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The Mt. Gretna Newsletter
No. 71 May 4, 2007
May in Mt. Gretna is a curious month, an "almost here" month when everyone—newsletter writers included—waits for the action to begin. It's a little like hanging around Churchill Downs in the weeks before Race Day. Or sitting outside Yankee Stadium before they toss out the first ball. Or, closer to home, waiting for that first splash to hit the still chilly waters of Lake Conewago.
That splash will come soon enough. Along with robins. A roving Segway, perhaps. And returning snowbirds.
Predicting the exact timing of that first big splash is easy. It'll occur precisely at 8:15 a.m. May 26, as 600 competitors from across the nation sweep into Mt. Gretna for the 4th annual "Got The Nerve" triathlon. That's the Memorial Day weekend-opening event that raises money for research into debilitating disease of the human nervous system.
Race organizer Chris Kagg says the race sold out early this year. He's now working on final details to assure that all will go smoothly for the 500-yard swim, 14.8-mile bike race along Rte. 117 and five kilometer-run up to the Governor Dick tower and back. (During the race, officials will briefly close Timber Road, and residents will be asked to enter and leave Rte. 117 by Lakeview Drive.) Chris says he could use a hand with more volunteers to help coordinate traffic along the route. (See
With the big splash, big savings will also be in evidence that morning as porch sales open throughout the Campmeeting, Chautauqua and—for the first time this year—Mt. Gretna Heights, attracting hordes of bargain-hunters. The communitywide sale runs from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m.)
Chautauquans wishing to list their porch location on special visitor maps should call 964-1830 before May 23. Campmeeting residents can call Bruce Gettle (964-2319). Mt. Gretna Heights residents will be able to offer their wares for sale on tables set up outside the Heights Community Building. (Maps showing all sale locations will be available at the post office.)
Organizers expect several hundred folks to be out seeking treasures throughout all three communities—and also sampling breakfast items, hot dogs and baked goods throughout the day at Mt. Gretna's United Methodist Church. A special sale in the Campmeeting will benefit women seeking financial help for their college educations. And at the library, Lebanon Valley Humane Society volunteers will hold a "take-what-you-want, pay-what-you-want" book sale.
Topping off the grand Memorial Day weekend event on Saturday will be what most consider the Main Event—the Arts Council's grand "Summer Premiere," starting at 4 p.m. Neither stuffy nor formal, it's an occasion where volunteers bring the desserts (between 3 and 3:30 p.m., please)—a friendly and fun gathering where everybody in Mt. Gretna's seven neighborhoods, from Timber Bridge to Mt. Gretna Heights, comes to meet, mingle, and catch up on a winter's worth of news.
Janice Balmer and her sister Leslie Hall Buchanan are co-chairing the event for the fourth year in a row, with help from friends and family who will turn the staid Hall of Philosophy into a "Paint that Tune" extravaganza. The theme hints at what's in store: "performance painting" by Mt. Gretna artist Fred Swarr who, as well as offering his Summer Calendar cover art at the Arts Council's celebrated auction, will be creating a second painting on the spot—to live piano music. At the end of the day, that freshly created artwork will be auctioned too, capping an event that annually provides much of the funding needed to pay for those summer calendars (about 10,000 or so), which have become a staple of Mt. Gretna summer life.
The auction itself probably ranks as one of the best anywhere around: a cornucopia of treasures ("this year, the finest I've ever seen," says Janice) donated by residents, works by artists who exhibited at last year's art show, and newly discovered collectables that show up every year as if by magic—some created for this event by artists who live in the community and share in its delights.
It begins with a splash and all happens in a single day. A fitting start for the season ahead.
[] Continuing a plan to eventually replace aging Met Ed street lamps throughout the Chautauqua district, borough crews will this fall begin a road improvement project along Brown Avenue. The work will bring new water and storm drainage lines, sandstone curbing as well as streetlights with energy-saving bulbs that emit a soft yellow glow, reminiscent of lamplights from an earlier era. The first fixtures have already been installed in Chautauqua Park and on Muhlenberg Avenue. Borough chief Bill Care says they'll suspend the Brown Avenue work during summer months but should finish the job in about two years.
