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The Mt. Gretna Newsletter (No. 58)
April 11, 2006


It was an observation someone passed along to us last week: “If all you wanted to do this summer was stay in Mt. Gretna, you would still have too much to do,” they said. The reasons for that happy circumstance are obvious.
Everywhere you look, folks here are getting ready for what is likely to be the busiest summer ever. Volunteers whose energies erupt in full force every year are prodding Mt. Gretna from its wintertime slumbers, gently nudging the town into what will soon become a vibrant center for the arts, leisure and summertime recreation. As a new season approaches, their touches are evident at the Playhouse, in the meeting halls, and, indeed, throughout the entire community.
Down at the store, workers are laboring—sometimes late into evening—getting the 80-year-old building ready for a new role starting, they hope, Memorial Day weekend. For Damien and Mariano Acquino, who’ve waited patiently to occupy the spot for two years, it is a cherished hope to convert the familiar store into a favorite spot for pizzas and other Italian delicacies. And for Mt. Gretnans, who’ve also waited patiently, the hope is that it will become, as well, a source for out-of-town papers and a few grocery staples.
Anticipation builds, as it does every year when clocks spring ahead and snow shovels return to their storage bins. Even the trees, still mostly bare but with buds ready to burst any minute now, stand like department store mannequins, eagerly awaiting new spring outfits. Summer surely is on its way. This issue gives but a brief glimpse of all the events leading up to its arrival.

To be sure, one of the most exciting developments is a possible permanent home for the Mt. Gretna Area Historical Society Museum. Committee members and others are now considering the cottage at 206 Pennsylvania Ave., a central location that would also give visitors a look inside a cottage originally listed on the 1897 Chautauqua map.
If approved, the site would also display several hundred items from Mt. Gretna’s 19th and 20th century histories, recently given to the society by historian Jack Bitner. “It is the largest private collection of Mt. Gretna artifacts and documents known to exist,” says historical society president Fred Buch. It includes the original minute book from the founding of the Pennsylvania Chautauqua in 1891, manuscript drawings of the Camp Meeting Tabernacle and the only known lithograph of Camp Siegfried, scene of the Pennsylvania National Guard encampment here in 1895.
“We are thrilled,” says Fred, “and we are grateful to Jack for presenting this collection to us. After cataloging the materials we plan to display them to the public.”


Valley Road artist Shelby Applegate’s unique three-dimensional work appears on the cover of this year’s summer calendar. It’s one of the surprises awaiting those who’ll attend the grand summer premiere and auction May 27. The Arts Council gala is, by any standard, the social event of Mt. Gretna’s summer season. Everybody’s invited to come, renew acquaintances, and bid on works contributed by area artists as well as out-of-towners who exhibited at the 2005 Mt. Gretna Outdoor Art Show.
Chef-on-the-go Becky Briody handles the arrangements for wine and food, but organizer-in-chief Janice Balmer (, 964-3142) could use a hand with desserts. (She asks that volunteers bring their always-delicious dessert creations to the Hall of Philosophy by 2:30 p.m., before the main event begins at 4 that afternoon.)


