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The Mt. Gretna Newsletter

No. 68 February 8, 2007


What do Mt. Gretnans do when temperatures drop to 8 degrees?

Some scoot off to far distant spots in the sun. Others, drawing equal warmth from firesides and friendships, remain here. But wherever they are, whatever they’re doing, they find it hard to resist casting a hopeful eye toward spring. Never mind that a thick layer of ice now grips the lake, or that winter has thrown its first gentle blanket onto cottage rooftops. Summer dwellers and year ‘rounders alike now look to the season ahead.

Some are setting in motion plans for a sparkling new summer entertainment series, which Peggy O’Neil hints at in this issue. Others, like Jessica Kossoff, are developing an online gallery that will display the works of Mt. Gretna artists—so people seeking paintings, jewelry, sculpture and photographs reflecting Mt. Gretna’s creative inspirations can find them in one convenient spot. Others, drawn to the outdoors, are cleaning up streams, volunteering for this spring’s triathlon, even charting the graceful arrivals of swans on Lake Conewago.

Still others are busy planning weddings—which take place with surprising regularity in Mt. Gretna. You’ll see just how many—and how often they occur—in a special report spawned by a reader’s question this month. Just in time for Valentine’s Day.

For many Mt. Gretnans, February’s slower pace offers the chance to—as Dr. Seuss recommends—do something different: “If you never did, you should. These things are fun, and fun is good.” So one couple, who finds fun in scaling 14,000-ft. mountains, does something almost as dangerous around this time each year—exchanging gifts originally intended for others. Regifting, it’s called, a way to chase winter’s doldrums. (See below.)

Others remain happily immersed in painting, sketching, crafting, composing or writing. The output of Mt. Gretna’s writers may surprise you. A brief rundown of books written or inspired here appears in this issue. Part of an enterprising network—extending through the 708 homes that make up, despite a patchwork of municipal boundaries, what folks have come to call “Mt. Gretna.”

Summing up, February offers a rich tapestry. Events that take place here may not, in the grand scheme of things, be very important. But, then again, maybe they are. Leaving the world a little better place than you found it, doing good for others, savoring the value of neighbors and friends—it’s part of what makes us who we are.

Maybe that’s why, as realtor Fred Schaeffer also says in this issue, “people don’t buy homes and cottages here to speculate, they come here to live.”


It’s almost time for another Regifting Party at 315 Muhlenberg Ave. home of Becky Davis and husband Tom Poremba. They will observe another of their inspired traditions Feb. 17 – inviting about 40 friends over to exchange brightly wrapped gifts they don’t want, can’t use and would like to shed.

It’s an idea to chase away the winter blahs. Guests place gifts they’ve brought in a huge pile, then select an equal number from those others have brought. “You have no idea what’s inside,” Becky recently told the Patriot News. Everybody goes after the biggest, most creatively wrapped packages.

Most of the items are nice, says Becky. “It’s just that the original recipients feel others might make better use of them.” A recent survey found 98 percent of us have regifted more than once. Items at Becky and Tom’s parties have included a 5-pound chocolate bar, books, CDs, an “absolutely hideous” pair of slippers and a large outdoor table umbrella sporting the logo of a popular beer.

Becky’s advice for others planning a regifting party: “Be creative. Have fun with it. And change the gift-giving rules a little every year to keep it new and exciting.”

An annual competitor in Mt. Gretna’s “Got the Nerve” triathlons who also climbed Mt. Rainier last August with her husband, Becky says they “love the outdoors, traveling and spending time with friends.” Their next big adventure, coming in 2009: climbing 19,340-ft. Mt. Kilimanjaro.


[] A website displaying artwork of Mt. Gretna artists? That’s what the Arts Council intends to set up. If you’re an artist, or know someone whose works should appear in this consolidated online gallery, drop a note to Jessica Kosoff ( The site will list names, e-mail addresses, phone numbers and other contact information so people around the world seeking Mt. Gretna artwork can find the artists who create it.

