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The Mt. Gretna Newsletter
No. 77 December 14, 2007
All those experts at the Labor Department, the Commerce Department and the Federal Reserve could save themselves a lot of trouble if they spent some time down at the Mt. Gretna post office. That's where you not only catch up on the news of everything that's important, but also figure out what's really going to happen with the economy.
Long before retailers began reporting surprising sales this holiday season, postmaster Steve Strickler was telling us that more packages were piling up—and sooner than ever. He put his finger precisely on the reason: "More shopping on QVC and eBay," he said. "People have money to spend. They're just not spending it in the usual places."
Steve's a wizard at that sort of thing. When it comes to sniffing out trends, he and "flower lady" Mary Hernley are better than the Conference Board, the Consumer Confidence Index, and The Kiplinger Report combined.
Which is why, of course, Mt. Gretnans buy flowers from Mary until October's first frost and make going to the post office a daily pilgrimage. The post office is not simply where one picks up the mail. It is the Center of the Universe. The Fount of All Knowledge. The Wellspring of Life itself.
There, one feels the pulse of what's going on, a sense of redemption in dropping bill payments in the outgoing slot, and a restored faith upon greeting equally busy neighbors that the world is unfolding exactly as it should.
Despite the quiet that settles over Mt. Gretna in December, there is a reassuring thump pulsing just beneath the surface. Lakeside residents enter with packages to mail and more to carry back home. Campmeeting dwellers report that all is calm, all is bright. Everything's hunky-dory in the Heights, one learns. And in Chautauqua, there's a bouncy, optimistic spirit that transcends the season's normal cheer.
One discovers that the summer program committee is brimming with excitement over new programs they'll offer next year. Folks seem confident the Literary and Scientific Circle building (known for years as simply "the gift shop") will re-open next season, but in a new, slightly altered role. And those responsible for filling the air with music, drama and other cultural magic at the Playhouse couldn't be happier about prospects for the year ahead.
As reported elsewhere in this issue, Gretna Music audiences filled the theater to SRO status at three concerts this year—first time that's ever happened. Gretna Theater received record revenues at its October Gala, and already is now fast selling tickets for its just-announced 2008 season. And those busy Cicada volunteers? They're planning another week-long series of popular, affordable entertainment that often fills the Playhouse to overflowing with appreciative crowds.
Across Pinch Road, organizers of the Heritage and Bible festivals expect to repeat their summer of stunning achievements at the century-old Tabernacle. And the road-building wizards say they'll be ready to begin resurfacing Rte. 117 through the middle of town, starting at the first sign of a February thaw.
So is the world on the verge of disaster? Will rising oil prices and slumping home sales tilt us into oblivion? Does recession lie just around the corner? While others dither, sensible Mt. Gretnans turn off the TV and walk down to the post office to find out.

[] How many Lebanon Valley College grads, professors and staff members choose Mt. Gretna as a place to live? More than you'd probably think. Most of them turn up in a colorful article, "Treasure in the Trees," in the fall 2007 issue of "The Valley," LVC's alumni bulletin—soon to be available online (if it's not there when you check, try again in a day or two) at Or drop us a note, and we'll send you a PDF version.
[] What makes Mt. Gretna thrive? Volunteers like Jessica Kosoff—mom, realtor, summer information booth coordinator, organizer of the library's story and crafts classes, and spark behind that new online gallery of Mt. Gretna area artists (see "Good to Know," below).
She'll be at it again this month—collecting food for the Lebanon Rescue Mission. Jessica will stop by to pick up food you leave outside your door (or along the front walk) before noon on Dec. 22. Just let her know ( by Dec. 21 that your food donation will be waiting.
[] At Mt. Gretna's pizzeria, Damian Orea isn't waiting for spring to arrive. He and his dad will switch to summertime hours early this year—starting March 1. That means seven days a week, from around 10 in the morning until 9 at night—with delivery service (964-1853) right to your door starting at 4 p.m. These are fellows who know the meaning of hard work. They've been at now for the past year and a half—winning loyal customers, admiration, and respect.
They'll also be open New Year's Eve. And they're cooking up something special for Feb. 3. That's Super Bowl Sunday, of course. Damian—who knows far more about pizza than he does about American football—nevertheless has discovered that Superbowl Sunday is Mt. Gretna's busiest pizza-night of the season. He's not about to miss it.