A public hearing on whether to convert the Colebrook-to-Cornwall portion of Route 117 into Pennsylvania’s 14th scenic byway is still planned for sometime in July. They haven’t set a date yet, but state highway officials and county planners will hold the session at the Governor Dick Nature Center—inviting comment from environmental, community and recreational groups as well as private citizens. “This is a first for PennDOT,” says borough manager Bill Care. “They want to give everyone a chance to contribute their ideas.”
Bill, an avid cyclist himself, points out that even though a wider roadway would be safer for cyclists, horseback riders and pedestrians, “nobody wants to see a route designated as a bicycle path which might restrict usage. But a wider roadway (like Cornwall Road) that allows more room for parking would be a good thing,” he says. Bill adds that everyone involved in the project, including PennDOT, “knows the sensitivities of this community. They’re not planning to cut down a lot of trees.”
Meanwhile, county planner Tom Kotay reports that so far all municipalities affected by the planned corridor are “supportive.” He expects to also involve the Pennsylvania Game Commission, since state gamelands would also be a part the 5.2-mile route. Tom, an experienced roadway planner who emphasizes that the federally funded byway will become a reality only if most people here favor the idea, says the earliest possible starting date would be sometime late next summer, probably after Mt. Gretna’s busy summer season. It would be the first scenic byway in this region of Pennsylvania. Such roads are part of a national program for upgrading highways that pass through areas having unique scenic, cultural, historic, recreational, natural or archeological qualities. See
Even if plans for a scenic byway don’t happen, PennDOT nevertheless plans to rebuild Route 117—which during the days of Mt. Gretna’s military encampment was known as the “concrete highway.” That concrete underlayer, still beneath the present asphalt surface, may be contributing to the roadway’s rapidly worsening berms and may have to be excavated, substantially increasing the project’s costs, difficulty and duration. State highway engineers won’t know for sure until they evaluate the result of core boring tests sometime after the new fiscal year begins in July.


What’s Mt. Gretna’s second most popular celebration of the year? Could be it’s “Big Junk Day,” officially known as Large Item Pickup Day (LIPD). This year it’s June 19, a Monday.
But as everybody knows, the fun really begins hours, even days, before.
Starting Saturday afternoon and continuing throughout the weekend, residents of Mt. Gretna borough put out on the streets their old refrigerators, stoves that no longer work, veteran barbecue grills that have seen their last (maybe) glowing embers, and other stuff too bulky for normal trash collections. By Monday, when the borough crews finally come by in trucks to haul it away, there’s not much left to haul. Weekend scavengers have done it all for them, poring over treasures that others call junk.
Some residents, like Thatcher Bornman, of 108 Lancaster Ave., make it a festive occasion—with free hot dogs and sodas on Sunday evening. Thatch, who leads a youth group at Mt. Gretna’s church and dresses up on Halloween as “SuperPumpkin,” simply enjoys inviting both neighbors and people he’s never met to share in the LIPD-eve celebration. He’s been doing that since 1999, cooking hot dogs on a charcoal grill that someone discarded a few years ago.
It could only happen in Mt. Gretna, of course. And it happens every year.


Bucks County native Larry Frenock says it’s “great to come back home.” For the past 15 years or so he’s been managing theaters, mostly in New England. Before that, he was (and is) an actor, tap dancer, and skater. (Over the past several years he’s won four gold medals at U.S. Adult National Figure Skating competitions.) Now, he’s Gretna Productions’ new managing director.
Larry is certain that at some point in his career as an actor he probably auditioned for roles here. “Mt. Gretna is famous as a summer stock theater,” he says, “and in those days, when they held auditions in New York, 300 or 400 people would turn out. I was among them.” But he never got a part in Mt. Gretna. Yet he did find roles in New York City and 49 of the 50 states.
For the last few years, he’s concentrated in theater management, serving most recently as general manager of the Stamford Theater Works (, a professional regional theater. After living in Connecticut for 18 years, Larry will soon settle into a home in nearby Spring Hill Acres.


Few people entering the Playhouse, we’ll bet, know—or even care—that what emerges in the form of music, dance, drama and laughter is largely the work of three separate groups backed by a handful of professionals and hundreds of volunteers.
What people come to the Playhouse for is entertainment, sometimes at levels matched only in the nation’s top performance venues, but always in an open-air setting created by Mother Nature herself, a setting that even the best technologies of modern man can only imitate.
And in that setting this summer, thanks to the work of Gretna Music, Gretna Theater and volunteers of the Cicada Festival, artistic treasures will abound.
Gretna Music’s schedule, now posted on the Web (, includes 30th year performances by both the New Black Eagles (June 10) and the Audubon Quartet (Sept. 3).
A solid jazz lineup, which kicks off June 9-10 with an “old time jazz festival, will also include this season “Time for Three,” a popular cross-over group, coming July 2, plus other jazz sessions continuing into September.
Gretna Productions’ summer lineup, just confirmed (, will include musicals, drama and comedies. The schedule: “Moonlight and Magnolias” (June 13-June 24); “Cole” (June 26-July 8); “Count Dracula” (July 11-21); “Big River” (July 25-Aug. 5); and “Miracle Worker” (Aug. 22-Sept. 1).
And if you’d like to get your ticket orders in early for Cicada performances that likely will be sellouts, see the printable order forms now at The site also provides audio samples of Cicada’s summer offerings—including The Mudflaps, a Frank Sinatra impersonator, and Pat Garrett’s country music band. All Cicada shows are $8, and they’ll honor ticket orders according to earliest postmarks. Tickets won’t be mailed, however, until after the box office opens in June.