[] Borough officials will meet with PennDOT’s LaConie Jackson next month to review plans for this year’s resurfacing project along Route 117. Borough chief Bill Care says the state highway folks couldn’t be more cooperative—and will top off the resurfaced roadway with raised reflectors to help light the highway from Colebrook to Rte. 72 for motorists returning from plays and concerts on rainy, foggy nights.

[] A new Mt. Gretna-based novel will be on sale this summer at “Remember When” gift shop. Reenie Macsisak says “Murder in the Grove,” by Larry Zimmerman, is a “modern novel with a great twist to the mystery ending.” The author, who now lives in Connecticut, spent summers here as a youngster at Locust Villa, his grandparents’ Campmeeting cottage at Boehm and Third Street. The book won’t be available until the shop opens on the first weekend in May, but if you’d like to reserve a copy, contact Reenie or Joe Macsisak at, 964-2231. (Collecting books written by Mt. Gretnans? See below.)

[] Cornwall Borough police have finally obtained their own “speed trailer,” which tells drivers how fast they’re traveling. Chief Bruce Harris, who coordinated the two-year search for funds to buy it, says they’ll post the trailer in various spots, including along Rte. 117. A previous unit, which had to be shared with other Central Pennsylvania communities, proved effective in slowing summertime traffic through Mt. Gretna.

[] Penny, the Penn Realty groundhog, was at it again Feb. 2—waving to passersby on a sunless day when shadows were as scarce along Rte. 117 as Mary Hernley’s sunflowers. But that didn’t dampen the spirits of Peggy Seibert. Attired in a furry outfit custom-tailored for the occasion, she greeted drivers beeping their horns, smiling and waving, some stopping in for personal visits, coffee and doughnuts. Later, Penny ventured over to the Mt. Gretna United Methodist Church nursery school where she shook paws with youngsters. One savvy four-year-old boldly announced to classmates: “There’s a man inside that suit. I know. I’ve been to Disney World!”

[] Volunteers are needed to coordinate the fourth annual “Got the Nerve” triathlon in Mt. Gretna May 26. The event helps raise funds to find a cure for a disease afflicting people like race organizer Chris Kaag, who has so far turned over $64,000 for research. Sign up at “We’re always looking for people to help out, and what better people than those who live in Mt. Gretna,” says Chris. The race includes a 500-yard swim at the lake, a 14.8-mile cycling competition, and a five-kilometer run along the rail trail.

[] Peggy O’Neil telephoned the other day to hint at a new program that’s in the works for this summer.
The first woman in 113 years to serve as president of the Pennsylvania Chautauqua, Peggy shared a peek into what planners hope will become an annual summer series, “Old Mt. Gretna Days.”
Researchers are now digging into obscure records, she said, dusting off vintage heirlooms and tracking down facts about life as it once was lived here. They hope their presentation, scheduled sometime in August, will appeal as much to newcomers as to those who, as youngsters, first discovered Mt. Gretna’s magic while spending summers at the cottages of their grandparents.
Details are sketchy, but enthusiasm is not. Peggy promises more as the date draws nearer.

[] Yes, they’ll do that popular end-of-season Big Band beach party at the lake again this year. Karen and Ceylon Leitzel’s popular event—whose proceeds have helped such groups as the fire company, Heritage Festival, Lawn Ambulance and the Wing and a Prayer chorus at Mt. Gretna’s United Methodist Church—will take place Aug. 25. Previous events have been sellouts. Tickets are $18. For details, call 964-1829, evenings and weekends; 866-4272, weekdays.


