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Mt. Gretna Newsletter No. 70
April 7, 2007
It’s still weeks away, but Janice Balmer and those other elves inhabiting the magical world of the Mt. Gretna Arts Council already are spinning a gossamer web around this year’s Summer Premiere.
If you’re a newcomer, here’s what you need to know about the Premiere: It is THE event of the social season. A time when everybody gathers at the Hall of Philosophy to greet old friends, meet new ones, and ignite a string of social, cultural and recreational events that shoot like a skyrocket across Mt. Gretna’s 0.4 kilometers straight toward Labor Day.
Neither stuffy nor formal, it’s easily one of the most popular gatherings of the entire season—a mini-festival of food, fun and friendship as snowbirds and year-rounders alike assemble to renew acquaintances, catch up on the news and prepare for the vibrant summer season ahead.
Janice, as always, has something different this year—a “tremendous” auction that will include the 2007 Summer Calendar’s original artwork by Campmeeting artist Fred Swarr, also known as “Dr. Design” (see
This year’s cover, says Janice, captures the “community’s love for music with the spirit of Mt. Gretna.” The original painting is expected to be one of the auction’s most sought-after items amid dozens of artworks and collectibles up for sale at the premiere, the Arts Council’s principal fund-raiser. Proceeds go to help pay for the comprehensive calendar of summer events, a booklet that generations have come to depend on in keeping up with all that goes on during a typical Mt. Gretna summer.
Besides his cover art, however, Fred will make yet another artistic contribution—actually “performing.” He’ll create an entirely new painting—live to music—throughout the Premiere itself. “At the end of the day, we will auction off the piece he creates that day in addition to his cover art,” says Janice.
The date: May 29, starting around 4 p.m. You’re not only invited, says Janet—you’re warmly encouraged to bring a dessert (between 3-3:30 p.m., please). Mostly, however, you’re simply welcome to join the fun. And that means all Mt. Gretnans—whether you live in Timber Bridge, Timber Hills, Stoberdale, Chautauqua, Campmeeting, Mt. Gretna Heights or atop Conewago Hill. If you’re close enough to walk to the post office, that means you’re a Mt. Gretnan. And if you can walk, paddle, jog or ride there, you just oughta come, that’s for sure.

This will be Joe and Reenie Macsisak’s last season as owners and operators of “Remember When” gift shop.
An advertisement placed by Chautauqua property managers in Mt. Gretna's 2007 Summer Calendar will invite offers from prospective bidders wishing to establish a new business at the historic site.
“We’ve had some wonderful experiences with people,” says Reenie, looking back over the past 14 years. “Having the gift shop gave us the opportunity to help with fundraising for the fire company and Heritage Festival; sell house tour tickets for Music at Gretna, answer visitors' questions and make us feel that we’re a part of the community. With the hours we worked each summer, we couldn’t really volunteer. So selling fundraising items for groups here was our way of trying to give back to the community,” she says. “We want to thank people for their patronage and wish the new owner well.”
Just who that new owner may be is uncertain. Reenie hopes the building can continue as a gift shop, but she admits that may be difficult.
“Having a gift shop adds sparkle to the summer experience for visitors who come here to support the Playhouse, enjoy breakfast or lunch at local restaurants, stroll around town, or bring their children and grandchildren here for ice cream. Older people especially enjoy wandering through the gift shop,” she says. “It would be a shame if that spark were missing.”
Yet amid rising rental rates (now approaching $1,000 a month) and declining sales, the unheated building's future remains uncertain. “I’ve been in business 33 years,” says Reenie, “and everything goes in cycles. Right now, national trends and our own experience say this is not the time for gift shops.”
Stretching the shop's selling season closer to Christmas didn't work, she says. After Labor Day, visitors—and gift shop sales—drop sharply. She reports that sales on their final weekend near Thanksgiving last year totaled exactly $5. “The monthly rent must be paid for all 12 months, but you have only 13 weeks to cover that. We weren’t losing money, but we are just not making what we should. So after this year, we’re looking forward to having more time to travel, do more volunteering and enjoying our porch,” she says.
