'll be talking with people here. And preserving the tree-canopied corridors that make coming into Mt. Gretna a spirit-lifting experience-keeping their beauty for all to enjoy-will, you can bet, be a top priority.

Preserving Mt. Gretna's ambience is also what those who must find new streetlights that look old are about these days. There's no urgency, but when the time comes to replace the borough's aging incandescent lamps, they want to be ready. The challenge is meeting Met Ed's modern sodium-based requirements while still finding lights compatible with a Victorian-era setting. But it's a challenge our fixer-uppers are up to. And when it's time to replace the borough's streetlights, they're confident they'll have a solution that works.

Meanwhile, those out-of-town experts from Cingular and other cellular companies say they're still deciding whether to piggyback their antennas on Verizon's Mine Road tower. Sprint doesn't mince words: They're going to do it. But the engineers at T-Mobile remain mum, presumably muzzled in a corporate office somewhere in New Jersey. As for Cingular, last month they told us, "Serving our customers well in Mt. Gretna and throughout Pennsylvania is important to us and part of our network planning review." This month, they say they're continuing to evaluate "the best site to improve coverage for our customers in the Mt. Gretna area," and, yes, they do realize that Verizon already has a facility here. They hint, but won't yet confirm, that they'll "co-locate" their antennas atop Verizon's 190-ft. tower.

Ah, the world of corporate-speak. Maybe that's why we prefer getting our news from neighbors who know about acorns.

"Are they bigger this year?," we ask.

"Yes," say neighborhood experts like former biology teacher Chuck Allwein, biologist and Governor Dick nature center volunteer Ron Laughlin, and horticulturist Ginger Pryor, who lives along Mine Road.

Why? Because weather conditions this spring were favorable. Good pollination means more and bigger acorns. Also, those from red and black oaks take two years to mature. So they're larger than those from white oaks, which mature in only one year.

That's the cogent answer we get from our Mt. Gretna neighbors. (All agree, incidentally, that the weather-prognosticating powers of acorns rank right alongside those of Octorara Orphie. That is, rich in lore, but poor in reliability. Especially when it comes to deciding whether to invest in a new snowblower this winter.)

So with experts in our midst and almost nothing our neighbors don't know, we'll skip Google. Besides, we have people around like naturalist Dale Grundon reminding us, when we're walking in the woods, to carry along a pocketful of acorns. Stop every so often, says Dale, dig a little hole, and plant an acorn. It's a useful reminder, and, symbolically, a larger view of the world.

Helen Keller used to say that she longed to accomplish a great and noble task. "But my chief duty," she added, "is to accomplish small tasks as if they were great and noble." As several items in this issue illustrate, Mt. Gretnans-including those who plant inspirational acorns as they go-are doing just that.


Conewago Hills retiree Val Sarabia, whose adventurous career as a U.S. Army liaison officer took him to dozens of countries in the third world, has just returned from a three-week volunteer assignment with the Red Cross, helping the victims of Hurricane Katrina.

"Watching the evening news, I knew I had to do something, and it wasn't just donating money," he says.

Val signed up for Red Cross volunteer training in Harrisburg. Eight days later, he was on a plane to Baton Rouge. "Volunteers were pouring in from everywhere, young and old, from every state. It was total chaos," he says.

"My job? Driving an emergency response truck from our staging site, about 45 miles north of New Orleans. Our three-man team worked 12-hour days, starting at 6:30 a.m. and delivering meals, water and supplies to people who hadn't anything to eat for days, including seniors who'd all but given up hope.

"They gave us volunteers one day off every seven days. But not many took it. We just wanted to get the job done," says Val.

"Hurricanes don't discriminate. They hit every race, creed, culture and creature. When we arrived, you could see it in their eyes: Their gratitude and kindness. That was the greatest reward. They couldn't thank us enough. All of us-50 Red Cross volunteers in my group, about 250 others from Global Impact, Thirst No More, FEMA, the First Baptist organization and the Mennonite Central Committee. Exceptionally hardworking people, all of them. That's what it was about: Americans helping Americans."