30 Years that Bill Care has been Mt. Gretna’s man-in-charge-of-darned-near-everything. He started working here soon after driving along Brown Avenue late one winter night and stopping to lend a hand to Chuck Allwein who, working down in a ditch, was struggling to free a frozen water valve for neighbors.
“Need some help?” asked Bill, peering down into the pit.
“You bet,” said Chuck, a biology teacher who, for the past hour or so had been trying to unfreeze the stubborn valve. It took Bill, a licensed plumber, only a few minutes to get water flowing again. Recognizing a good thing when he sees it, Chuck didn’t hesitate. “Want a job?” he asked.
Agreeing to try the assignment, Bill soon found himself doing things he’d never done before: driving a snowplow, doing carpentry work at the Playhouse, repairing light fixtures and, occasionally, plumbing.
He’s been at it ever since, but now he doesn’t have to do it all himself. He heads a staff whose dedication matches his own: doing whatever’s needed—regardless of the day or hour.
On March 1, Bill begins his 31st year as borough manager and looks forward to many more. That’s likely. One of the fittest guys his age in the country, he’s a top competitor in bicycle racing and finished 15th in national competition last year for people over 55.

40 Homes sold in Mt. Gretna last year, ranging from $101,000 to $465,000, says Mt. Gretna Realty’s Fred Schaeffer. Fred’s numbers are usually the most accurate we can find, since for the past 23 years he’s been tracking real estate transactions made privately as well as those that go through the multi-listing system.
How much did a typical Mt. Gretna home sell for in 2006? Approximately $230,000, says Fred.
Usually, about 37 homes change ownership here each year. Fred says that most people buy homes and cottages in Mt. Gretna because they like living here, not because of speculative impulses.

100 Hungry Mt. Gretnans likely to turn out at the fire company’s breakfast Mar. 4, from 8 a.m. to noon. “People come as much for the social aspect as for the food,” says coordinator Karen Lynch. And the numbers are growing. “We were surprised by the huge turnout last November,” she says—bigger even than in mid-summer, when everyone’s here.
Most arrive somewhere between 9 and 10 a.m., but there’s plenty to eat throughout the morning: sausage, eggs, potatoes, an egg dish and beverages.
What’s it cost? Anything you care to pay. Simply stuff your contribution into a firefighter’s boot at the door and join your neighbors at the tables. All donations go into a general fund to help keep our firefighters trained, equipped and ready to provide fire protection for us all.

1,494 Mt. Gretna’s population, based on estimates from local municipalities, school districts, taxing authorities and the latest data from the U.S. Census bureau.
The truth, of course, is that nobody really knows how many people live here. But that doesn’t stop endless fascination and debate. Here’s how we arrive at our estimate:
The Census Bureau says the average household size in Zip Code 17064 is 2.11 persons. We count 708 homes in all seven neighborhoods (69 in Mt. Gretna Heights, 243 in the Campmeeting, 24 in Stoberdale, 206 in Mt. Gretna Borough [Chautauqua], and 166 in the areas of Timber Hills, Conewago Hill and Timber Bridge).
Multiplying 708 by 2.11 gives us exactly 1,493.88 citizens, many of whom disappear each winter. When they return (and are joined by summer cottage owners), our experts tell us that Mt. Gretna’s summertime population tops out at around 2,500.
The Census Bureau also says that 38.8 percent of the homes in Zip Code 17064 are for “seasonal” use only, 48 percent of us hold bachelor’s degrees or higher, and females outnumber males 50.5 percent to 49.5 percent. Almost 20 percent of us are over age 65 (compared to the U.S. average of 12.4 percent).


[] The new streetlights installed along Muhlenberg Avenue this spring will be similar to those used in the Chautauqua Park grounds. They’ll have the soft yellow glow of lamps from an earlier era, even though the bulbs are the latest energy-saving kind that resemble corkscrews. Inside the globe, however, you’ll never be able to detect that. Met Ed crews will be here later this month to move the poles back a few feet, creating more parking space for residents.

[] Timber Hils, Timber Bridge and Conewago Hill residents now have speedy electronic access to a cornucopia of facts at their fingertips. South Londonderry Township just opened a new website ( crammed with stuff you need to know: police and other emergency services, schools, public officials, parks, and zoning. A convenient e-mail form makes it easy to contact people like township manager Tom Ernharth, police chief Jeffrey Arnold or public works superintendent Scott Galbraith. One of the best small-town websites we’ve seen, it’s easy to use, up-to-date, and comprehensive.

