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The Mt. Gretna Newsletter
No. 80 March 8, 2008
This is the time of year when Mary Hernley, amid counting her blessings, must also count the number of seed packets she'll order. Poring over catalogs, Mt. Gretna's 'flower lady' must decide not just how many, but what types of flowers will appeal to newcomers and regulars at her roadside stand this summer.
The annual search for new varieties is anything but easy.
Choices abound: Alaska Shasta daisies, Russian statice, flowering poppies, even something called Cherry and Ivory Swizzles—a 10-color zinnia she once chose from the landslide of catalogs that annually land on her kitchen table at the Hernley farm in Manheim.
It is enough to set lesser business minds spinning. But Mary is not your average entrepreneur. For more years than probably even she can count, she's served on missionary boards of directors, overseeing their global operations. Their work is her work. Proceeds from her flower sales in Mt. Gretna support orphans, widows and missionaries from Nicaragua to China. And it all starts with seeds she plants on a farm that has been in the family since William Penn himself signed the sheepskin deed hanging in her living room. She and Peter have been there all winter—foregoing their usual trips to visit missionaries overseas—so they can "get some painting done that we didn't get done last year." And get ready as well for another season, her 43d at the familiar stand along Rte. 117.
Will the highway resurfacing project interfere? Mary hopes not. Dave Powers, the man in charge for contractor Burkholder Paving in Ephrata, understands the things that count most in Mt. Gretna— things like trees, nature, flowers—and preparing for summertime crowds. He's committed to making the repaving process go smoothly. Despite bad weather that delayed their start, Dave nevertheless hopes to finish roadway work in the center of town by May 23, before the summer season officially starts. And he plans to wind up the entire $2.1 million project by Aug 27, a week or so ahead of the Sept. 2 date that PennDOT officially announced last week. Even if they encounter further delays, he says they'll avoid working on Rte. 117 during art show weekend Aug. 16-17. All of which is reassuring to the 'flower lady' and to everyone else in town.
Yet Mary's not the only astute businesswoman absorbed in preparations for the coming of summer. Stacey Pennington is busy with plans for "Gretna Emporium," which will be operating for the first time this season at the former gift shop. (Those with a precise sense of history point out that its proper name should be the Literary and Scientific Circle building. They're right, of course. But in its storied past, it's also been known as the "We Tree" art gallery and was once, we're told, a photographer's shop where people came to buy little bright yellow boxes filled with George Eastman's remarkable invention to preserve cherished memories of Mt. Gretna.)
Just what Stacey will offer is still under wraps, but you may be sure it will be imaginative—and fun. The innovative businesswoman won a Lebanon Valley Chamber of Commerce "entrepreneurial spirit" award in 2005 for her success at Island Resources, the educational toy and instructional materials store she runs in Cleona.
Stacey's now busy getting her newest store ready, and she plans to hold a special preview just for Mt. Gretnans May 22, the Thursday before Memorial Day weekend begins. "I realize that although a lot of people come to Mt. Gretna just for the summer, others live there all year 'round," she says. "I'd like them to meet me and give them an opportunity to see the shop before everybody else sees it. I also want them to know that I care about them. So we'll open a day before the official opening so they can see what the shop's all about."
And speaking of business, business is good these days—excellent, in fact—at the Mt. Gretna Pizzeria, which began offering breakfasts Feb. 28. Sampling the first-day's offerings were early morning connoisseurs John Hambright and Dale Grundon, who gave them an enthusiastic "thumbs up." John ordered eggs benedict. They weren't on the menu, but Damien Orea (a businessman who ought to win an entrepreneurial award of his own for persistence as well as resourcefulness) quickly found a way to prepare them for his distinguished patrons. Damien and his dad, Mariano, are also now offering their regular Italian menu (phone orders: 964-1853) every day of the week until 8 p.m.
As for success stories, few achievements can top those of the Turkey Vulture Squad volunteers. For the past half dozen years or so, they've rousted hundreds of red-beaked buzzards from treetops high above Mt. Gretna's homes and cottages. What you have to know about turkey vultures is, first, that they live long lives. Second, that they have exceptionally long memories and return every winter to the same spots they knew as youngsters. The vultures began coming here in the early 1960s. At one time, up to 600 considered Mt. Gretna their winter home. Today, however, their numbers are down—way down. Only a persistent few remain, says Max Hunsicker, who's led one of the most successful bird-relocation campaigns the USDA has ever seen.
Max's band of stalwarts ("The few, the proud, the buzzard busters") handled the work entirely on their own this year. Without help from wildlife consultants, they kept costs down for this project—one of many paid for by Mt. Gretna art show proceeds.