Governor Dick Park officials will open a new trail for hikers and bikers next year, this one on the mountain's rarely traversed south face. "It's an amazing area, filled with boulders, an interesting little waterfall and Chiques Creek" says board member Tom Harlan.
Directors recently assembled about 15 persons—environmentalists, biologists, board members and local residents who've voiced ecological concerns—to hike the proposed trail.
After completing the three-mile route, which extends from the Nature Center to Rte. 72 near the entrance to Gretna Springs, the hikers agreed that a challenging trail through the region would not adversely affect the environment, Harlan said.
"All of us who walked it saw that it would not have an impact on the mountain, the watershed or any sensitive plants. Everyone thought it would be a wonderful trail and a real boon to the mountain, particularly since we are going to limit many of the main trails from use by cyclists."
Ecology experts will oversee the work of volunteers in building the trail, using private donations of about $850. "It's at least a year away," says Harlan, an attorney and also a Mt. Gretnan. "It's going to be done carefully—mostly by a core group of trail people and perhaps a scout troop. But anyone that wants to can join in and help."

0 Number of people who'll take a Polar Bear dip in the Mt. Gretna lake this year. Surprisingly, many people still think that tradition continues—even though the zany New Year's Day happening was suspended here a dozen or more years ago.
However, at least 600 people will take the polar bear plunge—but not here, where the late Ralph "Hoagy" Hogentogler and several other adventuresome Mt. Gretnans spawned the idea 28 years ago. Nowadays, those with an irresistible urge to leap into the ice waters gather at Willow Springs Park, near Richland. The annual rite raises over $5,000 each year for the Lebanon Valley Developmental and Disability Services agency.
Other plucky Mt. Gretnans who joined Mayor Hoagy on that frosty morning in 1980? They included Fred Schaeffer, Bill Haag and Jeff Minnich (about 12 years old at the time).

0 Seats available for Gretna Music's sellout performance by the Canadian Brass this month at Elizabethtown College's Leffler Center. When the winter series began there a dozen or so years ago, few of the auditorium's 840 seats were filled. Now, thanks to world-class performances—both on stage and by a Gretna Music team whose promotional flair sometimes rivals that of rock star impresarios—getting a ticket is often difficult, especially around holidays. December's concert was the third Gretna Music sellout this season (after summer sensations Midori, one of the world's top five violinists, and jazz legend Leon Redbone). Next on the schedule: violinist Adele Anthony, winner of Denmark's 1996 Nielsen International Violin Competition, returning to complete her recitals of Bach's works for solo violin Feb. 2. Tickets: 717-361-1508.

1 Bill Care, first in the Pennsylvania Road Mens Master (age 55-59) Road Race standings. See ( ). His record topped 20 other competitors, including two riders of national caliber.
The just-released rankings were another feather in Bill's estimable cap. Earlier this year, he captured the Maryland Road Race championship for cyclists age 55-59. (Observing his 30th anniversary as Mt. Gretna's borough manager, Bill is the best-known guy in town. As even our most-distant readers probably know, he and his team run the snowplows, look after the Playhouse and take charge of darned near everything else.)

