In a town where summer stock theater is an 80-year tradition, snowless
Januaries can seem like a scene from Samuel Becket’s enigmatic “Waiting
Will the main character in Mt. Gretna’s Winter pageant ever arrive?
So far, the only hints have been a few spurious snowflakes, most never quite touching the ground. And January’s usual protagonist—with swirling winds sending Mt. Gretnans to cozy firesides—still appears to be lurking backstage.
Except for the absent crowds, many days this season have, in fact, seemed almost like summer. Folks tending to chores outdoors, going for walks, cycling along the roadways, riding on horseback, and savoring Mt. Gretna pleasures that others left behind last fall as they scampered off to Sarasota.
Those who remain on Mt. Gretna’s main stage are like chefs in the kitchen, busy pouring over recipes for summer activities that others will enjoy.
Jessica Kosoff, for example, who grew up in Mt. Gretna, is now out scouting for volunteers to staff the Information Center building along Carnegie Avenue during afternoons and evenings.
She’s also spearheading a new Arts Council initiative—an Internet listing of all Mt. Gretna artists—with names, e-mail addresses, phone numbers and other contact information for people who’d like to purchase Mt. Gretna artwork. It’s a good reminder of why, long ago, forward-looking folks here decided to form an arts council in the first place—promoting artistic pursuits for and by those who have chosen to make Mt. Gretna a part of their lives.
If you’re an artist, or know someone whose works ought to appear in a consolidated online gallery of Mt. Gretna artwork, drop a note to Jessica at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Elsewhere around town, organizers at the playhouse are putting finishing touches on long-range plans to begin grouping theatrical presentations in the first half of each summer’s season, musical performances in the second half, with Cicada’s popular family entertainment offerings sandwiched in between. Nothing will change this year because performance arrangements have already been set. But schedulers hope to launch the format in 2008. The goal is to bring greater convenience for audiences and greater efficiencies for stage crews who won’t have to juggle stage sets every weekend.
Meanwhile, the people directing affairs at Gretna Productions are seeking a development director who can help guide fundraising efforts and build a firmer financial foundation for the venerable 80-year-old organization. Know someone who might qualify for the position? Drop a note to Larry Frenock, the theater’s general manager: (email@example.com)
And even before the first snowstorm, you know that spring can’t be too far away when folks start thinking about putting together the 2007 Summer Calendar of Mt. Gretna Events, the art council’s perennially popular guidebook that appears every spring just before Memorial Day. Deadlines haven’t yet been announced, but they normally occur sometime around mid-March. So if you have something you’d like to contribute to this year’s listings, send it to the council, (P. O. Box 513, Mt. Gretna, PA 17064).
Other harbingers of spring while we’re awaiting—well, either snow, snowdrops or the first robin sighting—include: borough crews out working along Muhlenberg Avenue where new streetlights soon will appear, Jack Anderson and Kathy Snavely filling up a bursting-at-the-seams summer in Chautauqua schedule, Fred Buch overseeing restoration efforts at the Pennsylvania Avenue cottage that will soon be the Mt. Gretna Area Historical Society’s new home, Peter Hewitt, simply agog over plans for this July’s organ recital series, and people like Bill Care, Chuck Allwein and PennDOT’s LaConie Jackson planning for the Rte. 117 resurfacing project, scheduled to begin sometime around Labor Day.
In all, a flurry of activity. It erupts every year, whether or not winter ever truly comes. And it surges mainly because boundless creative energies here don’t sit around waiting for others to “do something.” It’s one of the reasons people like living in Mt. Gretna.
THEY WERE SOLDIERS ONCE, AND YOUNG
It was a sight Mt. Gretna had not seen before, nor since: Thousands of
troops scattered in over 340 buildings stretching from Lake Conewago to
Cornwall, marching in platoons, traveling in army trucks, and stirring up
dust on the parade field along Timber Road. It was a 16th Pennsylvania Infantry
scene witnessed by Jim Seltzer's father. A Mt. Gretnan, Jim is the man who
led efforts last summer to rebuild that monument commemorating the site,
once visited by President Benjamin Harrison.