[] So if the Summer Premiere is the biggest event of Mt. Gretna's summer season, what's the second biggest? In terms of communitywide anticipation, it's Big Junk Day. That's when everybody in Chautauqua with big discards to get rid of—old dishwashers, balky (and bulky) refrigerators, and stoves that nobody wants; or old rugs that have lived several through useful lives and now are seeking a new setting, barbecue grills that have toasted too many hot dogs—all join other unwanteds along the curb. Until the pickup crews come by on Monday, those discards are available to anyone—free for the taking. And most, by golly, disappear long before the pickup crews arrive.
Big Junk Day (officially, "Large Item Collection" Day) is Monday, June 18. But that's anticlimactic. The real action occurs the weekend before—on Saturday and Sunday. Everybody in town (and dozens of visitors from out of town) know the time has come to roam the streets of Mt. Gretna borough, looking for treasures. Some come in pickups, collecting everything from Philadelphia Eagles floor lamps that once brought Christmas morning delight to sleighs and bicycles that belonged to grandchildren whose own youngsters—scattered across the continent—are now struggling to find storage space in their own basements and garages.
Highlighting it all is the big to-do at 108 Lancaster Avenue, where Thatcher Bornman lives.
For the past eight years, Thatcher has been heralding Big Junk Eve (on Sunday, 6 p.m.-8 p.m.) with a celebration uniquely his own: "Junk Dogs"—cooked and served from a discarded grill he once found, prepared in an exuberant spirit of celebration—available to everyone who stops by for a bite to eat, soft drinks and lemonade, and a friendly greeting. Many who come Thatch has never met before. No matter. Everyone's welcome. It's all a part of the Big Junk Day festivities, coming June 18.
[] Would you like to serve as an usher at "Falstaff," Verdi's comic opera opening the 2007 Playhouse season June 2? Center Stage Opera Company director Kathryn Foster needs volunteers and invites them to e-mail her at This will be the Harrisburg-based touring opera company's second Mt. Gretna appearance. The talented group presented "Otello," starring Placido Domingo protégé Alejandro Olmedo, here last June. This year's opera buffa (described online at "will be sung in English.
[] ZAPP—the electronic system the art show used this year to receive, process and present artist entries—"couldn't have worked more smoothly," says show director Linda Bell. Four judges (a jeweler and three painters from Hazelton, Lititz and the Elizabethtown area) evaluated this year's entries. As images appeared on a high-resolution screen, judges cast their numerical score electronically. Results were available immediately, allowing Linda to send out acceptance and rejection notices quickly. About 250 of the 520 entries qualified, plus last year's Judges' Choice winners.
[] How are art show judges themselves selected? "I've built up a list over the years," says Linda, who has now been running the Mt. Gretna show for nearly a decade. To keep the show fresh, she rarely uses the same judge twice. The biggest single category of artist entries this year came from jewelers, she says. Fewest entries were received from sculptors. Linda limits the number of exhibitors eligible for selection in each category to assure an overall balance to the show, always held during the third weekend in August.
[] The 2007 Mt. Gretna Outdoor Art Show poster is ready. And if last year's sell-out is any indication, you'll want to act fast to make sure your collection is complete. Artist Kevin Cramer created this year's design, following an antique postcard theme that he and fellow artist Barb Yashinsky came up with last year, producing the most sought-after art show poster ever. This year's version (which comes with a postcard worth $1 when redeemed at the admission gates) is available both at the borough office ($10) and by mail ($11.50). Make checks payable to Mt. Gretna Art Show, P.O. Box 637, Mt. Gretna, PA 17064.) See for details.