[] Playhouse officials last month announced plans to realign performance schedules next year. They’ll schedule plays and musicals in the first half of the 2008 season, jazz and classical concerts in the second half, with Cicada series performances sandwiched in between. None of that affects this summer’s schedule, however. The 2007 season will follow its usual format. When the new arrangement begins in 2008, the hope is that avoiding changes in stage setups every weekend will help curb costs. Sunday worship services will continue unchanged.

[] Writer(s) needed for the Mt. Gretna Area Historical Society newsletter. “It’s an ideal assignment for someone—perhaps a couple—looking for something that’s both interesting and rewarding,” says historical society volunteer Peggy O’Neil. Interested? Contact Peggy (

[] Concert pianist Clipper Erickson comes to Gretna Music's winter series at Elizabethtown College Feb. 24 performing—with the college’s choir and Gretna Music founder Carl Ellenberger—Ravel’s Daphnis et Chloe Second Suite.
Exhibiting “extraordinary dash and power,” says one Los Angeles Times reviewer, Erickson will also perform Wagner’s Tannhauser Overture, Saint-Saens’ Danse macabre and Bach’s Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring. A preconcert dinner (reservations: 361-1508, by Feb. 19, please) will be served outside the concert hall.

[] John Hambright and Dale Grundon, awarding it a coveted “Five Fork Rating,” recommend saving a spot on your calendar for the Mar. 17 breakfast at Colebrook Lutheran Church. “Begin with SOS over hash brown potatoes,” says John. “Follow that with pancakes, scrambled eggs—or both, and be sure to include a stop at the mixed fruit table.” Adds Dale, “Pick up at least one serving of the superior chocolate cake with tantalizing peanut butter icing.” Time: 6 to 10 a.m.

[] John Jacobs, who—at 29—heads Juilliard’s organ department, is the subject of a magazine article this month. (Jacobs is sending four of his top students to Mt. Gretna this summer for a “Gems of Juilliard” series.) He once memorized all of Bach’s organ works and performed them in a marathon 18-hour concert. Jacobs calls the organ “the most misunderstood instrument within mainstream classical music.” But he says it now enjoys a revival that is taking it “outside of churches and synagogues.”
Which, come to think of it, is precisely the spirit behind the Mt. Gretna recitals—held at the Princeton Avenue home of Peter Hewitt and Walter McAnney. The article is written by Daniel Sullivan, a Juilliard doctoral student who will perform here July 26. It appears at

[] Governor Dick’s Nature Center needs a staffer two weekends a month, April through October. The assignment requires six hours on Saturdays, three hours on Sundays. Pay: $10 an hour. E-mail resumes to Or mail to Governor Dick Nature Center, P.O. Box 161, Mt. Gretna, PA 17064. Deadline for applications: Feb. 28.

[] Center Stage Opera, opening the Playhouse’s 2007 season June 2 with scenes from Verdi’s “Falstaff,” reports that one of its baritones is now on the roster of the New York Metropolitan Opera Company. “We’re proud of all the people—including stage and production crews—who make this company sing,” says Kathryn Foster, coordinator of the Harrisburg-based group. (See

[] Gretna Music offers an internship in arts management this summer. Applicants should have good interpersonal, writing, research and design skills, their own housing, transportation and be willing to work weekends. With flexible starting and ending dates and running from late May through early September, the position includes a $3,000 stipend. Contact Carl Kane, 361-1508.

[] Former Gretna Theater artistic director Will Stutts continues his celebrated one-man plays next month in a presentation of “Walt Whitman” at The Lincoln Museum, Ft. Wayne, Ind.

[] In a departure from usual summertime fare at the Playhouse, “Shining Light, a 56-member prison ministry group made up of local students, will perform here June 10. Formed 11 years ago by director Jeff Bohn, the Annville-based troupe now has three full-time employees, a dozen other support staffers, and travels to engagements around the country with a tour bus, 15-passenger van and tractor trailer.