Other topics Mt. Gretnans are talking about these days? You'll find them on the pages that follow. Nothing likely to make headlines anywhere else. Nothing you'll see on CNN. And certainly nothing worthy of an Einstein. In truth, most of what appears here probably wouldn't count for much in most places. But as Einstein himself reminded us, "Not everything that counts can be counted, and not everything that can be counted counts."
Verizon cell phone users in Mt. Gretna found themselves cut off from the outside world last Wednesday. Verizon's usually dependable cellular signal here suddenly went dead. Officials had service restored within a day, but the event nevertheless disrupted what has become for Mt. Gretnans a vital communications link.
Service resumed around 10 a.m. on Thursday, but meanwhile Tom Bowman sent us a helpful tip. It might come in handy if the problem reoccurs: Until service is restored, says Tom, "people might want to forward their cell phone calls to their home phones so they don't miss a message. It's easy to do: Just drive over the mountain into Lancaster or Lebanon county where the Verizon cell phones work. Then dial *72 followed by your area code and home phone number. Push send. Now all your cell phone calls will be transferred to your home phone. To turn off the call forwarding so you can receive calls on your cell phone again, just dial*73 send."
A few years ago, two women were strolling along Pennsylvania Avenue after attending a play when one turned to the other and said, "You know, I always rediscover Mt. Gretna each year when summer's almost over."
Her remark sums up the marketing challenge that faces Gretna Theater this year. Under the newly adopted Playhouse schedule, Gretna Theater's plays will begin June 5 and continue for the first two months. Gretna Music concerts will fill out the month of August and into the first week of September, with the Cicada Festival's popular family entertainment offerings sandwiched between. It is a schedule to help ease the headaches of weekly changeovers from plays one evening to concerts the next, erasing the demands of frequent stage setups and tear-downs. As a bonus, it also gives Gretna Theater and Gretna Music greater flexibility in the types of programs they can offer.
But from Gretna Theater's standpoint, the key is getting audiences used to an earlier start to the season, which begins with "The Man in Black: A Tribute to Johnny Cash." That choice and its timing and choice reflect a deliberate strategy. "Country music has always been well-accepted and well-loved here," says producing director Larry Frenock. That and the "3 Phantoms in Concert," with leading Broadway tenors from the longest-running musical of all time, should help send a message that, like Brigadoon, Mt. Gretna is waking up two months earlier this year.
"It's a daunting task," says Larry. "Early June is sometimes a bit chilly. School is still in session. Weddings and graduations take precedence. So our advertising has to start earlier and work harder. If we can convince an audience to come out in early June, help them to understand were here and running, we'll succeed. If we can't, that will really give us pause."
Larry likes the new schedule's greater flexibility. "It allows us to have Sunday matinees, which we haven't had in years. And it allows us to bring in an interesting mix of shows. With the prior schedule, we had two-week runs. But there are some things that may not play that long," he says. He hopes the short runs of "Man in Black" and "3 Phantoms in Concert" will set things up for the rest of the season, which includes the American musical "Shenandoah" June 19-29, "All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten" July 3-13 and "The King and I" July 17-27.
[] What's behind the sudden surge of interest in quilts? Mary Zesiger can probably explain it. The Campmeeting resident who moved here permanently few years ago is a top national authority on the subject. She's traveling around the country these days, judging quilting competitions at expositions from New York to West Virginia (where she'll be the judge at a summer-long exhibit sponsored by the state's division of culture and history).
Mary first became interested in quilting more than 30 years ago and is now certified as both teacher and judge by the National Quilting Association. Interest in this decidedly American art form appears to be growing locally, especially since the Lancaster Quilt and Textile Museum opened in 2004.
Mary gave a brief course in quilting basics here in 2006. Several readers are hoping she'll be able to clear her busy travel schedule and do it again sometime. At the West Virginia expo, her "Stitches to Die For" sessions are a popular attraction.
[] Dale Grundon, Mt. Gretna's peripatetic raconteur and man-about-town, annually awards it his coveted "Five Fork Rating." It's the breakfast buffet at Colebrook Lutheran Church Mar. 15. "Begin with SOS over hash brown potatoes," says Dale. He also recommends the pancakes, scrambled eggs—or both, and a visit to the mixed fruit table "And don't forget to pick up at least one serving of the superior chocolate cake with tantalizing peanut butter icing," he adds. Time: 6 a.m. to 11 a.m.
[] Probably the only church organist and choir director in America ever to cancel a practice so he could go trick or treating on Halloween, Ryan Brunkhurst will give a recital next month to raise funds for the fire company's new building expansion. He just turned 15.