Special Note: Readers wishing to aid the Audubon Quartet, whose members were forced to give up their homes, much of their retirement savings and their instruments in a precedent-setting lawsuit that rocked the classical music world earlier this year, may wish to receive details about the Audubon Quartet Rescue Fund. The fund seeks to help Quartet members Akemi Takayama, Doris Lederer and Tom Shaw, all of whom are favorites to Mt. Gretna audiences. Please see the website


Linda Bell, who rides horses, drives snowplows and directs the annual art show with a deft management style that’s both gentle and decisive, ran up against something this winter she simply couldn’t handle.
After seven weeks of swimming lessons at the “Y” this winter, she still couldn’t get it all together: “Keep your head underwater, grab a breath of air, blow it out, move your arms like this, your legs like that. . . It was too much,” says Linda, who “grew up in Dauphin County’s Conewago Township, far from a community pool, a lake, or even a pond.”
Maybe she could master it with more practice, but Linda wonders how to fit in swimming while juggling assignments for the borough, the Chautauqua and the water authority—not to mention running one of the area’s biggest art shows, volunteering at the church, cycling, and tending to daily duties for her horse, which she rides as often as she can.
So what does Linda have to show after seven straight weekly lessons? Nothing, she says. “I still swim like a rock.”

IN BRIEF (45 words or less)

[] Well, of course Easter Egg Hunts have rain delays, just like the Masters. Ours, drenched last Saturday, is rescheduled for April 22, at 11 a.m., in the Chautauqua playground. Dale Grundon’s photos of the event will likely appear shortly afterward (

[] Leaf pickups begin in the borough May 1 and June 5; brush collections are May 8 and June 12. The Campmeeting’s current leaf and brush pickups continue throughout the spring. The Heights schedules only fall leaf pickups. South Londonderry Township offers no leaf/brush collections.

[] Sources tell us “moon over Mt. Gretna” will be the theme of T-shirts, “probably in some shade of green,” at “Remember When” gift shop this year. Opening weekends in May; then Tuesdays-Sundays after Memorial Day, noon-8:45 p.m. Details:, (717) 964-2231.

[] Governor Dick Park announced openings for two summer weekend positions. Duties include greeting visitors, answering questions, light custodial and administrative duties. Salary: $10 an hour. Apply: or telephone Janie Gockley, 964-3808.

[] Baby-sitter services for busy Mt. Gretna moms? Janice Balmer (mom/career gal/summer premiere doyenne) is compiling a list of teens, seniors and college kids who’d like to earn extra cash and offering to share it with others. Drop her a note: or call 964-3142.

[] Easter observances at Mt. Gretna United Methodist Church begin with a 6:30 a.m. sunrise worship at Soldiers’ Field. The 8:30 and 10 a.m. services at the church will include special music by both the regular and chime choirs. Everyone is welcome.

[] Volunteers at the Playhouse concession stand this summer can sign up outside the post office any Saturday morning starting April 15. Or call (717) 361-1508. Gretna Music is again coordinating arrangements for all performances, including theater and Cicada events.

[] Those decorative green and burgundy Mt. Gretna crocks may turn out to be the fire company’s most popular fund-raiser ever. On sale now ($55) at various locations, including the Gift Shop, Gretna Computers, and the fire company itself.