[] Master gardener Millie Dieffenbach will offer tips for keeping houseplants hearty at the Winterites’ Mar. 6 gathering at the fire hall, starting at 1 p.m. All Mt. Gretnans are welcome. Details: Mary Ellen McCarty, 964-3498.

[] Ray Brinker, an Annville high school grad who Max Hunsicker calls “my greatest drum student ever” (and who played with Maynard Ferguson, Joe Cocker, Ray Charles and others) returns Feb. 18 for vocalist Tierney Sutton’s concert at Allen Theater. Brinker also has appeared in a Central PA Friends of Jazz concert at the Timbers: See

[] Offering classes or hosting events at Mt. Gretna Heights’ Community Building this summer? Contact Susan Wood (964-3069) by Feb. 15 to list your Heights Building activities in Mt. Gretna’s Summer Calendar. Ellen Nicholas plans art classes there on Friday mornings; Pam Willeman will hold classes in yoga there, possibly Tai Chi as well.

[] Tri-County Conewago Creek Association volunteers—including several Mt. Gretnans—are helping curb erosion and improve water quality at the stream, whose headwaters begin in Mt. Gretna. Group meetings on the final Wednesdays of each month start at 7 p.m. at Lawn Fire Company. Popular activities include “watershed snapshots,” measuring the health of the Conewago. President Matt Royer says “water quality drops significantly as you work your way downstream.” Details:


[] Those two swans at the lake last month were beautiful. Did someone “import” them to deal with the Canadian geese, or did they just show up on their own?

<> Naturalist Dale Grundon (who caught pictures of the recent visitors at tells us those swans have been visiting Lake Conewago “since the wayback”—which we take to mean at least 15 years, maybe more. Usually two swans appear, sometimes three. They also pay visits to the lesser-known Lake Duffy, nearby. Our sources tell us that a Crane also appears at the lake in Spring, and Kathy Snavely recently spotted a Kingfisher along the lake’s southern shore. Where do they come from? Dale says New Jersey and Long Island are favorite summer spots for swans. See:

[] My daughter would like to have a wedding at Mt. Gretna. Is this possible? I’ve never been there, but after discovering your Newsletter online, it sounds beautiful. Is there somewhere to have a wedding and a reception for about 125 people?

<> We’re not sure when the first marriage was held here, but it’s safe to say that weddings have been part of the Mt. Gretna scene for more than a century. In fact, cupid sometimes seems to work overtime here. Several current residents first met and were married in ceremonies at the Tabernacle, the church, and occasionally outdoors, amid picturesque woodlands in surrounding hills.
The 108-year-old Campmeeting Tabernacle is one of the most popular spots. Supervisor Merv Lentz says two weddings are already scheduled there this year, and over the past four years the venerable open-air chapel has been the scene of 14 marriages.
At least one marriage has taken place in the Playhouse, in 1988 we understand, and another is scheduled for May by a Lebanon couple who came to Mt. Gretna on their first date.
Over the past two years, three marriages, 21 receptions and 11 rehearsal dinners have taken place at the Timbers Dinner Theater and Restaurant, a popular spot year-round.
Of course, Mt. Gretna’s United Methodist Church is another frequent choice. In the past two years, nine couples have been married in the sanctuary.
Another popular spot is the Chautauqua Community Building (which is now available, however, only to residents of Mt. Gretna’s seven neighborhoods—Chautauqua, Campmeeting, Stoberdale, Mt. Gretna Heights, Timber Hills, Conewago Hill and Timber Bridge.) In the past five years, the 98-year-old building (also known as the Hall of Philosophy) has seen five weddings and 10 receptions.
Other brides have chosen the Mt. Gretna Heights community building (which has seen seven wedding receptions in the past two years) and the nearby Mt. Gretna Inn, which sets up tents out on the lawn for nuptial ceremonies (as well as anniversary parties, birthdays and retirement celebrations).