She'd like a few more musicians-"nothing in particular, but a trombone and clarinet would be nice." Yet one thing's for sure: 11-year-old Nicole Roberts WILL have an Official Mt. Gretna Halloween Band to lead the parade along Route 117 on October 28.

And what a parade it will be! Marchers in every zany costume imaginable. Nicole-a fetching Pippi Longstocking last year-is thinking this year of dressing up in "a rather easy 'Cousin It' costume." Thatcher Bornman will likely show up again as Super Pumpkin. And with any luck, there'll be about 100 or so others, passing throngs (about 13 or 14 people, actually) of dazed spectators seeing it unfold before their very eyes.

It all starts down at the Jigger Shop around 6:30 p.m. After the assembled marchers settle into more or less parade formation, the procession more or less begins at 7 p.m. And then winds up at the fire hall, where food, cakewalk festivities and merriment (Max Hunsicker-style) follow.

It's undoubtedly the greatest Halloween Parade in America. Also one of the smallest. But nobody-and we do mean nobody-has more fun. Especially Nicole. Drop her a note at if you'd like to be part of the band.

IN BRIEF (45 words or less)

[] Apple pies, apple crisps and apple cakes: All $12 each, with proceeds going to Hurricane Katrina victims, thanks to former Barb's Buns culinary wizard Barbara Acker. Call 964-1950 to place your order, now until Oct. 28.

[] Opera is coming to Mt. Gretna: Harrisburg Opera Company will present selected scenes from "Othello" at the Playhouse June 3. Opera's popularity is growing locally. The all-volunteer group plans other traveling performances next year, including York's Strand and Gettysburg's Majestic theaters.

[] A Lebanon court will decide Oct. 25 whether to allow 100 limited hunting permits (shotguns, bow and arrow, muzzle-loading rifles) to help control deer overpopulation at Governor Dick. Park donor Clarence Schock, who died in 1955, banned hunting at the 1,105-acre site in his will.

[] What's at the end of the Halloween Parade Oct. 28? Desserts at the fire hall, of course --- baked by volunteers --- and gobbled up in minutes by marching goblins. Bakers: Please bring treats to the h on parade day --- after 5:30 p.m.

[] Borough crews resume leaf pickups Oct. 31 and again Nov. 14; they'll come by for brush Nov. 28 and Dec. 12. Their requests: keep leaves separate from brush; also please be sure that leaf piles don't restrict the flow of traffic on our narrow streets.

[] Heights leaf pickups begin around Oct. 20 and will continue through November. Campmeeting supervisor Merv Lentz collects leaves as they pile up, mostly in November. No leaf collection services are available in Conewago Hills, Timber Hills and Timber Bridge.

[] The fire company's Nov. 12 soup cook-off (noon to 2 p.m.) will spotlight Mt. Gretna's top cooks, including two-time champ Elaine Baum, Dwight Smith (whose "Brieutiful Mushroom" placed second), and 2004's "best presentation" award winner Eleanor Sarabia. Sample entries: $10. Chefs, please preregister: 964-1851.

[] Deer collisions soar at this time of year. Not just because of the rutting season. Hikers, horseback riders and others enjoying the outdoors flush deer from forests during daylight. Game officials warn: Stay alert, especially between now and Thanksgiving.

[] Governor Dick's Environmental Center is offering a free e-mail newsletter for those who'd like to stay abreast of park developments year-round: Send your e-mail address to The center (open 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays, 1 p.m.-4 p.m. Sundays) will close for the season Oct. 30.

[] Wintertime fern care tips: "Trim them back hard, keep crowns moist, place them in the brightest spot in the house," say Mt. Gretna gardening volunteers Gregory Bracale and Dan O'Donnell. Their burgeoning Blue Heron greenhouse, regrettably, can no longer shelter ferns for vacationing snowbirds.

[] Who, pray tell, serves one of the best Sunday morning buffets? Answer: Our firefighters. Put 'em to the test Nov. 6: That's the date for their next pancake, sausage ("and a few new breakfast items") extravaganza, 8 a.m. to noon.