The 7 p.m. concert will be at St. Luke's Episcopal Church in Lebanon April 20, says an appreciative Joe Shay, the town's mayor and fire company's vice president, who was himself honored by fellow firemen last month as "volunteer of the year."
[] What does pianist, composer and arranger Andy Roberts do when winter days turn freezy? He scurries over to The Camp, an Elizabethtown recording studio, where, after assembling top area musicians like himself, he turns out yet another CD. "Under the Radar," his latest, is now on sale at The Timbers, Mt. Gretna Pizzeria as well as online at and
"The music is jazz-based, with a nod towards progressive rock featuring many of the great jazz musicians on the Central PA music scene," says Andy, the Timbers' music director who also teaches jazz studies at Lebanon Valley College. Andy has done several tours of Japan with soul legends "The Three Degrees." You can also catch his music occasionally on National Public Radio.
[] The fifth annual "Got the Nerve" triathlon to raise money for a crippling nerve disease is looking for volunteers. About 600 athletes from across the country will take part in the May 24 race, which begins shortly after 8 a.m. with a 500-yard swim in the chilly waters of Lake Conewago. Next are the 14.8-mile bike race and five kilometer run (which usually finishes shortly before noon). Volunteers who'd like to help with setups should check in at the triathlon's website:
Does the date seem vaguely familiar? There's good reason. That's also the same day Mt. Gretnans are holding community-wide porch sales, Humane Society book sales at the library, and the season-opening Summer Premiere at the Hall of Philosophy. All part of the fun and merriment that come with launching another summer in Mt. Gretna.
[ ] If book titles like "The Omnivore's Dilemma" and "Animal, Vegetable, Miracle" make you pause while strolling through the bookstore, you'll want to know that a few folks here are hoping other Mt. Gretnans will join them for fruit and vegetable deliveries from an Ephrata organic farm this summer. Susan Wood and Suzanne Balmer already are customers. If 18 others join them, door- to-door deliveries in Mt. Gretna will become a regular happening.
A maxim Susan likes to keep in mind: "Don't eat anything your great-grandmother didn't consider food." Contact her at
[] So what's Marie Smoker up to these days? The Campmeeting resident (who moved here over 40 years ago) just turned 101 and was recently profiled in the Reading Eagle. You can read about the life and times of this energetic fire company volunteer, Winterite, minister's wife, mother, grandmother and great-grandmother—and baker of shoofly pie and great tapioca puddings—at
[] How to find Mt. Gretna-inspired art even when the outdoor art show is still months away? See, the Arts Council's colorful new website. The council offers free exhibit space to artists who live and work in and around Mt. Gretna; for details, drop a note to Jessica Kosoff,
[] Tony Pringle has begun issuing "Hand Dodger," a newsletter written especially for New Black Eagles fans who'd like to keep up with the popular jazz band's adventures and appearances nationwide. (They'll be here for a Saturday night session Aug. 2, followed by their traditional jazz worship service at the Playhouse the next morning.)
We asked Tony, "What's a Hand Dodger?" He didn't know but said he'd once heard of a New Orleans musician who in the 1960s handed out his own newsletter, which he called a "Hand Dodger.' Tony also had "heard from a Brit who claimed the term dates back to Victorian times, but I can't find any definitive information." Neither could we.
After digging a little deeper, however, Tony came up with "dodger" references that explain they're "noncommercial handbills. . . printed or written leaflets or pamphlets."
Which clears up the mystery. Sort of. If any reader has a more precise definition, Tony would like to hear it. So would we. Meanwhile, you can join the "Hand Dodger" mailing list by dropping a note to

March had barely begun when Governor Dick Park unfurled a cavalcade of events for adults and children who love being outdoors and exploring nature's secrets.
The park's Nature Center is located along Pinch Road and now is open weekends (plus Thursdays and Fridays too, starting Mar. 13) from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. Sundays.
Governor Dick news bulletins are crammed full of activities already underway:
<> Savvy Sapling GDP adventures for children and families on second and fourth Saturdays (except June through August) at 1 p.m.
<> Wild flower and bird hikes on second Saturdays at 9 a.m. (That's in addition to the Fridays-at-9 a.m. hikes Sid Hostetter and Evelyn Koppel lead, weather permitting. Their merry band of bird-watchers usually follows their outings with breakfasts and conversation at the Porch and Pantry café.) Contact Sid and Evelyn,, if you'd like to join the group some Friday morning.
<> Nature DVD presentations, such as "Planet Earth," on third Sundays at 1 p.m.