Rounding out your collection of books written by Mt. Gretna authors? (Some are available online through Amazon or Barnes & Noble. Others are sold directly by publishers and, sometimes, the authors themselves). Besides “Murder in the Grove,” (cited elsewhere in this issue), they include:

“Ledyard: In Search of the First American Explorer,” by Princeton Avenue resident Bill Gifford, published this month by Harcourt. Bill calls Ledyard a “wild, flamboyant character who wrote in the nude, charmed women, guzzled Burgundy and made himself rock-star famous.” A New York Times review is scheduled Feb. 18. (See

“Walkin' the Line: A Journey from Past to Present along the Mason-Dixon Line” by former Brown Avenue resident Bill Ecenbarger, who once shared a Pulitzer prize with fellow Philadelphia Inquirer staffers covering the accident at TMI. Published by M. Evans & Co.

“The Buried Treasure of Mt. Gretna,” a mystery by Charlestown, Md. author Charlotte Valentine, a frequent summertime visitor here. Publisher

“Unbeatable: Recreate Your Life as Extraordinary Using Secrets of a Navy SEAL,” by Jack Shropp (who grew up in the Chautauqua lakeside home now owned by John and Nancy Mitchell along Rte. 117).

“It’s A Fine Line,” 127 color and black and white drawings by art show co-founder Bruce Johnson. Stackpole Books.

“Dreamthorp,” a 1989 novel by Chet Williamson, who drew inspiration from Mt. Gretna as the setting, “near an old Indian burial ground,” for this work. (Now out of print, but still available through

“One Came to Stay;” former gift shop owner Veda Boyd recounts what it was like growing up in Lancaster County. Masthof Press.

“Mt. Gretna: A Coleman Legacy,” the definitive Mt. Gretna history, with a few copies still available directly from the author, Jack Bitner. (Telephone 964-3058).

“The Mt. Gretna Maximum State Security Prison: A Monumental Failure,” by the late Phares G. Gibble, Jr., who lived along Butler Road (on the site of the former Kauffman’s Park) for nearly 50 years. Published (1991) by Lebanon Co. Historical Society:

“Mt. Gretna Eats,” the fire company’s celebrated cookbook, now in its third printing. Send $15: Cookbooks, Box 505, Mt. Gretna, PA 17064.

Out of print but still in demand:
“Hex Marks the Spot,” “Blue Hills and Shoo-Fly Pie” and “Phantom of the Forest” (a children’s mystery set in and around the former Conewago Hotel); all by Ann Hark, the 1920s Ladies Home Journal writer who spent summers in a hilltop Chautauqua cottage facing the lake.

Also, if you really want to make your Mt. Gretna collection complete:
“One Thousand American Fungi,” by Charles McIlvaine (who lectured on fungi, usually while standing out on the Chautauqua grounds under an umbrella resembling a giant mushroom—yes, Mt. Gretnans were sometimes zany then, too) and Robert Macadam. First printed in 1900, the most recent edition was published in 1973. Dover Publications.

Kindest regards,

Roger Groce

P.S. The Census Bureau finds that nearly 20 percent of us in Zip Code 17064 are over the age of 65. In the U.S. population generally, the “over 65” slice is only 12.4 percent. That stirs a few thoughts.
Nobody would claim that Mt. Gretna is a Village of Old Fogeys. Just the opposite, in fact. There’s more energy, creativity and enthusiasm here than in many communities three times our size. And older people—not retiring, but redirecting, as Gail Sheehy puts it—are using skills accumulated over a lifetime to add to that zest.
Our thanks to all who help with this community newsletter—sharing their ideas, energies and enthusiasms. Lending unique talents, they fulfill a role we have come to treasure.
Thanks, too, to those who regularly pass along copies to friends and relatives around the world, sending reminders that people in places like Mt. Gretna can make an immeasurable difference.
Finally, this reminder that thanks to our friends at Gretna Computing, you can always find back issues of this Newsletter on the Web at