[] Jack Bitner's 2 p.m. historical talk at Governor Dick's Environmental Center Oct. 16 will touch on that radar station built near the tower during the Korean War. Linked to an aircraft detection network, it's doubtful whether the outpost ever served a useful purpose, says Jack.

[] Mt. Gretna's Keith and Robin Volker now offer 360-degree Internet views of restaurants, homes, inns and other sites through a new venture, "It's mostly for realtors but works for anyone wishing to show rooms or space," says Keith.

[] Gretna Music's new season opens Oct. 22 with an all-Beethoven program at Elizabethtown College's Leffler center. The American String Quartet's 7:30 p.m. performance continues a two-year series presenting the complete Beethoven string quartets. "Beethoven and Deafness," a preconcert lecture, begins at 6:30 p.m.

[] Chautauqua resident Bill Gifford, an avid cyclist and writer whose work appears in Slate, Rolling Stone, Bicycling, Men's Health and other magazines, has just finished a soon-to-be-published biography of John Franklin, the 19th century Arctic explorer and sea captain.

[] Former Mt. Gretnan Wade Balmer, who walked in Disney World's half-marathon for arthritis victims with sister-in-law Janice and friend Linda Allwein in 2003, now will run in a similar event in Hawaii Dec. 11. His efforts benefit a summer program for arthritis-stricken youngsters. See

[] Music nourishes the soul, but nothing beats the convenience of an on-site buffet. So Gretna Music is serving buffet dinners at Elizabethtown College's Leffler center from 5:30 to 7:00 p.m. before its concerts Oct. 22, Nov. 19 and Dec. 2. Reservations: 361-1508. Cost: $20.

[] Marksmen come for prizes, neighbors come for chats, and everybody comes for Alice's humdinger ham and bean soup at the fire company's Oct. 15 block shoot, noon to 5 p.m. Even if shooters miss, everybody wins: The soup's sensational, and firefighters get their funds.

[] Pumpkin carvers will gather at Mt. Gretna's United Methodist Church Oct. 23 at 6 p.m. It's a BYOP (bring your own pumpkin) affair, it's fun, and everyone's invited.

[] Another bird and nature hike leaves from Governor Dick's environmental center Oct. 22 at 2 p.m. Four botanical and wildlife experts will share their insights into plant varieties abounding in the 1,105-acre park and help identify migrating birds.

[] Campmeeting resident Geri Benseman says a Tiffany-style stained glass table lamp disappeared from the porch of her Mills Ave. cottage one Saturday night last month. She asks anyone knowing anything about the grape-patterned lamp, a favorite she designed 30 years ago, to call her: 964-2392.

[] Mt. Gretna Fire Company's Cookbook, long out of print and sought by collectors (including a restaurateur seeking its recipes for her menu), is again available at Remember When gift shop, the Hideaway and Collins Grocery. Or send $15: Cookbooks, Box 505, Mt. Gretna, PA 17064.

[] Want to go on a hayride? The next one leaves from Mt. Gretna's United Methodist Church Oct. 30 at 6 p.m.

[] Gretna Music honors its 2005 volunteers with a reception at Elizabethtown's Lynden Gallery preceding the Nov. 19 Ying Quartet concert at the college's Leffler center. Organizers ask anyone who helped this season, including concession stand volunteers, but didn't receive an invitation card, to call 361-1508.

[] New mailing address (but same location) for Doris Hogentogler, widow of Mt. Gretna's unforgettable mayor "Hoagy," who passed away last May: 130 Tranquility Way, Apt. E, Cape Canaveral, FL 3292-6076.


[] Can you tell me anything about that home along Route 117, where they're putting all those boulders?

<> It's the residence of Harrisburg attorney and Mrs. Jonathan Rudd, and they're building a pond and waterfall at the entrance. The boulders are natural to the site, broken off from rock outcroppings that surround the home they built there six years ago. "You have to go through all kinds of approval processes to put a pond in that location," he says. Jonathan handled most of the design himself, working with an excavator to select the rocks. He says the project's now nearly finished, and in the next month or so he'll shut off the valve so water will start coming over the top. "Eventually, we'll add some landscaping and maybe some lights," he says.