[] Construction begins this month on the Lebanon Valley Rail Trail’s 1,000-ft. spur connecting to Timber Road. The 10-ft.-wide spur, part of a $115,000 federally funded project, will follow a route similar to one used by Mt. Gretna’s narrow-gauge railroad.

[] That resurfacing project along Muhlenberg Avenue will have to wait until fall. Borough crews had hoped to start this month, installing water and storm drainage lines, sandstone curbing and perhaps new streetlights as well. But other projects took priority.

[] Big Band beach party organizers Ceylon and Karen Leitzel (964-1829) aren’t kidding when they say tickets are limited for what’s become an end-of-season sellout. With music by popular Big Band “After Hours,” the Aug. 26 event will give proceeds to Mt. Gretna community groups.

[] Talks on reptiles and amphibians, mountain bike repair workshops, wildflower hikes and hints on identifying birds fill Governor Dick Park’s schedule. Follow everything—from owls and bats to butterflies and dragons—in the park’s newsletter. E-mail subscription requests to

[] A waterline connection linking the Campmeeting, Chautauqua and Heights should be finished this month. The network will help lessen emergencies like the one four years ago—when an 80-year-old well collapsed, cutting off water to 69 homes in the Heights for nearly five months.

[] Governor Dick officials hope to fill display cases at the Nature Center with memorabilia related to the 1,100-acre park as well as Mt. Gretna itself. Have a display item you’d like to give or lend? Call the park office: 964-3808.

[] Nobody knows ham and bean soup like Mt. Gretna’s firefighters. That’s because Alice McKeone has been serving her grandmother’s recipe—complete with those tasty rivels—at fundraising block shoots there for more than 50 years. She’ll do it again May 6, noon to 5 p.m.

[] Opera comes to the Playhouse June 3 as Harrisburg’s Center Stage Opera touring company presents scenes from “Otello” June 3. The 8 p.m. performance features tenor and Placido Domingo prodigy Alejandro Olmedo, Australian soprano Liora Michelle Green and Richard Hobson, a Metropolitan Opera singer.

[] Cornwall police secretary and skiing buff Shirley Trimmer, fresh from the slopes of Jackson Hole, Wyo., where she glimpsed two moose, plans another yard sale the first weekend in June. Earnings buy gifts for needy local families at Christmas. Items to give? Call 274-2071.

[] Mountain bike enthusiast Luke Steinke, 14, wants to start a biking club. The Palmyra High student is a native Mt. Gretnan and loves riding area trails. He invites weekend mountain bikers to e-mail him:

[] Pat Pinsler won a honorable mention in Pennsylvania Magazine’s “art of gardening” issue. After photographing her garden’s progress every year, she finally yielded to friends’ urgings, mailed in a few pictures, and was later surprised to open the magazine and discover her award.

[] Cornwall police offer free VIN etching services again May 20. The technique chemically etches vehicle ID numbers on all windows, doesn’t harm cars or detract from their appearance. But it does discourage thieves, encouraging insurers to lower premiums. Appointment times required: 274-2071.

[] A Baltimore couple who’d like to buy a home in Mt. Gretna asks anyone planning to sell their home privately—or perhaps offer one on a long- term rental while they’re looking—to contact them: Wayne and Nancy Kell (410) 308- 1490. E-mail:

[] Work first, eat later: That’s the formula for Mt. Gretna Heights’ annual meeting June 17. Following the 10 a.m. meeting (when they’ll elect three new directors), residents will regroup at 5 p.m. for a potluck supper. Sounds like a sensible way to do business.

[] Mt. Gretna Historical Society’s website ( will soon reappear on the Web with a fresh update that includes a printable membership application.

[] Mt. Gretna Heights volunteers invite others to join them in the Heights Community Building’s spring cleanup April 22. The fun starts at 10 a.m., says coordinator Richard Steinhauer (964-2362).