Described in words and postcards that most Mt. Gretnans have never seen, the scenes will be encapsulated in Jim’s historical society program this month. Postcard views will include aerial shots of the troop encampments stretching from Soldier’s Field to Colebrook,” he says. “The photos key us into the immensity of the National Guard’s involvement in this area.”
Among his favorites is a scene, “Men of the Governor’s Troop, striking jaunty poses in front of their mess tent, displaying a mixture of youth, experience and innocence.” Jim says “it removes the period from dusty archives and history books, putting faces on the men who lived, loved and have long since passed away.”
He expects those who lived here during that era may find few surprises in his talk. But newer residents, “who find the National Guard era but a dry morsel,” will be surprised.
Jim Seltzer’s account of this distinctive era in Mt. Gretna history begins at the fire hall Jan. 28 at 2 p.m.
NO SNOW, BUT APPLICATIONS AVALANCHE FORECAST
Who’s thinking about summer jobs even before the first snow falls?
Lots of teens, apparently, and their parents and grandparents, who know the value of a Mt. Gretna summer’s experience in enduring memories and lifetime friendships.
Drew and Linda Allwein accept Jigger Shop job inquiries at home during the winter (964-3704) and at the shop (964-9686) once the season begins.
Although one or two Jigger Shop jobs may be open for mature 14-year-olds living in Mt. Gretna, most hires are in the 16 and up category because of scheduling requirements. Drew and Linda send applications promptly on request and make their hiring selections around Easter. How many students are hired? About 60 each summer—“to maintain adequate staffing, and accommodate the busy social calendars of our employees,” Linda says.
Across the lake, summer opportunities also abound. Manager Phil Schneider says they usually hire 40 to 50 student-age employees each season. Details appear on the website www.mtgretnalake.com
STUFF YOU’RE UNLIKELY TO READ ELSEWHERE
 Bill Ecenbarger, the former Brown Avenue resident who earned a Pulitizer
prize, has written hundreds of travel articles and will soon publish another
short feature about Mt. Gretna.
Bill, who once described the town as a place where “all the streets are named after schools with losing football teams,” is also the author of Walkin’ the Line: A Journey from Past to Present along the Mason-Dixon Line. His latest 600-word essay will appear in the March issue of Pennsylvania Pursuits and begins, “Mt. Gretna isn’t on the way to anywhere, so if you find yourself here unintentionally, you’ve made a mistake.”
Subscriptions to the magazine, published by Pennsylvania’s tourism agency, are free. Call 1-800-847-4872 or see http://www.visitpa.com/visitpa/orderTravelGuideForm.pa
 An organist who will open July’s Mt. Gretna organ recital series is featured in this month’s The American Organist magazine. Isabelle Demers, doctoral candidate at the Juilliard School (and one of four Juilliard students who’ll appear here this summer), was cited for last October’s performance at The New Yorker Festival, held on BargeMusic, a floating concert hall based beneath the Brooklyn Bridge.
 So what does Mt. Gretna’s sprightly Cicada Festival have in store
this summer? Budget-priced, family entertainment that, in a powerful demonstration
of what single-minded volunteers can do, filled the Playhouse to capacity
most nights last season—despite heat, humidity and competing attractions
throughout Central Pennsylvania.
Opening Aug.7 with vintage rock and rollers “Phil Dirt and the Dozers,” the series continues with the Hershey Big Band’s Radio Show Aug. 8, Lee Alverson’s tribute to Billy Joel and Elton John Aug. 9, Bill Haley’s Comets Aug. 13, and closing things out on Aug. 14, “Shades of Blue,” which Cicada’s eager organizers—now in their 13th successful year—insist is “one of the best bands in the Mid-Atlantic area.”
So far, they haven’t let us down. The ticket office opens in June, and ticket details will be posted at http://mtgretna.com/cicada/. But early birds can place first-come, first-served orders now to hold tickets to events that, history teaches, soon may be sold out.