45 Minutes before dark: the time you're most likely to see Mt. Gretnans out on patrol. They're determined volunteers persisting in the annual campaign to encourage equally determined Turkey Vultures to roost elsewhere. It's a task requiring commitment, cunning and perseverance. The birds have strong constitutions and long memories. They sometimes live 25 years or more and flock to favored sites like Mt. Gretna, where many first came as fledglings a quarter century ago.
Like to help? Just ask any of our volunteers how you can join in: Max Hunsicker, Tom Wilson, Gerald Doney, Chuck Allwein, Dale Grundon, Ed Garber, Eton Churchill, George Resh, Greg Pappariela, Jeff Hurst, Kassie Chapman, Mim Enck, Paul Heise, Bobbie Warshaw, Sally Bomberger, Val Sarabia, Bill Care, Carl Ellenberger, Dave Eckert, David Wood, Emi Snavely, Harry Short, Frank Romanowski, Jim Dwyer, Joe Feather, John Smith, Linda Wilson, Pat Pinsler, Rob Moran, Rupert Bullard, Skip Witmer or Steven Layser.
Of course, not everybody's out every night. Sometimes, only five or six volunteers must cover the entire town. So they need more volunteers.
Nevertheless, they're winning the battle. Six years ago, over 500 birds swarmed into town each night, destroying shrubbery, ruining roofs, and damaging autos. This year, the feathered congregation has dwindled to maybe 100. If the volunteers keep it up, perhaps even the most obstinate birds will someday spread their 6-foot wings and, high above Mt. Gretna's former military campgrounds, call a final retreat.

$1,875 Raised at an organ recital this fall by Ryan Brunkhurst for a restoration project at Mt. Gretna's United Methodist Church (where Ryan, 14, is the church organist and choir director). The recital took place at the McAnney-Hewitt home on Princeton Avenue, a venue increasingly familiar to some of the nation's premier organists, including the head of organ studies at New York's Juilliard School. It's also the scene of Mt. Gretna's annual recital series each Thursday evening in July.

3,239 People who visited the Governor Dick Environmental Center in 2007. The figures reflect those attending meetings and programs, school groups and others entering the building, including volunteers. Last year's count was 2,435, excluding meeting participants. "While the numbers don't quite represent the same groups, we had a fairly good increase in the number of visitors this year," says Center coordinator Janie Gockley.