For this summer, Reenie and Joe will concentrate on antiques and collectibles and probably “running more sales,” she says. “We’re going to miss the people. But, you know what they say—“When one window closes, a door opens.’”

Art show director Linda Bell breathed a sign of relief last week. After an early surge using the electronic application system ZAPP for the first time this year, entries hit a plateau, with only two weeks remaining before the April 1 deadline.
But in the final 10 days, 40% of this year’s near-bumper crop of 518 entries came gushing in.
“Artists are into their art. Paperwork just is not their thing,” says Linda. But some of the last-minute entries are sparkling. “I’m keeping my fingers crossed. If several of these latecomers are accepted, we’re going to have a super art show this year. Many our old favorites have applied, too. But I’m excited about seeing stuff I’ve never seen before. And, speaking from a woman’s point of view, we’re getting a lot of ‘Oh, I want that!’ wearable art.”

Linda says the new online application system launched for the first time this year worked flawlessly. Artists had to submit examples of their work electronically, rather than with slides as in prior years. She’ll use the same system April 21 as judges view art from laptops as well as on a central projection screen. The combined votes from all four judges will be tallied and computed electronically, speeding computations and assuring error-free results.
Chris Kaag, the 30-year-old organizer of Mt. Gretna’s annual triathlon (coming up May 26), believes Vince Lombardi had it right: “It’s not whether you get knocked down, but whether you get back up.”
Chris himself was knocked down nine years ago, crippled by a nerve-damaging disease he fights to overcome through a rigorous fitness program that he has now developed into a business (see WWW.CORPSFITNESS.NET)-- and through an annual triathlon in Mt. Gretna that over the past four years has raised $64,000 for research. He expects this year’s event will attract 600 competitors from all over the country.
A former Marine, Chris first was attracted to Mt. Gretna in 2002. Riding his handcycle along the Lebanon Valley rail trail, and accompanied by his dog and a few friends, he stopped in for breakfast at Le Sorelle Café one Sunday morning.
“It’s one of my fondest memories. The whole experience was relaxing and warm, and it sort of sums it all up. I was so impressed by the place. I began making coming to Mt. Gretna a regular routine,” says Chris, who lives near Reading—starting with a Le Sorelle breakfast and then going out on the rail trail. “I always feel at home in Mt. Gretna. The people there have always been friendly and gracious, despite my riding a ‘different-looking’ bike. That good feeling is one of the main reasons I chose to have my race there.” Chris says 295 competitors have already signed up for this year’s race, and he expects “no problem in reaching my cap of 600.”
Want to help out this year? Chris’ team of volunteers begin their race setups May 25 behind the lake from noon to 6 p.m. They set up fencing, tents, portable rest rooms and clean the bike course roadways—sweeping away loose gravel. “We’re always looking for people to help, and we welcome people from Mt. Gretna,” he says. The race starts the next day, promptly at 8:15 a.m., with a 500-yard-swim, followed by a 14.8-mile bike race and a five-kilometer run. For details on how to sign up as a race volunteer, see
An idea spawned by a distant reader of this newsletter several months ago is now taking shape: “I’ve looked everywhere on the Internet,” she wrote, “but I can’t find a source for art prints of scenes from Mt. Gretna to purchase and frame.”
That, in a nutshell, is the idea behind the Arts Council’s new Web page, designed especially for people who live elsewhere. Mt. Gretna artwork will soon have a Website all its own—in a new online gallery that visitors from around the world can view, and then contact the artists whose works are represented online.
Surprising numbers of people are interested in “all things Mt. Gretnan.” This newsletter, for example, goes to folks from Maine to California and to people living in many countries overseas. On a typical day, the eBay website usually carries dozens of different Mt. Gretna items for sale. At least four generations now have ties extending to the late 1800s when Mt. Gretna’s founders were clearing land for Chautauqua and Campmeeting cottages. And descendants of thousands of soldiers stationed at Mt. Gretna in the days leading up to World War I and beyond all have a fondness for Mt. Gretna artwork and memorabilia.
By our count, at least 40 area artists live and work in the surrounding area. Others—former residents like Bruce Johnson and Reed Dixon (who helped start the Mt. Gretna Outdoor Art Show)—also have works that reflect the area’s scenes and traditions. All are invited to submit contact information, descriptions of their work, and a scanned picture for the website.