[] Conewago Hill resident Val Sarabia finished second in The Wall Street Journal's latest "Dartboard" contest, in which ordinary folks pit their investment skills against random darts tossed onto a listing of publicly traded stocks. Usually the darts win. But Val's team averaged a 12% gain over the three-month period ending March 31, which beat the Dow-Jones average of 5.8% and the darts' 11% gain. Val's own pick, ConocoPhillips, rose 15%. (Top honors went to a Tennessee engineer, whose investment in a Chinese cell phone producer soared 27%.)
[] Canoe for sale? Chautauquan Michelle Robinson wants to buy one for use at the lake. If you'd like to sell yours, give her a call at (267) 767-9644. Or e-mail:
[] Sharpshooters come for the competition, but connoisseurs come for the food. It's the fire company's spring block shoot tomorrow (May 5) at the fire hall, noon to 5 p.m. Sure, there are prizes—and the pride of winning top awards. But, for decades, what attracts crowds has been Alice McKeone's legendary ham and bean soup—created from a recipe her grandmother first used. Added lures include hot dogs and sauer kraut, conversation, camaraderie and cookies—ingredients all in a popular fire company fund-raiser the whole town enjoys.
[] Information Center coordinator Jessica Kosoff still has a few spots open for volunteers who'd like to help answer visitor questions at the Carnegie Avenue site (near the gift shop) this summer. Hours available include June 9 (3 to 5 p.m.), June 17 (3 to 5 p.m.), June 23 (5 to 7 p.m.), June 24 (1-3 p.m.) and June 30 (5 to 7 p.m.) To volunteer, contact Jessica at
Entering its 15th and final season, "Remember When" gift shop will be holding a storewide 10% off sale (except fire company coffee mugs) every weekend from now until Memorial Day, when the shop resumes its regular Tuesdays-Sundays, noon-9 p.m. summer schedule.
Reenie Macsisak looks forward to seeing old friends and offering a new item this year, the Mt. Gretna-based novel "Murder in the Grove," by Californian Larry Zimmerman, who spent summers as a youngster at his grandparents' Campmeeting cottage. "It is a quick read but has a surprise ending," says Reenie. To order a copy, e-mail "Remember When" at, or call (717) 964-2231.
He's 51 and up to his ears in preparing for the summer season, but that doesn't stop Gretna Theater's producing director Larry Frenock from pursuing a passion.
The energetic director who is now helping revitalize the nation's second-oldest summer stock theater has just returned from the U.S. Adult National Figure Skating Competition with silver and bronze medals for second- and third-place finishes.
It's not the first time he's won. He has nine national skating medals to his credit.
Why does he do it? "Skating is great aerobic exercise," he says. "It holds an expandable waistline at bay." So even on mornings when he doesn't feel like it, Larry heads out to practice at the Hershey Park arena. "Skating practice forces me to get 'up and at 'em so I don't have a bad skate in competition. Stepping on the scales can get me to the rink, too," he says.
The Hershey skating club, "one of the friendliest I've found, threw a send-off celebration before I left for nationals," says Larry, who took over the Mt. Gretna Theater assignment last year after leading the Stamford Theater Works in Connecticut.
A native of Bucks County, he now lives in Spring Hill Acres. Larry has been so busy getting ready for this year's summer theater that he scarcely had time to practice skating. "Considering how little time I had to prepare, I was amazed to finish in the top four."
How long can he keep up competitive skating? At the national skating event this year, one competitor was 87. "That's Category 5. We call it the 'anywhere between 55 and death category," says Larry, who first stepped out onto the ice at age 39 when someone gave him ice-skating tickets for Christmas. He intends to keep skating "as long as my joints hold out."
Mt. Gretna's escape-proof prison—designed to be "gloomier than Alcatraz"—is the topic of a four-page article in the current issue of Newsfront, published by Pennsylvania's Department of Corrections:|
Based largely on a Lebanon Historical Society pamphlet by the late Phares Gibble of Mt. Gretna, the article tells why escape from the circular towers would have been unimaginable: "Drilling to escape would only lead to another cell. Vitrified glass-like materials in cell walls would blunt any prison-made chisel. Guards would be able to look down on every cell, unseen by inmates, through slotted ceilings. Electronic eyes would scan passages that had no angular surfaces where prisoners could hide."
