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Mt. Gretna Newsletter No. 63 September 14, 2006


In most places, we’d suppose, the opening of a pizza shop wouldn’t even come close to making the news. But not in Mt. Gretna. Not in a town that hasn’t had a store in nearly two and a half years. And not in a place where, well, frankly, most of the time not much happens.

So it was no surprise when, early on opening day, the first two customers showed up on their bikes. Waiting patiently outside as inspectors filled out the final papers Aug. 28, Luke Steinke and Jon Norton were the first ones through the door. After devouring a pizza, they delivered their verdict: “Tastes good, not greasy.” Tantamount, in the teen world, to a five-fork rating. A steady flow of customers has ensued ever since.

Damien Orea, heading a team that encompasses his dad, uncle, sister-in-law and wife, hopes the gradually increasing stream of drive-up and phone-in (964-1853) customers will help lift their first entrepreneurial venture to success. But they missed the usual summer surge of house tour visitors and art show crowds. Nevertheless, they’re determined to succeed. So far, says Damien, most people prefer eating in to taking out. Favorites include cheese steaks, subs and pepperoni pizzas (in that order). He plans to add a few grocery staples, plus some deli items.

As for those art show crowds, yes, they were indeed larger (16,087 this year vs. 12,998 in 2005), producing a record $96,165 in gate receipts. Those funds will go for things like fire and ambulance services, vulture relocation campaigns and perhaps another lakeside fire hydrant to help protect the homes in Timber Hills. Although attendance was up, fewer people came this year than in the past—1993, for instance, when nearly 22,400 people came through the gates. That’s a trend mirrored by art shows across the country. In fact, attendance at outdoor events generally seems to have fallen off in recent years, both here and elsewhere. “Cocooning” phenomenon? Maybe. Some blame it on higher gas prices; others point to the greater variety of entertainment choices, including those in their own homes. Still others say that for most Americans, leisure time has become increasingly scarce.

Whatever the causes, trends here reflect the downturn, with a few notable exceptions. The Cicada Festival, energized by volunteers, proved once again that good entertainment at reasonable (some say “unbelievable”) prices still can draw crowds. True enough. But putting on a five-day festival takes just about all the energy a volunteer force can muster. Longer running productions—like those by Gretna Theater and Gretna Music—require paid staffs working throughout the year. And tightly squeezed budgets are vulnerable to multiple risks—everything from heavy downpours and sudden power failures to oven-like evening temperatures that can discourage audiences at an open air Playhouse.

But as the crowds dissipate and summer residents begin closing up their cottages, attention now turns to PennDOT’s plans for repaving Rte. 117 next year. Cautioning that the $800,000 now allocated to this project can suddenly shift to other priorities, state highway officials nonetheless hope to get started “by late spring” and finish sometime in August. They’re aware that next year’s art show is Aug. 18-19. During construction, Rte. 117 will narrow to one-lane traffic in spots between Colebrook and the Rte. 72/322 interchange.

Meanwhile, fall festivities are already underway. Starting this Saturday (Sep. 16) there’s the annual pig roast at the fire company, beginning at 4 p.m. Everyone will be there, including a 235-lb. pig, roasting for 12 hours or so under the practiced eye of chef-on-the-go Becky Briody, whose preparations in the wee hours that morning begin with a delightful mixture of seasoned salt and beer. Also on tap during coming weeks are the Oct. 14 block shoot, attracting shooters as well as those who come for Alice McKeone’s celebrated ham and bean soup; then there’s that increasingly popular Soup Cook-off on Nov. 11; and finally, Santa’s annual visit Dec. 9. Ingredients all in small town life, in a community like none other.