Putting it all together in a single, convenient site that makes it easy for anyone using the Internet to find, purchase and enjoy Mt. Gretna artwork is the whole idea. All are invited to submit their entries to Jessica Kosoff at
When she takes the stage here in July, Midori, the diminutive 37-year-old Japanese violinist of international renown, will surely be one of the most gifted musicians ever to set foot on the Mt. Gretna Since her debut, at age 11, with the New York Philharmonic under Zubin Mehta more than a quarter-century ago, she has been captivating audiences. stage.
As one New York Times reviewer noted, “Many soloists have masterly technique, but few conjure such searing intensity seemingly out of nowhere. Midori plays not on top of the strings but deeply inside them.”
Her performance July 22 is one of nine classical and six jazz concerts Music at Gretna will present in a season that begins Friday, June 8 with cabaret singer and “reigning queen of vintage pop” Barbara Rosene, performing at the Timbers. That’s followed Saturday night at the Playhouse by the 31st annual appearance of the New Black Eagles Jazz Band, who’ll also be performing the next morning the traditional jazz worship service. Empire Brass launches the Classical Sundays series July 1. Other season highlights include David Jackson’s “Trombone-a-palooza” Aug. 5 and popular jazz artist Leon Redbone Aug. 10. Full details about the upcoming season appear at

[] Bill Care & Co. just set the date—the one that all Mt. Gretna waits for! “Big Junk Day” is now officially scheduled June 18. Thatcher Bornman will be cooking hot dogs on Lancaster Avenue, neighbors will be out exchanging their unwanteds with their neighbors’ unwanteds, and—for an entire weekend—everybody will have fun. Details? Coming up next month.
[] Want a glimpse of what Mt. Gretna’s streetlights will look like 30 years from now? Take a stroll along Muhlenberg Avenue as a $60,000 road improvement project nears its projected completion date May 18. The new lights resemble those already installed in Chautauqua Park. As aging Met Ed lamps elsewhere in the borough wear out, the new version will gradually replace them, using energy-saving fluorescent “corkscrew” bulbs, not high-pressure sodium. Those new lamps, plus photos of a fresh coat of paint at the store and other “scenes of spring” appear on the web, thanks to Dale Grundon, at
[] Want to know what people want to know about Mt. Gretna? Spend a few hours this summer answering questions at the Information Center. Coordinator Jessica Kosoff ( is now filling the volunteer slots: Noon to 2 p.m., and 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. Thursdays; 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. Fridays; and 1 p.m. to 7 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays. Monday night programs at the Playhouse may also draw visitors, she says, “so if I have enough volunteers, I will extend the hours.”
[] A two-page article, “Mt. Gretna: My Kind of Town” by former Brown Avenue resident (and Pulitzer Prize-winning author) William Ecenbarger appears in the current issue of Pennsylvania Pursuits magazine, available free from Pennsylvania’s Dept. of Community and Economic Development. To subscribe:
[] Winter’s prolonged grip may delay the tulips this year, but Mary Hernley will return to her familiar post along Rte. 117 as soon as they bloom. Surprises in store? A single flowered aster, large flowering poppies Mary is “trying from seed,” and parrot tulips she planted last fall.
Despite a December farm accident that sent husband Peter to Baltimore for specialized hand surgery (he’s now back to 95% of his old self, thankfully), the Hernleys are continuing their support to missionaries in places like Nicaragua, Haiti, Africa, China and Morocco—nearly a dozen different countries. Mary says she reports this “only to praise God for blessing us to bless others, and inspire others to share with the needs of the poor. We thank our Mt. Gretna friends for their part in our sharing ministry,” she says.
Kathryn Foster, impresario of Center Stage Opera Company which performs here June 2, is just back from a performance of Wagner’s “Die Walküre,” where she met Placido Domingo backstage at The Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. (Kathryn was a guest of Alejandro Olmedo, one of Domingo’s tenors, who sang “Otello” last year at Mt. Gretna.)