Although the project promised construction jobs that would have helped lift Lebanon County out of the Depression, it quickly ran out of funds. All that now remains (near Lawn) are a few traces of the foundation, largely overgrown with weeds in summer, but visible in photos taken during the fall. See also the TIME archives for an article, "Pennsylvania's Mt. Gretna Prison," first published 70 years ago:,9171,883635,00.html.
[] Mt. Gretna borough will make its second leaf pickup June 4; brush collections are scheduled May 7 and June 11. In Mt. Gretna Heights, the residue of winter has already been collected, and in the Campmeeting, residents may set out leaves or brush for collection at any time. No municipal leaf or brush collections are available in other Mt. Gretna neighborhoods.
[] The Mt. Gretna Reading Group launches its summer series at the Library May 31 with Diana Setterfield's "Thirteenth Tale." Like to join in? Call 964-3481. Programs begin at 7 p.m. Other works they'll discuss this year include Keith Donohue's "The Stolen Child" and William Faulkner's "Light in August."
[] Governor Dick Park's "Mission: Discovery" series starts May 19 for youngsters curious about creatures that live under rocks, leaves and logs in the forest. Coordinator Audrey Manspeaker says the programs, extending over six Saturdays through Aug. 19, will offer discovery games in the woods, answer questions and raise new ones, explore the forest's 'big picture,' and give children a chance to meet small residents such as bugs and salamanders. All programs in the free series (for youngsters age 6 to 10) are from 10 a.m.-11 a.m. Children must be with an adult to help with supervision. Details: (717) 964-3808 or e-mail:
[] Other free events at Governor Dick Park this month include high school senior Brandy Watts' second program (May 12 at 10 a.m.) on local history—describing railroad operations at Rausch Gap, once the largest community in Stoney Valley. Also, Susan Wheeler and Ron Laughlin will lead a nature walk, starting from the environmental center (May 26 at 9 a.m.) to identify birds, plants, shrubs and trees. Binoculars and field guides will be helpful, but not required. Details: (717)964-3808 or e-mail
[] Music at Gretna opening a Speakeasy at the Timbers? For one night only, June 8, you can join Roaring Twenties interpreter, jazz singer (and New York City Tavern on the Green performer) Barbara Rosene. She'll help launch Music at Gretna's 2007 summer jazz season with a special evening of dinner and music at the Timbers Restaurant, where that famous roast beef, turkey ham and veal buffet will be served from 6 to 7:30 p.m., followed by the show at 8. Details: (717) 361-1508.
Pulitzer-prize winning author Bill Ecenbarger, a former Brown Avenue resident, once described Mt. Gretna as a place where "all the streets are named after schools with losing football teams." Harvard, Yale, Brown and Lehigh—all are embedded in the Mt. Gretna lexicon. But how about schools like Swarthmore, Bucknell or Ursinus? Didn't Mt. Gretna's early planners ever think of them?
Turns out, they did. Swarthmore Avenue does exist. But only on paper. So do Bucknell, Ursinus, Albright, and Chicago avenues. The only trouble is, nobody ever got around to making them a reality. Over the years, in times when few people took such things as building codes seriously, cottage dwellers happily leaped across phantom streets and fuzzy property lines, overlaying them with garages, decks, and sometimes even extensions of entire cottages.
Streets that never got built? They include Berks, Cornell, Franklin and Dauphin avenues in Chautauqua, plus numbered streets that have long since slipped from memory. As for Matthews and Carter avenues? You'll find them in the Campmeeting, but only as faint lines on dusty charts.
Country & Western singer Emmylou Harris laments that "Lonely Street" has a "sad, sad tale to tell." But nothing's lonelier than the streets that even the planners forgot.