[] Le Sorelle Porch and Pantry Café chefs will try out a new salsa recipe—“straight from our Mexican friends”—at a reservations-only Mexican night dinner May 13. Entrees include chicken enchiladas and beef tacos. Details: Tel. 964-3771.

[] Mt. Gretna’s annual tour of cottages—which over the past 20 years has helped attract dozens of people who eventually became property owners here—will be held Saturday, Aug. 5. One of Central Pennsylvania’s most popular tours, the event benefits Gretna Music.

[] Emily McNamara (“Memaw” in last season’s Tammy Wynette tribute) appears in “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum” at Philadelphia’s Arden Theater in May. She’s also in a short film, “Twenty Dollar Drinks,” premiering this month in Manhattan’s Tribeca Film Festival.

[] Whatever happened to It’s now on the Web with a new name, Dale says the term “delights” seemingly sent some corporate firewalls into a tizzy, blocking access by people who occasionally pause to catch Mt. Gretna glimpses while they’re at work.


2 Cellphone companies now offering service here. Sprint activated its antenna March 15, a week early, from its perch atop the 160-ft. tower that Verizon Wireless erected on Mine Road more than a year ago. That now puts us squarely in the 21st Century.
When this newsletter began (Jan. 11, 2001), a telecommunications engineer—studying his maps and scratching his head—told us, “Based on the topography, I don’t see any way that you’re ever going to get cellular coverage in Mt. Gretna.”
Let’s hope the scientists will be wrong about those melting glaciers, too.

4 Mt. Gretnans joining cyclists on that state police Metric Century bike ride April 29 through Mt. Gretna, Fort Indiantown Gap and other sites on a route that stretches 62 miles. They include borough secretary Linda Bell, Timber Hills residents Ellen Holsapple and Kay Care, and Robin Smith, soon to be a full-time Chautauquan when her new home on Lancaster Avenue is finished.
They and several friends will also be cycling the following weekend and hope to find sponsors in a $250-per-rider team event sponsored by the Brethren Housing Association to benefit homeless women and children.

25 Percent of Americans will at some time have their identities stolen, say Cornwall police. That’s why they’re sponsoring an identity theft seminar April 19 in Cornwall United Methodist Church. Among the topics: What to do about stolen identity; home repair scams; driveway and paving scams; and charities fraud. Reservations: 274-2071.

119 Ecology-minded members, including 10 from Mt. Gretna, who take part in the Conewago Creek Association’s Saturday morning “watershed snapshots, live stake plantings to curb erosion along streams, and public forums like the one WGAL-TV outdoorsman Jack Hubley will present at the Chautauqua Hall of Philosophy in August.
Mt. Gretnan Matt Royer, who heads the volunteer group (see, says among the most popular events are watershed snapshots. Volunteers check basic water chemistry and aquatic insects to measure the health of the Conewago, which has its headwaters in Mt. Gretna. “Over the past two years, we’ve seen that water quality declines significantly as you work your way downstream,” he says.
The next snapshot begins April 22 at Mill Road Elementary School in Elizabethtown, starting at 9 a.m. The group also holds 7 p.m. meetings on the last Wednesdays of each month at Lawn Fire Company.

500 Applications from artists all over the country that art show jurors will evaluate in an all-day session April 22. The roughly 200 artists selected will receive invitations to exhibit at this year’s show, being held Aug. 19-20.


[] Here in Burbank, Calif., I’m working to track down people who were on the classic TV game show, “What’s My Line?” In 1962, a young woman named Lavinia Berdge appeared as a “lipstick tester.” Since it was live TV (without repeats), she probably has never seen her episode. But according to my research on the Internet, The Mt. Gretna Newsletter several years ago mentioned someone by that name. She may not be the same Lavinia Berdge, but how many could there be? Anyway, we would like to offer her a DVD copy of her appearance in exchange for her memories of the show. If you have a way to contact her, could you please pass along this request?