She looks forward to the company’s return to Mt. Gretna Playhouse. “We enjoyed our time there with Otello last summer and hope that, with increased publicity, there will be a large audience this year to enjoy the music. The cast really enjoyed the beautiful setting in Mt. Gretna, the quaint, gorgeous homes and the area’s history,” she says.
“Falstaff,” Verdi’s final opera and an opera buffa (comedy), “will be sung in English to strengthen the comedic aspect—a comedy of errors, deceit and conscience (or lack of it),” she says. Details appear online at
[] Mt. Gretna artist Lou Schellenberg’s works appear in the Art Association of Harrisburg's "Four Artist Invitational," now through May 3. Details: or 236-1432. Her paintings are also on display at the Lynden Gallery exhibition, “Rural East Coast, Urban West Coast” this month in Elizabethtown, (see
[] Clearing the residue of winter—sticks, stones and antiskid granules—West Cornwall Township’s George Dundore will sweep through the Heights and Stoberdale April 13, part of the township’s annual street cleanup campaign. Mt. Gretna borough’s Joey Wise and Scott Cooling will begin picking up leaves April 30 and again June 4; they’ve scheduled brush collections May 7 and June 11. Merv Lentz picks up leaves or brush as Campmeeting residents set them out.
[] “An Inconvenient Truth,” Al Gore’s award-winning documentary, will be part of Earth Day observances at Governor Dick Park April 21 at 1 p.m.. A 10 a.m. hike to the Governor Dick tower, viewing plants and birds along the way, will include bluebird house construction activities at the tower. All events are free. If your group will include five or more, please preregister (964-3808, e-mail:
[] Why no car show this year? It’s postponed until 2008, allowing construction workers to complete a more than $200,000 addition to the fire company, where the show is held. Planners promise next year’s car show—their 10th—will be “bigger and better than ever.”
[] High school students charmed by the Enso String Quartet. . . or swept away by the Boston Brass? Yes, it’s part of Music at Gretna’s traveling “Listen to This!” series, which helped earn a Central Penn Business Journal Innovation Award nomination last month. Music at Gretna’s campaign to attract young audiences also includes pricing discounts for adults who go with students to winter concerts at Elizabethtown and $1 tickets for students 18 and under attending summer performances at the Mt. Gretna Playhouse.
[] Imagine looking out your kitchen window and seeing bluebirds every morning? Discover how you can do just that at a Governor Dick Nature Center presentation April 29. Bluebird expert Shirley Halk will show video views of what goes on inside their nests, a sight seldom seen—even by veteran bird-watchers. The show begins at 2 p.m.
[] Kindermusic Kamp this summer will offer opportunities for both parents and youngsters to "discover new ways to appreciate the world's most respected music" at Chautauqua's Hall of Philosophy. Children will learn about animals, take imaginary trips to favorite spots, and explore dance, crafts and readings from throughout the world – all with the aid of musical themes starting June 1. Classes (Fridays and Saturdays throughout June) will be grouped by age: newborns to 18 months, 18 months to 3 years, 3- to 5-year olds, and ages 5 to 7. Preregister by May 18. For details, call 964-1310.
The third annual Bridge of Hope car rally—which uses Mt. Gretna as the starting point for drivers in a UK-inspired competition that emphasizes teamwork and navigation skills rather than speed—shifts to a fall date this year.
Coordinator Bob Owens says an Oct. 20 rally should help attract more entrants (he hopes about 80) to an event that raises about $6,000 annually for single-parent homeless families. Last year’s event, held in June, attracted only 54 entrants.
Why Mt. Gretna? It’s picturesque, easily accessible from the Turnpike (competitors come from as far as Altoona), and Chautauqua’s two-tiered parking lot makes it easier to send competitors headed out along two different routes. Owens also says Mt. Gretna’s religious roots seem fitting for a faith-based fund-raiser designed to help people in need. See
Have a child or grandchild who’s curious about creatures that live under rocks, leaves and logs in the forest? Governor Dick Park’s “Mission: Discovery” series starting May 19 may be just for them.
Coordinator Audrey Manspeaker says the programs, extending over six Saturdays through Aug. 19 will be “delight directed,” that is, as children discover something they’re interested in, she’ll take them in that direction.