7 Mt. Gretna artists will open their creative laboratories to the public this fall as part of the 2007 Studio Tour Nov. 10-11. Spanning three Central Pennsylvania counties, the tour ( will offer visitors a glimpse inside the native habitats of area artists. Mt. Gretnans on this year's tour include:
<> Shelby Applegate (whose latest work includes large flower paintings; stitched, painted and embellished handmade paper; large abstract wall hangings; monotypes and collages).
<> Barbara Fishman (specializing in watercolors of still life and landscapes created through soft, subtle impressions; and abstract figurative oil paintings of images that represent the artist's inner vision.)
<> Madelaine Gray (award-winning color photographer with photographs of the south of France and other locations. See website
<> Mary Kopala (who creates impressions of urban life, expressing villages and the countrysides of Southern France and Pennsylvania—in watercolors, pen and ink and mixed-media.)
<> Les Miller (creator of jewelry crafted from natural domestic and exotic hardwoods—without using ink, stain or paint—and some designs with inserted seashells.)
<> Elizabeth Stutzman (who uses traditional and experimental watercolor techniques to create semi-realistic landscapes, florals and still lifes.
<> Frederick D. Swarr (offering limited edition prints of acrylic still lifes on canvas—with subjects that include wine bottles and glasses, guitars, hats, and food. See:
90 Imagine having only 90 seconds to convince a boss to hire you, a girl to marry you, or a teacher to give you an "A." That's how tough it is to win a spot on the Mt. Gretna Playhouse stage. Over four days of recent auditions, exactly 1,011 actors and actresses lined up in New York. Theirs was a less than 5% chance of being chosen—with 90 seconds to convince managing director Larry Frenock and casting director Christian St. Girard of their talents.
You'll see the 47 winners onstage this summer in "Mack the Knife: The Life and Music of Bobby Darin," "Made in America: Irving Berlin," "The Sunshine Boys," "Fiddler on the Roof" and "Smoke on the Mountain Homecoming." Tickets are now available: or 964-3627.
[] Whom should I contact about leasing the building where "Remember When" gift shop is located?
<> The building (available next January) is owned by the Pennsylvania Chautauqua, which is now accepting proposals from interested parties. An advertisement scheduled to appear in the Arts Council's 2007 Summer Calendar says that proposals must be submitted by Sept. 1. Inquiries should be directed to the Pennsylvania Chautauqua, P.O. Box 637, Mt. Gretna, PA 17064. Tel. (717) 964-3270 or e-mail
<> We have no idea whose idea it was to clear off the end of the fields near Pinch Road on 72, but it makes it so much safer to turn left onto Pinch. I'm sure they've saved people traveling to Mt. Gretna from serious accidents by improving this sight line. Our thanks to whoever was responsible.
[] How many accidents will that sensible step will avoid? No one can say. Rest assured, however, it will make a difference, since trucks rounding that curve are coming downhill, many times still readjusting from hours of cruising at turnpike speeds.
PennDOT supervisor Ken Swezey, who handles road maintenance in Lancaster County's northwestern sector, ordered obstructions cleared along the east side of Rte. 72, improving visibility for motorists making that heart-in-the-throat left turn onto Pinch.
If you now find it easy, thank Ken Swezey. He appreciates your message. "Mostly, we only hear complaints," he says. He invites anyone noticing roadway hazards to give PennDOT a call. Although accident statistics often guide PennDOT actions, accident prevention is always a better option, he says.
[] I probably missed it, but I've never seen an article in The Mt. Gretna Newsletter about why they drain the lake each year. I've heard that grandfathers sometimes spin yarns about "The Ghost of Mt. Gretna" for their grandchildren. (Postmaster Steve Strickler has an especially dramatic version, I'm told.) And some have even said that's when they hunt for bodies that have been missing all winter long. What's the real story?
<> Although truth is often stranger than fiction, in this case your fictional accounts take top honors. The real reason they drain the lake in March and April is simply to repair ice damage that may have occurred to piers and other structures over the winter. It happens every year, and our newsletter repeats that explanation from time to time. But, frankly, we're always eager to hear the stories grandfathers have, in the meantime, cooked up for young, impressionable ears.