<> An orienteering class for beginners (with map-reading and practical outdoor experience on a temporary "white course") Mar. 29, taught by Delaware Valley Orienteering Assn. volunteer Mark Frank. Starting time: 10 a.m.
<> A "pre-Earth Day" celebration three days early, on April 19. They'll have events ranging from tree-plantings to bluebird house postings, with walks through the forest and documentaries including "Preserving Old Growth Forests," starting at 9 a.m.
<> A spring night walk through the woods May 2, to share the experience of walking through the park and hearing frogs and other sounds of the forest at dusk starting at 7:30 p.m.
<> Boating course, offered by Pennsylvania's Fish and Boat Commission, which satisfies safety certificates requirements needed to operate a personal boat. Time: 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. and open to everyone age 10 and up. (Preregistration required. But they'll cancel the course if fewer than 10 people apply before April 12. Call 964-3808.)
<> Summer Explorer's Camp for youngsters who've finished third through sixth grades: "Mud-days through Fly-days," July 28-Aug. 1, 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. New adventures daily, exploring different aspects of nature. Cost: $100 per child. Call 964-3808 or pick up an application at the park center or Mt. Gretna's post office.
<> Mission: Discovery, on third Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 11 a.m. for children age 5 to 11, May to October. Youngsters learn about creatures that dwell in the forest. Call for details: 964-3808.
And if all this weren't enough, there's that 19-page study board members are now mulling over, a plan developed under an $8,000 state Dept. of Environmental and Natural Resources grant that outlines possible futures for the park. A York County park expert studied Governor Dick's current operations, evaluated its potential for expanding educational, recreational and fundraising programs. His report is now being reviewed. Park chairman Ray Bender is pleased with the study, which he says "gives us a good direction for where we want to go from here."
[] Gretna Music's winter series rounds out the season with three lively concerts. Paul Galbraith brings his unique eight-string guitar to Elizabethtown College's Leffler Center Mar. 17 for a performance that includes J. S. Bach's Cello Suite No. 4—a feat unthinkable on a standard, six-string instrument. On April 6 there's jazz guitarist Russell Malone, who "sings through his instrument" the way the Georgia native remembers hearing Southern Baptist ministers deliver their sermons. And closing the series April 12 will be Chanticleer, a group The New Yorker calls "America's favorite vocal ensemble." Details:
[] Gretna Theater's local auditions are coming up Mar. 15, with plenty of roles for both talented adults and children in a lineup that includes large-cast shows such as "Shenandoah" and "The King and I." The auditions begin at noon in the Mt. Gretna fire hall. Details:
[] The Winterites, those hearty Mt. Gretnans who for nearly 60 years have been finding ways to brighten the bleakest months while their snowbird neighbors flock to sunnier climes, will wind up this season's sessions with "A Taste of Passover" at the fire hall April 1. All are invited. The program begins at 1 p.m.
[] Ceylon and Karen Leitzel, who love dancing to Big Band music more than just about anyone we know, have ignited that spark in others. Their annual Big Band bash at the beach, begun four years ago, has become one of the area's most popular dance events. Scheduled for Aug. 23 this year, the event will unfold under a new banner, "Music Under the Stars." The theme is one that Ceylon, always with a deft marketing touch, says will "allow greater diversity" as the event grows in future years. Proceeds from ticket sales will again benefit local nonprofit groups.
[] Artists' applications for the Mt. Gretna Art Show Aug. 16-17 are arriving at a steady clip—electronically—says coordinator Linda Bell. Are they down a little from previous years because of the economic climate? "No, they're about the same," says Linda. "One artist told me she was at a show last week and did better than usual. So I guess the economy is not as bad as everyone's saying." The deadline for entries is April 1. Judging takes place April 19.
[] Internship available at Gretna Music this summer: Applicants should have good interpersonal, writing, research and design skills; their own housing and 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.
[] Paintings and collages by Mt. Gretna artist Shelby Applegate appear this month at the Lebanon Valley Council of the Arts gallery, 734 Willow Street in Lebanon. An online commentary describes her work as "increasingly free and abstract," with explorations into handmade paper collages, monotypes and creative pieces "stitched together and difficult to classify, but easy to appreciate." See
[] Cicada Festival performance details, including ticket information, now appear on the Web at If you want to get a jump on performances likely to be sold out, send your orders in now. The box office doesn't open until June, but they'll issue tickets according to earliest postmarked dates.
[] When it opened two years ago, we announced the start-up of a new hairstyling studio in Timber Bridge but misprinted the telephone number. That obviously didn't interfere with Studio 33's success, however. Owner Joe Romberger says business is now booming and 85 percent of his customers are Mt. Gretnans. (The real number: 964-3390.)