 Bill Gifford, who divides his time between writing books in Mt. Gretna and editing a magazine in New York City, hopes to discuss his latest work, Ledyard: In Search of the First American Explorer, at a program in the Chautauqua summer series this August. Describing John Ledyard’s participation in Captain Cook’s voyage to the Pacific, a North America expedition later completed by Lewis and Clark, and an African adventure led by a Scottish explorer, the 352-page volume is published by Harcourt and will be out Feb. 5. You can order a copy now through Amazon.com. A review by the American Library Association’s Booklist calls it a “rich and immensely detailed biography [that] brings this obscure explorer to life.”
OTHER NEWS TO KEEP YOU IN TOUCH
 Opera like you’ve rarely heard it before—“all the
ingredients of a Gershwin or Cole Porter musical”—first performed
in 1733 to audiences who considered it a hoot. A “hoot,” 274
years ago? Yes, that’s a direct quote from Gretna Music’s decidedly
unstuffy press release.
Pergolesi’s La Serva Padrona comes to the Leffler Performance Center, Elizabethtown College Feb. 10. You can even enjoy a gourmet buffet dinner ($15 extra) just outside the performance hall. Reservations: 717-361-1508. (http://mtgretna.com/music)
 It’s hard staying abreast of those merrymaking Winterites, who keep things stirring hereabouts while others skip off to warmer climes. They’ll be at it again Feb. 6—their annual tribute (at the firehall, l p.m.) to group founder Maggie Stroh.
 Want to keep up with all the news from Mt. Gretna year ‘round? Add your name to the free subscriber list of the Governor Dick Park Newsletter. E-mail your request to firstname.lastname@example.org.
5 Power outages last year that affected 50 or more Mt. Gretna homes. Enough
to justify all those expensive generators folks here bought? Probably not,
but for some, sitting in the dark at anytime is a fond Mt. Gretna memory
they’d just as soon leave to the kerosene lantern era.
Although 34 power failures were scattered throughout 2006, 22 of them affected fewer than six homes. Most others were of short duration—caused mainly by blown transformer fuses, officials say. That’s about on a par with previous years. In 2005, for example, most outages were limited in scope with only five that blacked out 50 or more Mt. Gretna homes at any given time.
Met Ed’s determination to assure better electrical service here continues unabated. Tree trimming crews will be out in force again this year, protecting the two major lines carrying electrical power from a central station near Lebanon Valley College in Annville along Mt. Wilson and Butler roads into the heart of town. And officials don’t expect that PennDOT’s Rte. 117 resurfacing project late this summer will cause any power interruptions.
14-Hour days. The norm for Mt. Gretna Pizza owner Damien Orea and his dad,
now nearing the six-month mark in their first year of doing business here.
“We love being in a small town like Mt. Gretna. It’s a friendly
place. We just wish we had more customers,” he says.
Damien leaves home and his six children every day at 7 a.m., not returning until around nine o’clock at night. He knows that Mt. Gretna’s population dips to its lowest point at this time of year, but he’s confident they’ll make it through the lean winter months.
Biggest single order so far? Ten pizzas, purchased by a church group. It was a Red-Letter Day, and he filled the order within half an hour.
Changes in the works? Yes, he’s already added milk and bread to the product lineup. And he expects to replace those fast-food style tables with ones that can accommodate larger groups in the dining room. He believes that most Mt. Gretnans have now sampled his offerings and picked their favorites. Cheese steaks and pepperoni pizzas top the list.
Damien’s Best-Sellers (What Mt. Gretnans like best from the nearly 100-item menu):
Pizzas: Pepperoni. Hot Subs: Cheese steaks and cheese steak hoagies. Dinners: Lasagna, Manicotti, Stuffed Shells, Spaghetti, Eggplant Parmesan, Baked Ziti, Fettuccini Alfredo and Eggplant Rollettes. Cold Subs: Italian, Smoked Turkey. Burgers: Cheeseburgers and California Burgers. Salads: Tossed, Greek, Tuna and Grilled Chicken. Greek Sandwich: Gyros. Children’s Menu: Chicken Tenders and Corndogs. Chicken Sandwiches: Chicken Fingers and Wings. Sides: French fries, cheese fries, Jalapeño Poppers, Mozzarella sticks, onion rings and breaded mushrooms. Telephone orders: 964-1853. Open 10:30 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. every day.