“We’ll play discovery games in the woods that answer their questions and raise new ones, look at the forest’s ‘big picture,’ then meet small residents such as bugs and salamanders,” she says. At each session, children will receive one clue to solving a mystery involving “something surprising about a common creature.” But that secret will be revealed only at the final session. “As private eyes in the forest, each child will receive a hand lens to keep for further exploration and perhaps fuel a lifelong passion for outdoor study and good stewardship of our natural resources.”
Audrey hopes that the youngsters might someday become environmental science students in college, or maybe look back on this experience and “want to touch a young life by sharing the excitement of a woodland walk, [or] encourage others not to kill an insect because it's a bug, or a snake because it's a snake or a spider because it's a spider.”
Her hope is that “they will be able to think back to Saturdays when we got our hands dirty examining a pill bug or a toad or bug parts under the microscope and say to themselves, ‘Boy! I'm glad that lady taught me to slow down and really take a look at all the things there are in the forest and to relish the quiet and the peace.’"
All programs in the series (for youngsters age 6 to 10) are from 10 a.m.-11 a.m. and are free. However, children must be accompanied by an adult to help with supervision. Details: (717) 964-3808 or e-mail:
Wine and chocolate tastings? Book discussion groups? Story times for children? Book reviews? Mt. Gretna’s busy little Library will be bursting at the seams this summer. . . beckoning visitors from near and far.
Jeff Hurst, a Mt. Gretnan and senior staff scientist at Hershey Foods Technical Center, who heads the wine-chocolate event June 21 (7 p.m.), says “people will discover the subtleties of chocolate flavors and how they complement varying wines. Some wines complement the flavors, and others detract.” He promises a tasting guide useful in hosting your own event. (There’s no charge, but let them know you’re coming [964-3481] so they’ll know how many bottles of wine to buy.)
Want to join the book discussions? On tap this summer are Keith Donohue’s “The Stolen Child,” Diana Setterfield’s “Thirteenth Tale,” and William Faulkner’s “Light in August.” The series begins May 31 at 7 p.m. Details: 964-3481.
Book reviews by Mt. Gretnans? They’re on the schedule, too. Starting June 25, Rob Gokey reviews Timothy Egan’s “The Worst Hard Time,” the story of America’s greatest man-made disaster, the ‘Great American Dust Bowl.’ Jim Dwyer, who’s lived at the same 3d Street cottage in the Campmeeting for nearly 35 years, will discuss on July 2 Cormac McCarthy’s latest novel, “The Road.” It’s a tale of survivors following an apocalyptic war—a man and his son on a journey across America at a time when “there is little or no hope, yet love and kindness cannot be extinguished.” And Jack Anderson, who divides his time between Mt. Gretna and his winter home in Maryland, will review July 16 David Hackett Fischer’s “Albion’s Seed: Four British Folkways in America.” Jack says it’s a “fascinating reference for family historians searching for roots in England.” The book documents four major English waves of migration to America, “each bringing unique folkways that help explain this country’s regional differences.” All reviews start at 7 p.m.
Also coming up this summer are story time and craft sessions for youngsters, with Jessica Kosoff, and—at the Tabernacle, a special Irene Rollman series that includes “Ladies of Mt. Gretna” (June 24), “If These Campmeeting Cottages Could Talk” (July 8), and “Friends of Ann Hark” (Aug. 8).
Jessica hopes that Barney Myer might be available to “make butter with the kids” for her “Little Red Hen” session. She also plans to do “Where the Wild Things Are,” “Going on a Bear Hunt” and crafts. It’s a series “good for kids ages 3 and up,” she says.
7 In the series of Mt. Gretna Fire Company coffee mugs due out next month at the Summer Premiere. Started in 2001 by Scott Zellers and former Mt. Gretnan Tom Miller, the mugs—now eagerly sought by collectors—have featured artist Eleanor Sarabia pen and ink sketches of the Playhouse, the Mt. Gretna Library, the “Store,” Information Center, the Heights Community Building, and the former Conewago Hotel.