And none of those big boulders were imported? "No," he says. "It's amazing what you hit on that hill once you start digging below the surface."


7 Mt. Gretnans among 31 artists opening their studios and displaying their works in Lancaster, Dauphin and Lebanon counties' seventh annual Art Studio Tour Nov. 12-13: Painters Shelby Applegate, Barbara Fishman, Elizabeth Stutzman and Fred Swarr; photographer Madelaine Gray; potter Floss Russell; and jeweler Les Miller. Details:

30 Or so Mt. Gretnans who get together once a month at "The Gathering Place," a noon luncheon (with freewill offering) held on the last Wednesday of each month from September to May at United Methodist Church. It's a popular off-season tradition, a chance to meet friends old and new, and everyone's invited. Plus, it beats yet another afternoon of TV. Next gathering: Oct. 26.

55 Years and still going strong. That's the Winterites, those lively nonsnowbirds who stick around for Mt. Gretna's delightful fall, winter and spring seasons --- and keep themselves buoyed with interesting programs, fascinating activities and lasting friendships. They meet at the fire hall on First Tuesdays of every month except January, starting at 1 p.m. If you're here from October until April, they'd welcome you with delight.

163 Miles on a bike in nine hours, 20 minutes. That's what art show coordinator Linda Bell, Bill and Kay Care, Mt. Gretna newcomer Robin Smith and several others did on a recent Saturday, riding all the way to Rehoboth Beach, Del. in a single day. "It was a great accomplishment for us , and the longest ride for me in a long time," says veteran cyclist Bill, Mt. Gretna borough's man-in-charge-of-nearly-everything. After an overnight stay, the group returned home the next day --- in a van, mercifully.


We note with sadness the passing, on Oct. 7, of Nancy M. Bressi, a long-time Mt. Gretna resident whose life, kindnesses and ever-present gift of humor brought enduring pleasures to all who knew her. Honoring her request, we are keeping this notice deliberately brief.


With increasing frequency, our readers are writing to comment on the gradual erosion of Mt. Gretna's reputation as a haven for contemplative calm. Two years ago it was the roar of motorcycles. A reader who divides his time between Mt. Gretna and Manhattan says summertime noise here on Friday and Saturday nights has become louder than outside his New York apartment.

Another reader complained last year of noise from a neighbor's leaf-blower, which ruined his family's traditional Thanksgiving dinner in Chautauqua. Now comes a note from a Campmeeting resident who says the "bark and whine of chain saws" in neighboring Mt. Gretna Heights as someone cuts down healthy trees to create a lawn is distressing, to put it mildly. He wonders whether there ought to be one day a week set aside for the noises of buzz saws, chippers, beeping trucks, lawn tractors, air compressors and other mechanical noisemakers. "I vote for Wednesdays, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Period," he says.

Regrettably, there isn't an ordinance that protects us all from the noisemaking few. Yet, as we've suggested previously, the ordinance hasn't been written that trumps the wisdom, majesty and courtesy of the Golden Rule. And each of us now reading about the growing concerns over intrusive noise has a role to play. Albert Schweitzer said it best: "Example is not the main thing in influencing others. It is the only thing."

With kindest regards,

Roger Groce

P.S. Our continuing thanks to those forwarding this letter to neighbors and friends around the world who love Mt. Gretna but lack links to the Internet. And to Mt. Gretna Inn owners Keith and Robin Volker who kindly post each issue on the Internet (, beckoning others to share the news even though they're not a part of our free distribution list (a list, incidentally, that exists for no other purpose than keeping folks informed about some of the many events that celebrate life and living here.) Please continue to send us your news, notes and notions of curiosities that puzzle, amuse or interest you. This is a community newsletter, and we're delighted that you're part of it.


{::} Tuesdays are Mt. Gretna Fire Company Night at Farmer's Hope Inn on Route 72, just north of the turnpike. Tell them you're a Mt. Gretnan and owners Tim and Terri Brown cheerfully send 10 percent of your bill as a donation to our firefighters. Tel. (717) 664-4673 or 273-4500.