16 Deer killed in the special four-day hunt last November at Governor Dick
Park, a sharp decline from the 55 deer claimed in 2005 when a local court
ordered the first hunt in decades at the restricted 1,105-acre site.
“We knew there would be less, we just didn’t expect that great a difference,” said park board member Chuck Allwein. Poor weather conditions—“pea soup fog on the first two days and high winds and rain on day three”—may have contributed to the sharp decline, he said.
Under a special court order temporarily lifting deed restrictions set by land donor Clarence Shock, park officials can allow hunting at the site for another three years. Whether they will depends on what a deer density survey turns up this spring. Chuck says that in April they’ll use additional transect measuring points to more accurately gauge the park’s remaining deer population. A professional forester’s original estimate three years ago placed the number at “more than 100.” But several residents living next to the park said they spotted fewer deer last fall than they can ever remember.
Over 100 Electronic applications received so far from artists submitting
their works for the 33d annual Mt. Gretna Outdoor Art Show Aug. 18-19. That’s
about normal, even though this is the first time the show has required all
entries to be submitted online. Do artists find the switch from mailing
35mm slides to the new online system called ZAPP difficult? “I don’t
think so,” says show organizer Linda Bell.
She says the ZAPP system, now used by art shows nationwide, is now familiar to most artists. Most, but not all. One caller last week claimed to be “from the outbacks of Kentucky” who didn’t have a computer and didn’t know how to send an electronic entry. “Just ask a kid,” said Linda. “He’ll show you.”
For online applications, scenes from the 2006 art show, and last year’s 30 “judges’ choice” winners, see http://www.mtgretnaarts.com/
340 Buildings that were erected here in Pennsylvania National Guard’s encampment from 1885 to 1935—the subject of that historical society program at the fire hall Jan. 28. (See “They Were Soldiers Once, and Young,” this issue.) Also at the site: 29 houses, 45 bath houses, 12 administration buildings, a canteen, range house, and 85 enlisted men’s mess halls and kitchens. The camp transferred to Ft. Indiantown Gap in 1935.
449 Visitors to the Governor Dick Nature Center last year. Also coming to the center were 368 attendees at 18 different nature programs. Nine school programs attracted 399 students, teachers and chaperones. Three college volunteer groups brought 31 volunteers out to help work on trails, plant trees and do cleanups. And, says coordinator Jane Gockley, “I couldn’t begin to guess the number of people who hiked and biked in the park.”
$64,000 Raised for charity in Mt. Gretna triathlons over the past three
years. This spring’s 4th annual “Got The Nerve” event
will again benefit The Myelin Project, which conducts research into nerve-damaging
disorders like that which crippled the event’s organizer, Chris Kaag,
several years ago.
Since being stricken at age 21, Chris has used crutches and a wheelchair. “My goal is to show everyone that you can overcome any obstacle. I refuse to make excuses,” he says.
This year’s race (starting at 8:15 a.m. May 26) includes the usual 500-yard-swim in an inverted triangle course at the lake, a 14.8-mile-road loop calling for a climb up Governor Dick hill (1,120 feet above sea level), and a five-kilometer-run along the rail trail.
QUESTIONS READERS ASK
 It’s been a while since I've read anything about our cellular service here. There was a lot of excitement when Verizon put up their tower nearly two years ago. Is any other company piggybacking on it? I canceled my last cellular account three years ago. Recently, meaning well, my daughter added me to her Cingular friends and family account. Big mistake. When I realized that we get no, absolutely no, signal here, I asked to cancel the account after 41 days, advertised at only $10 a month. This learning experience is going to cost me $250. What have you heard from other folks about cell service?
<> If assured cellular service in Mt. Gretna is your goal, Verizon
and Sprint are your best bets.
Cingular’s press office said they “already had” local coverage when we first called them two years ago, but it turns out their tower along Rte. 72 doesn’t send a reliable signal into Mt. Gretna. A Cingular spokeswoman told us last week they were still drawing up their budgets and “build plans” for 2007 and couldn’t say when they might be able to serve customers here. Unlike Sprint, which is piggybacking on the Verizon tower, Cingular cannot. Verizon’s Mine Road site doesn’t fit into their network “handoff” pattern.