2nd Biggest day of the year if you happen to be a youngster with an empty Easter basket to fill: March 15, at the playground near the Jigger Shop. The hunt for 540 eggs (45 dozen) that'll be hidden in Mt. Gretna United Methodist Church's annual Easter egg safari begins promptly at 11 a.m. "Don't be late," is the advice that grizzled egg-seeking veterans often give to newcomers. The hunt is sometimes over by 11:05 a.m.
Prizes go to youngsters in five different age groups. Rain date: Mar. 22.
$1,000 Arts Council scholarships (four of them) available to Lebanon County students planning to pursue studies in theater, literature, visual arts and music. Deadline for entries: May 1. Details: (or write Dr. Jeff Hurst, Mt. Gretna Arts Council, P.O. Box 672, Mt. Gretna, PA 17064.) Last year's awards went to seniors at Annville, Cornwall-Lebanon, ELCO and Northern Lebanon high schools.
[] Why were Mt. Gretna's fireworks discontinued on the Fourth of July?
<> Although fireworks were a popular attraction on the Fourth, Mt. Gretnans are now finding other ways to celebrate this favorite holiday since ever-increasing crowds made safety a growing concern. In 2004, officials decided that—because of Mt. Gretna's small roadways and limited maneuverability for emergency vehicles responding to fires, injuries and other emergencies amid large crowds late at night—such patriotic displays would be better suited to larger areas where setback zones and other safety considerations are more favorable.
That's not to say, of course, that you'll be disappointed if you happen to return to Mt. Gretna on the Fourth of July. Patriotic band music, flags and banners, picnics, family gatherings and porch parties—all echo the pulse and tempo of Mt. Gretna's formative years. So you might say Mt. Gretna hasn't abandoned tradition. It's simply returned to the way life used to be.
HAROLD S. STAUFFER (1938-2008)
Harold Stauffer passed away unexpectedly at Lancaster General Hospital Feb. 13. He and his wife Connie had been summer residents at 218 Pennsylvania Ave. for several years before purchasing last fall Reenie and Joe Macsisak's cottage, also on Pennsylvania Avenue.
A graduate of Franklin & Marshall College, Harold retired in 2002 as human resources director at Quality Custom Cabinetry. He had previously worked for the former Victor F. Weaver Co. and was a former chairman of the board at East Chestnut Street Mennonite Church in Lancaster. Harold was also a director of the Landis Home Board and served as secretary for the board at CONTAC, the Lancaster Helpline. He and Connie had worked in Somalia in the early 1960s when he served as a business manager with Eastern Mennonite Missions.
In an age of electronic mail, notes arrive in sporadic and random patterns that sometimes take on a curious synchronicity. Last month, for example, Princeton Avenue resident Linda Wilson sent us a note that Sarah Minnich (a versatile chef-cum-painter who whips up soufflés and paints cottages with equal aplomb) spotted 12 wild turkeys ambling down Harvard Avenue on Feb. 6, an unusually spring-like day.
That same afternoon a report arrived from "Ride Across America," the grueling event for cyclists that Lancaster Avenue's Robin Smith will compete in this summer to raise money for such causes as breast cancer research, fibromyalgia, and a school for autistic children. (If you'd like to contribute, drop her a note at
The RAAM bulletin included reports from two competitors who took part in the race last year. On their 3,000-mile-ride, they saw what Robin herself is likely to encounter on the highways this June: black bears, bison, bighorn sheep, coyotes, mountain goats, white-tailed jackrabbits and western rattlesnakes.
We presume that for Robin—an ultra-endurance 46-year-old who's out most days practicing and building up her stamina—the Mt. Gretna turkeys were merely part of a warm-up team.
Kindest regards,
Roger Groce
P.S. We're not sure how many folks with ties to Mt. Gretna read this newsletter online, rather than through direct e-mail deliveries. But we do know that their numbers are large and growing. Despite its occasional failings, the Internet has nevertheless ushered in bright new benefits, not the least of which is allowing kindred souls to keep in touch.
We also know that our circulation extends to people whose grandparents and parents first brought them here, and that their affections are strong. Those touched by the spirit of Mt. Gretna as children somehow never lose it. The many notes we receive affirm that. Notes from those who've grown up here, played here and learned gentle lessons here assure us of the uncommon value of Mt. Gretna's legacy for children. They also underscore our appreciation for all whose labors have made, and are making, it so.
Thanks to the many readers who share copies of this letter with others, and, as always, to our friends at Gretna Computers who make the Internet edition possible at