[] Gretna Theater is selling gift certificates this holiday season at the newly restored Lebanon Farmer's Market. Renee Krizan invites friends, theater-goers and Playhouse patrons to stop by, chat, view photos depicting highlights of past seasons and pick up a thoughtful gift that others are unlikely to duplicate.
[] Christmas Eve candlelight services begin at 7 p.m. and 11 p.m. Dec. 24 at Mt. Gretna's United Methodist Church, located in the Campmeeting at 4th St. and Boehm Ave. Everyone is welcome.
[] At least four, maybe five, Mt. Gretna-area restaurants will be open for dinner New Year's Eve: The Timbers, Tony's Mining Company, and the Hideaway all plan special menus for the occasion. Mt. Gretna's Pizzeria will also be open for those wanting home deliveries or a quick bite to eat in the dining area.
Colebrook Tavern's New Year's Eve plans were not yet settled when we spoke with owner John Morris last week. He suggests that patrons call to confirm the holiday schedule.
The Timbers will offer a buffet that includes hot roast turkey, ham and beef plus the music of pianist Andy Roberts from 7 to 9 p.m. That's followed by Galbraith, Briody & Friends, a six-piece dance band, until 12:30 p.m. Manager Tap Roberts says the band has "worked up some new crossover tunes showcasing their versatility."
Although normally closed on Mondays, Tony's Mining Company will serve New Year's Eve patrons from 4 p.m. to 10 p.m. And the Hideaway expects to offer both regular and special menus in the dining room starting at 5 p.m., following the restaurant's normal operating hours.
Le Sorelle Porch and Pantry Café will close between Christmas and New Year's, giving sisters Stephanie and Tiffany (both recent mothers) a chance to sleep in. "I don't even know if I'll see the New Year in myself," says Tiffany, adding a phrase that every new mom instinctively understands: "It's embarrassing, but my bedtime these days is around eight o'clock."
[] Looking for artwork inspired by Mt. Gretna? You're likely to find it at the arts council's online gallery ( On display are works by Shelby Applegate, Barb Fishman, photographer Madelaine Gray and a dozen other area artists—plus their e-mail addresses and Website references, phone numbers and studio locations.
If you're in town, the gallery at Le Sorelle Café (open 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. Fridays through Sundays) is also a good place to see 50 to 60 prints, oils and photographs by Mt. Gretna artists. Easy to buy? Simply remove artwork from the wall and send a check to the artist, using the envelope attached to the back of each item.
[] Stocking stuffer suggestions: Mt. Gretna fire company's 2007 collectible coffee mugs, on sale at the Hideaway and Collins Grocery in Colebrook. Also available (at the Hideaway and Gretna Computers): the fire company's celebrated cookbooks. "Once they're gone, they're gone," says the enterprising Scott Zellers, who's faithfully handled reprinting chores for the past few years and vows this latest edition will be the last.
[] Chautauqua president Peggy O'Neil's grandson mirrors her enterprising zest—especially when it comes to fire engines. Bobby Visco, 6, helped Virginia fire fighters raise $365 in a "fill the boot" campaign for Muscular Dystrophy—earning a ride in the fire truck, an interview on Richmond's Channel 8 news—plus a badge, a boot and a hat with his name on it. See
[] See a kaleidoscopic review of Mt. Gretna's 2007 happenings—from swans arriving at the lake last January to Santa's arrival at the fire hall Dec. 8—at There you'll find glimpses (including the Nov. 17 snowfall surprise) by Dale Grundon—Mt. Gretna's
photographer/raconteur/stained glass artist, all-around man-about-town and bon vivant.
[] West Cornwall Township's three-member board now includes two from the Mt. Gretna area. Joining supervisor Merv Lentz of the Campmeeting is Frank Dombrowski, who lives on Northwood Drive, near Old Mine Road. The municipality is one of the few in Lebanon County that managed to squeak by without a tax increase this year.
[] Even though the tree disposal area at Governor Dick Park is now permanently closed, you'll have plenty of places to dispose of your Christmas tree this year. Campmeeting and Chautauqua residents can set their trees along the curb for pickup. Heights residents can take theirs to a special mulching area behind the West Cornwall Township building at 73 S. Zinns Mill Rd. until Feb. 1. Residents elsewhere in Mt. Gretna may drop off trees at the Greater Lebanon Refuse Authority, 1610 Russell Road, north of Annville. The service is free, but officials ask that you remove bags, lights, tinsel and other decorations which can clog grinding machines.
[] Audrey Manspeaker promises you'll learn about winter bird and animal activities—plus what Christmases were like in the 1700s—as she leads a Christmas scavenger hike for children and adults at Gov. Dick Park this Saturday (Dec. 15) from 12:30 to 1:30 p.m. Details: 610-589-4729.
She's also planning "Polar Bear Ambles with Audrey" Jan. 19 and Feb. 16—hikes that will be "interpretive, fun, free and a good way to get out of the house during the height of winter." Coming this summer: Explorers' Camp for preschoolers July 28 (Mudday) through Aug. 1 (Flyday)—with games and opportunities to learn more about nature.
To keep up with the imaginative Ms. Manspeaker's offerings, order a free e-mail subscription to the Governor Dick Park Newsletter:
[] Gretna Theatre has an opening for an administrative assistant in a new development and fund-raising initiative. The part-time position requires about two days per week and involves developing and refining donor lists, preparing special mailings to prospective donors, coordinating board members' efforts, organizing new sources of commercial and institutional sponsors, preparing thank-you letters and similar activities. Contact: Producing Director Larry Frenock, Gretna Theatre, P.O. Box 578, Mt. Gretna, PA 17064. Or E-mail