A T-Mobile retailer in Lebanon told us they hoped to have coverage in Mt. Gretna “someday,” but he honestly couldn’t predict when. Getting service into larger population areas is the priority, he acknowledged.
Is any other cellular company planning to add its antennas to Verizon’s Mt. Gretna tower? Nobody will say, but at this point it seems unlikely.
Another question readers often ask: Why not put cellular antennas on the 1,000 ft. WLYH-TV tower? They can’t. It’s already loaded with other communications gear. Adding more would increase wind resistance—a gamble the engineers understandably don’t want to take, thank goodness.
DIANA E. PERKINS (1931-2006)
Diana Perkins, a woman who made flowers blossom in areas that others found impossible, died last month at the age of 75. The newspapers said she was a retired real estate agent and a hospice volunteer. True enough. But her real talent was in seeing possibilities.
A native of suburban Philadelphia, she began working in her Mt. Gretna flower beds nearly a quarter century ago, a time when “almost nobody had a garden,” she told us. “Getting things started takes not only a lot of soil and mulch to offset the acidic clay, it also takes lot of trial and error. In Mt. Gretna, if you want to be a gardener, you must learn to have patience. And you must learn to accept that certain things, such as roses, probably are not going to grow here.”
Maybe not roses. But other flowers, plus love, family and friendships. Even on cloudy days, Diana nurtured them in abundance.
HENRY HOMAN (1925-2007)
Henry Homan died earlier this month at the age of 81. That news sent a ripple of sadness across Mt. Gretna, among those who knew and understood this gentle man and the contributions he made to this community, to folks in Lebanon County, and indeed to people everywhere who read his writings and heard his broadcasts.
A graduate of Duke University who spent summers growing up in Mt. Gretna and who scurried back to his summer cottage here every chance he got, Henry Homan was a journalistic legend—writer, interviewer, broadcaster and chronicler of small town life at its best.
He was also accustomed to life in the more glamorous world of entertainment—interviewing Charlton Heston, Bernadette Peters, Muhammad Ali, even Dwight Eisenhower. Heston credited Henry for his “first professional interview,” which took place at the Jigger Shop.
Nicole Roberts, 12, remembers Henry coming up the walk to the Timbers, bringing with him WLBR’s Wilbur Wabbit, and announcing “the Easter Bunny is here!” Tap Roberts, her mom, recalls days when her family lived on the second floor of what is now the Hide-a-Way, with Henry joining her mother and Alice McKeone, enjoying good-natured conversations as they prepared meals for customers.
“He loved Mt. Gretna and, like me, wouldn’t want to be anywhere else,” says Betty Dissinger, a close relative who’s lived here since 1946. Pat Pinsler remembers Henry from her teenage years—doggie roasts at the lake, packing picnic lunches and scampering up the hill to Governor Dick, sometimes joining other guys to shake the guide wires to sway those tall, triangular wooden towers atop the hill, causing all the girls to scream and race down the mountain as fast as they could.”
Lebanon’s Daily News summed up Henry’s life in a final editorial tribute: “He left us with so many memories, so many words and stories, so many outcues. . . . enriching our lives by collecting our stories and relating them to others so that we could feel the joy, the sorrow, the fear or the triumph of others near to us. His is a lasting legacy and an unsurpassable legend.”
Henry Homan: A man whose life added warmth, kindness and a gentle spirit to the world.
P.S. Our continuing thanks to the dozens of people who help us assemble
these reports. Despite busy schedules, they’re always willing to stop
what they’re doing, answer our questions and sometimes dig into their
files to retrieve an obscure fact or two. We also depend on probably half
our readers who thoughtfully forward printed or electronic copies to friends
and family around the globe. How many people read The Mt. Gretna Newsletter?
Several thousand at least, scattered over seven continents. Mt. Gretna may
be small, but long before the electronic age began its beacon has inexplicably
attracted the hearts, minds and souls of creative, energetic and good-natured
people throughout the world.