[] Need dirt to fill in on a construction project? The historical society’s museum project likely will have some available. Unless someone locally wants it, the fill will have to be hauled away. Contact Fred Buch (, 964-3571 or 800-242-3901.)
[] Harrisburg philanthropist Benjamin Olewine III is this year’s Coghlan Award honoree at Gretna Theater’s gala Oct. 7 at Hotel Hershey. Previous winners include Gov. Richard Thornburg and Mt. Gretnans Dr. David Bronstein, Tom Ebright, Mary Hoffman and Evelyn Duncan.
[] Missed getting a 2006 art show T-shirt? Karl Gettle (964-2292) says a limited supply is still available.
[] Ron and Joyce Fink’s twin 15-year-old granddaughters, Jasmine and Kendra, sold lemonade during the house tour, raising $200 to help find cures for childhood cancer. At the art show, Ned and Emily Wallace’s granddaughters Allegra, 10, and Allison 8, sold lemonade along Lehigh Avenue to help orphans of AIDS victims in Swaziland, where they live with their missionary parents. One passerby didn’t even want the lemonade but gave them a $100 bill, boosting their revenues to $220.
[] Shirley Trimmer, who helped create happier Christmases for needy families through fundraising campaigns while she was Cornwall boro police secretary, reports from her new home in Arizona that being surrounded by six golf courses, a big clubhouse with restaurant, swimming pools, fitness centers and spas is “like being on vacation.”
[] Jack Bitner’s Mt. Gretna history, now on a two-DVD boxed set, benefits the Mt. Gretna Area Historical Society, $29.95 plus $4 shipping: Richard C. Smith, 6 Muhlenberg Ave., Mt. Gretna, PA 17064. E-mail:
[] With everyone bringing a side dish to share, Mt. Gretna United Methodist Church’s annual picnic Sept. 17 begins immediately following the 10 a.m. services at Gretna Glen.
[] Postal chief Steve Strickler, recovering from minor surgery, will be back on the job sometime around Sept. 25. Helping Cathy Dugdale sort the mail for 568 postal boxes, handle change-of-address notices for dozens of snowbirds, and process a $165,000 yearly flow of stamp sales, postal fees and other transactions is Rick Corrado. The 25-year postal service vet normally works in Harrisburg, but lives in Hershey and likes the hassle-free commute.
[] Yesterday, a child on a bicycle came dangerously close to a passing truck at ‘The Point’ (across Rte. 117 from the new pizza restaurant). The truck swerved into the other lane to miss the child, who was not even aware what had happened. Is there any way a sidewalk could keep pedestrians and cyclists further away from Route 117 traffic? Could crossing lines on Pinch Road to the Camp Meeting entrance alert motorists to pedestrian traffic? Might PennDOT address this when it rebuilds Route 117?
<> Borough President Chuck Allwein says he “absolutely agrees” with this reader and recalls that a child once was killed at that very site. He intends to bring the suggestion to the attention of PennDOT officials. He will also recommend installing 25 mph flashing lights (like those in school zones) at Boulevard and at the western end of the lake to slow traffic during the summer.
[] Has there been any discussion on getting communitywide-wireless access? With the closeness of cottages, especially in the Campmeeting, wireless provided for the community would cut down on service overlaps. And with more folks using laptops to keep in touch, share photos and shop, this could be a great community perk.
<> An interesting thought, although we’re not sure what security or regulatory hurdles it might face. Wi-Fi capabilities have been planned for summertime activities at the Chautauqua community building, but we’re not aware of any other initiatives locally. However, Mt. Gretnans have a knack for acting on good ideas, and maybe this one will attract knowledgeable volunteers who could make it a reality.
Shorter newsletters these days? Yes, both because readers tell us they prefer ‘em, and because other duties clamor for attention. Writers usually discover, however, that brevity isn’t necessarily faster or easier. Blaise Pascal, the French mathematician and philosopher, was probably right: “If I had more time,” he said, “I would write a shorter letter.”

Kindest regards,

Roger Groce

P.S. Our continuing thanks to those who suggest news items, gently nudge us when we are wrong, and forward this letter to friends and relatives around the world. Thanks, too, to the team at Gretna Computing, who post back issues on the Web at