[] Are there any chestnut trees still left in Mt. Gretna?
<> Probably not, but it's an intriguing question wrapped in history, lingering mystery and shimmering with a glimmer of hope.
Nobody we asked immediately knew of one still standing in Mt. Gretna, although chestnut trees (once, the "Redwood of the East" and prized for its resistance to rot and its strength in both buildings and furniture) seemingly dominated the north face of Governor Dick mountain a century ago.
But they suffered the fate of American Chestnuts everywhere when a blight that began in New York City in the early 1900s swept across the country. The American Chestnut Foundation is now trying to develop a blight-resistant hybrid, but it's still in the laboratory stage. However, Governor Dick officials are hoping to work with the foundation and begin experimental plantings over the next few years in a 10-acre section of the park that will be fenced off from deer.
Chestnut trees occasionally sprout from the stumps of dead trees, but they rarely live more than a few years. Jack Bitner has seen chestnut saplings in the woods, but none lately. "They might start, but then they die," he says. Chuck Allwein, a retired biology teacher, has a six-year-old chestnut sapling in his backyard, but he doesn't expect it to survive much longer.
So has the once-mighty American Chestnut disappeared from Mt. Gretna altogether? Maybe not. A 1985 pamphlet, "Big Trees of Lebanon County" referred to a 35-foot high American Chestnut "2.09 ft. in circumference near the Timbers Restaurant, 75 yards west under the power line on the State Gamelands." Chuck says he's "not a good enough dendrologist to identify a chestnut tree without its leaves." But when the leaves return next spring, he'll tell us for sure.
One place in Mt. Gretna where you can still see why chestnut trees were so prized is in the Campmeeting, where, for more than a century, 23 chestnut posts have supported the Tabernacle's conical roof. Supervisor Merv Lentz and a structural engineer inspect those posts every spring. Last April, they again found them up to their task—even after repeated heavy snowfalls (including the one in 1994 that brought down the Playhouse). Merv keeps a watchful eye on those posts—and the roof—whenever it snows. He calls in snow removal crews whenever light, fluffy snows reach a depth of 10 inches, or six to eight inches when the snow is heavy and wet.
Meanwhile, even the tiny chestnut saplings scattered here and there occasionally produce a rare, smooth and shiny chestnut. Somebody found one a few years ago in the Governor Dick forest, Chuck says. And Charlotte Allwein discovered a chestnut soon after she and Chuck moved here 40 years ago. She placed it in their Christmas wreath. It's still there.
As for the hybrids, anyone who's ever tasted a sweet, roasted chestnut is holding out hope for their success. "The experiments are well along," says Jack, who turned 90 this year. “In another 20 years or so we might see some American Chestnut trees around here."

[] Coming Dec. 20: Belsnickel Night at the Timbers, when Mt. Gretnans gather 'round the fire to celebrate the arrival of Winter Stoltzfus and the cantankerous old Belsnickel, who visits children before Christmas to reward or punish them based on their behavior.
While revelers munch on cookies fashioned by the Tarts Council, Max Hunsicker creates pen and ink sketches spawned by inspirations of dubious origin, and Tom "Leviticus" Baum—"daresn't call him 'Lee-wi"—is there with black hat, long beard and even longer suspenders to recount "The Night Before Christmas," Amish-style:
"Four cows and four steers—they were harnessed somehow,
And vere dragging behind them an old-fashioned plow,
And there, chust behind it, as sour as a pickle,
Vas a fella ve knew had to be the Belsnickel"
It happens the Thursday before Christmas, starting around 7 p.m. (See what you'd miss if you didn't read this newsletter?)
Kindest regards,
Roger Groce

P.S. Several years ago, we sent forth a year-end salute to all who help create The Mt. Gretna Newsletter. They included people who pass along sudden inspirations for future articles, musings worthy of detailed analysis, and items they just think everybody ought to know. That roster has grown mightily. Although there's always the danger—indeed, the likelihood—that we will omit names of several who help in this voluntary endeavor, that shouldn't deter acknowledging the many who month in and month out answer our questions, respond to often arcane requests and thereby contribute to the good of the order.
Herewith, we present, in no particular order, our 2007 roster of people who help make this monthly newsletter possible—benefiting, we hope, Mt. Gretnans living here and around the globe:
Bill Care and Linda Bell at the borough office, Merv Lentz in the Campmeeting, and police chiefs Bruce Harris of Cornwall and Jeffrey Arnold of South Londonderry Township. Also West Cornwall Township's Carol McLaughlin and South Londonderry's Tom Bernhardt. Thanks, too, to folks like Dale Grundon, Mt. Gretna mayor Joe Shay, fire chief Bob Dowd, and fire company volunteers from throughout the region as well as Keith Volker, who faithfully posts back issues of this newsletter on the web at