<> We can—and did. Lavinia no longer lives in Mt. Gretna. But she still reads this newsletter from her home in Arizona. And she was indeed the “lipstick tester” on “What’s My Line” 44 years ago.
A PR guy thought up the idea and suggested Lavinia’s name, since she worked in quality control at the former Hazel Bishop cosmetics company’s R&D lab. A producer on the show liked the concept and called one morning asking Lavinia to rush to the studio and fill in for a contestant who had suddenly cancelled. Remember, this was in the days of live TV. Lavinia scrambled across Manhattan from her New Jersey apartment, arriving just 15 minutes before airtime. Before she knew it, she was onstage, facing the blackboard and hearing John Daly say, “And now our next contestant. Will you enter and sign in please?”
“Somehow I immediately remembered my name and wrote, ‘Lavinia Berdge.’ Everything after that was a cup of tea. Arlene Francis, Bennett Cerf, Dorothy Kilgallin and Martin Gable were the panelists, and they were good. They guessed my ‘secret’ in just seven questions. But Mr. Daly flipped the cards to the maximum of $50 (about 25 percent of my weekly salary then). It wasn’t bad for about ‘10 minutes of fame’,” she says.
The experience led to other TV appearances. During a controversy about the safety of hair sprays, Lavinia became a spokesperson for the company on NBC and other New York stations. She spent 43 years in the cosmetics and pharmaceutical industries before retiring to Exton, where she owned an art gallery and frame shop before moving here. She left a few years ago for her new home in Prescott, Ariz.
Now, she’s looking forward to receiving that DVD of her first TV appearance and seeing herself—“44 years younger and 45 pounds lighter.”

[] I have an old photo of what appears to be the “Mt. Gretna, Pennsylvania State Rifle Team.” It was taken at Camp Theodore F. Shonert and shows five men: Corp. Charles N. Kroberger, Pvt. Leon Roemer, Pvt. Eugene MacWright, Capt. William S. Wadsorth, and Sgt. James Possiter. Would any of your readers know anything about it?

<> Well, as the “What’s My Line” example above shows, this newsletter does have a way of getting around. It may take awhile, but our guess is that someone somewhere will answer this question. And when they do, we’ll pass along their reply.


Our more or less monthly newsletter is growing, both in circulation and in length. Too much to read at one time? Maybe so, but even in winter there’s a lot going on in this bustling community.
Nevertheless, the sheer length of our reports suggests that we ought to find a better way to handle it. We’re studying several possibilities.
One is simply to send out a short notice telling everyone that a new edition has just been posted on the Internet. Then we would provide a link that viewers can click on to get the latest news from Mt. Gretna.
That would help shorten our monthly e-mail messages, now so overloaded that our regular e-mail networks (first Microsoft Hotmail and now Yahoo mail) are starting to burp. There are just so many messages they’ll each allow to be dispatched in a 24-hour period.
We’d appreciate hearing suggestions from you. If you’re already comfortable with clicking on Internet links like this (, fine and dandy. If, on the other hand, hyperlinks are still hypermysteries to you, please tell us.
We’re not ready to make any change quite yet. But chances are we’ll have to do something as the number of those reading this newsletter by e-mail. . . and the number of neat things Mt. Gretnans are up to. . . continue to grow.

Kindest regards,

Roger Groce

With reporting assistance this month from Bruce “McMoose” Baxter, 14.

P.S. Our thanks to dozens of folks who help compile the news, answer our questions, and keep us posted on all that’s going on. Quite often they do so by e-mail. As one correspondent reminded us recently, e-mail serves a purpose once reserved for postcards—almost ideal “for short messages instead of a phone call.”
Thanks also to the folks at Gretna Computing, who regularly post copies of this bulletin on the Web at, and to those who print copies for hundreds of other readers—friends and neighbors around the world who, no matter how darn convenient it is to communicate by e-mail, are not about to give up their pens, stationery and postcards—nor their walks to the non-cyber post office where they’re sure to meet friends and neighbors face-to-face.
Bless them.