This year’s design? It’s a secret to be unveiled May 26, says Scott, a born marketer who knows instinctively the value of shrouding with a cloak of mystery anything that’s for sale in limited numbers.
Afterward, the mugs will be available at “Remember When” gift shop, the Hideaway Restaurant, Collins Grocery in Colebrook and the Mt. Gretna Fire Company, which so far has received proceeds from over $10,000 in coffee mug sales. All from an idea spawned when Jane Zellers and Edie Miller decided, says Scott, that their mates “needed a project.”
10 Minutes it took youngsters at the Easter Egg hunt to track down, discover and fill their baskets with colored eggs at the annual safari. Pictures:
[] This past year, work was done on or near the dam. The resulting stones where the construction occurred seem higher than what was there before. Does anyone know if this will ultimately result in deeper water for Lake Conewago? For that matter, is there a standard depth? Has it diminished over the years? I'd imagine, the buildup of leaves and silt over the decades, must have impacted the depth. Has the lake ever been dredged?
<> As we reported last year, construction work at the dam was part of a cooperative venture undertaken by the lake’s owner and Pennsylvania’s Dept. of Environmental Resources to “enhance the safety and continued viability of the dam.” That project is now nearly complete.
As for the lake’s size and depth, there’s no question the lake is today smaller than it was in the early 1900s. But historian Jack Bitner says that it “never extended quite as far as the footbridge.” The deepest spot, he believes, “was 11 feet about 20 years ago, and I imagine that it is still nine- or 10-feet deep.”
Officials say there are “no active plans to dredge the lake.” What appears to be “an island” created by work done two years ago was a “fire dam,” built when borough crews cleaned out the area surrounding a pipe leading to a lakeside hydrant. Called a “dry hydrant," it was purchased with art show funds in the mid-1980s as backup protection for areas of Mt. Gretna that lack connections to municipal hydrants. The fire dam helps keep sediment from building up around the hydrant pipe, especially during heavy rainstorms. As borough manager Bill Care points out, “dredging is costly. Even though we did most of the work ourselves, the 2005 cleanup project cost several thousand dollars.”
HEB HERR 1925-2007
Heb Herr’s mark on Mt. Gretna will likely last for generations. As chairman of the water authority for nearly two decades, he helped create a vision for much of this community’s critical infrastructure, from water pipelines to the rebuilding of the Playhouse.
He was a “hands-on” guy, a builder of front porches and fond friendships, back decks and bedrock foundations, even the stone stairway leading up from Brown Avenue to Lancaster Avenue, the street where he and Marian—his wife of nearly 60 years—once lived. “A stairway to heaven,” Heb called it, smiling a smile that will remain forever in the memories of all who knew him.
Heb and Marian were artists—he with a hammer, she with a brush, and both with a clear view of how life, at its best, ought to be lived. When they moved from Mt. Gretna three years ago, a bit of sparkle left with them—but not for long. They returned often, rejoining members of the water authority for Christmas dinners, coming back to stroll through the art show, or simply visiting with old friends.
The return to their Lancaster County hometown community of Willow Street in 2004 prompted us to write, “Of all the people who’ve lived in Mount Gretna, few are better known --- or better loved --- than they. Heb, a carpenter, has fixed everything from broken stairs to broken dreams for countless residents needing a craftsman to restore homes and cottages to their original grandeur. Marian, a gifted artist who is among the gentlest of souls, once collected taxes here. In the process, she proved that a warm heart and gracious manner can make even a tax collector one of this community’s most beloved citizens.”
As one who instinctively believed that “things turn out best for those who make the best of the way things turn out,” Heb once lost a finger to a buzzsaw. “Just call me ‘Stubby,’” he said with a laugh. Even a stroke two years ago couldn’t put a dint in his smile or a flicker in his good nature. By his works he will be remembered. For Heb, more so than most, built his own stairway.
Kindest regards,
Roger Groce
P.S. Our continued thanks to those who stop in the middle of busy days to answer our questions; send us news likely to interest their neighbors; and forward this letter to friends and families throughout the world. Thanks, too, to those wizards at Gretna Computing who not only help keep our computer humming, but also post back issues of this letter on the Web at .