Also helping us keep up with events are post office staffers Steve Strickler and Cathy Dugdale, Jeff and Deborah Hurst in the Campmeeting, Dan Logar at Met Ed, rails-to-trails chief John Wengert, Susan Wood in Mt. Gretna Heights, and a host of community-minded folks throughout our many neighborhoods. They include Chuck and Charlotte Allwein, historical society chief Fred Buch, Chautauquan John Smith, artist Eleanor Sarabia who chronicles the Mt. Gretna scene on canvas, volunteer extraordinaire Jessica Kosoff, Timber Bridge resident and devoted Mt. Gretnan Joyce Ebright, woodpecker battlers Cindy and Barney Myer, lake director Phil Schneider, fire company volunteer Karen Lynch, former gift shop operators Joe and Reenie Macsisak, Big Band bash organizers Ceylon and Karen Leitzel, Nature Center coordinator Janie Gockley, Governor Dick board members Ray Bender and Tom Harlan, men's club secretary Cynthia Condrack, cell phone stalwart Jim Erdman, summer programs coordinators Kathy Snavely and Jack Anderson, Conewago Hill and Cicada correspondent Laura Feather, artist Fred Swarr, courageous triathlon organizer Chris Kagg, Lebanon County planners Tom Kotay and Lee Myer, nursery school coordinator Carol Mather, opera director Kathryn Foster, man-about-town and borough councilman John Hambright, Rapho Township manager Nancy Halilwell, Chautauqua committeemen Larry Roush and John Feather, Winterite correspondent Donna Kaplan, Gretna Music's Carl Kane and Michael Murray, historical society Website chief Shawn Harbaugh, horticulturalist Ginger Pryor, Stephanie and Tiffany at Le Sorelle, longtime residents Pat Attwood and Nancy Besch, photographer Madelaine Gray and husband Rupert Bullard, the Timbers' genial Tap Roberts, soup cook-off coordinators Thatcher Bornman and Judy Weimer, Realtor Fred Schaeffer, Chautauqua president Peggy O'Neil, yoga instructor Pam Willeman, Dick Steinhauer at the Heights Community Building, house tour organizer Emi Snavely, church news correspondent Mary Blackburn, Bible Festival publicist Don Zechman, power washing specialist Scott McLeod, author Bill Gifford, innovative nature instructor Audrey Manspeaker, fire company fundraiser Scott Zellers, playwrights Maureen Grape and Eton Churchill, flower lady Mary Hernley, former Mt. Gretnans Kent and Mary Jane Fox (who sent us that charming "Jiggers from 700 miles away" story in July), art show co-founder Reed Dixon, Nicole Roberts (who helps organize the Halloween band each year), Gretna Music founder Carl Ellenberger, summer premiere organizer Janice Balmer, artists Barb Fishman and Shelby Applegate, art show entertainer and fire company volunteer Scott Galbraith, superchefs Elaine Baum and Becky Briody, Mt. Gretna historian and former aerospace engineer Jack Bitner, the unceasingly imaginative Max Hunsicker, Bible Festival volunteer Tom Meredith, organist Walter McAnney and organ recital series founder Peter Hewitt, Gretna Theater's Larry Frenock and Renee Krizan, and, undoubtedly, dozens of others.
Occasionally we're asked, "Why do you do take the time to write this newsletter?" One answer may be found in the listing above. In what other pursuit, pray tell, can one find so diverse an array of good and interesting friends? Greetings of the season and a Happy New Year to all.