[] I heard from another mom at Mt. Gretna Nursery School that Kindermusik would be held this summer in Gretna on Friday mornings. Do you know who the contact person is for registration?
<> Jessica Kosoff ( says there are still plenty of openings for Kindermusik Kamp, the summer music series for children. Starting June 1, the programs will offer opportunities for both parents to "discover new ways to appreciate the world's most respected music" at the Chautauqua Hall of Philosophy. Classes will be grouped by age: newborns to 18 months, 18 months to 3 years, 3- to 5-year olds, and ages 5 to 7. They will be held on Fridays and Saturdays throughout June. Preregister by May 18. For details, call 964-1310.
[] My husband, who's normally at work during the day, was at home recuperating from minor surgery when the fire siren went off. "What's that all about?" he asked. "How would I know?" I answered. Later, someone told me there is a way to find out what our firefighters are responding to when the siren sounds. Can you tell me how?
<> You can find out what's happening when the alarm goes off by checking the online summary that immediately appears online at Look for the emergency associated with Station 38—that's the Mt. Gretna fire department. You'll be amazed at how many emergencies they're called on to handle: House fires, brushfires, entrapped motorists, gasoline spills, trees down over power lines, smoke alarms, unsafe liquid spills . . . it's all in a day's work for our volunteers—people who give a lot, asking personally for nothing in return—except, perhaps, the satisfaction of knowing they've done their best.
Ever wonder when you're watching TV where you've "seen that face before"? Could be it's one you first glimpsed at the Mt. Gretna Playhouse.
Former Rockette Piper Lindsay Arpan, who appeared in "Cole" here last summer, was in the movie "The Producers" and is now touring with the national company of "Spamalot." (Piper recalls singing "Down in the Depths," a soulful, heartbreaking tune in "Cole" while a summer thunderstorm raged over the Playhouse. "Even the most successful Broadway show couldn't have provided a backdrop like that," she recalls.)
Amanda Sprecher, the Manheim, Pa. 14-year-old making her Broadway debut last month in "Inherit the Wind," first appeared on the Mt. Gretna stage as "Ticklish," a dwarf in "Snow White." "All the dwarfs had to whistle as they entered the stage, but I didn't know how," she says. "Renee Krizan taught me, and I practiced hard. I didn't want to be the only dwarf that couldn't whistle. All that practice paid off, and I finally learned how to be a 'whistling dwarf' too."
Barbara Walsh, whose mementos from her current Broadway role in "Company" will be part of Gretna Theater's Gala fundraiser this October, made her Mt. Gretna debut in "A Streetcar Named Desire." Besides Broadway roles in "Hairspray," "Falsettos" and Rock n' Roll: The First 5,000 Years, she appears on TV's "Law & Order" series.
And Kathryn Meisle, a star in Gretna Theater's 1995 production of "The Philadelphia Story," was featured last month in ABC-TV's "Brothers and Sisters," guest starring with Calista Flockhart and Rob Lowe. She's also appeared in "CSI: Miami," "Without a Trace," "Judging Amy," "Law & Order:SVU," and "The Guardian."
So, you never know. The face that looks familiar probably is.
Kindest regards,

Roger Groce
P.S. Generally the most frequent crisis we hear about after dispatching this e-mail newsletter is that in households with two or more readers, someone has prematurely hit the "delete" key. Meaning, of course, the other inhabitant didn't get a chance to catch up on this month's news from Mt. Gretna.
Another crisis looms when regular deliveries of The Mt. Gretna Newsletter suddenly stop. That's when readers remember that they changed their e-mail address but forgot to tell us. So if you're planning to switch to a new e-mail address, be sure to let us know. And if someone deletes the newsletter before you read it, remember that thanks to the folks at Gretna Computing, you can always find previous issues at
Our continuing thanks also to the legions of folks who regularly share copies of this letter with friends and neighbors without e-mail connections. . . and to those who continue to answer our questions and send us news to share with their fellow Mt. Gretnans, wherever they happen to live throughout the world.