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The Mt. Gretna Newsletter
No. 81 April 8, 2008
About this time of year, Mt. Gretna starts sending distinct, immutable signals to its snowbirds who fled town last fall. Bursting through soil barely touched by winter comes a cavalcade of snowdrops, day lilies and blood root wildflowers—all with the same message: The time has come, it is time to come back to Mt. Gretna.
Other indicators echo a similar theme. Nowhere is the coming of a new season more evident than in places like the Playhouse, the Hall of Philosophy, and the Tabernacle—where plans for the season ahead are about to unfurl.
One of the most exciting new ideas in prospect is a "Chautauqua University for a Day," an idea spawned by Dr. Ned Wallace, a medical missionary whose cottage here has been in the family for generations. The initiative stems from a concept rapidly gaining popularity in cities elsewhere—re-creating in a single location for 24 hours the unique academic environment of a college campus. Lectures by leading authorities in diverse fields, discussions, luncheon conversations and leisurely late afternoon explorations over wine and cheese. It will be, as noted elsewhere in this issue, a nostalgic return to the reverberating pleasures of college life. Yet, in another sense it is also a pointed reminder of the treasures that already abound here.
Delve deeply into Mt. Gretna's essence and one discovers insights into what makes this community different. The clues show up in unexpected places, like that imaginative summer program at the playground—where this year "Bug Week," "Stars Week," and other themes drenched in creativity await spellbound youngsters.
Or thumb through the forthcoming Arts Council calendar—due out next month—to count the number of diverse activities our neighbors will lead: The Rev. Jim Corbett, heading that lively Thursday morning religious discussion series. Retired Lebanon Valley College professors Howard Applegate and Paul Heise, among the speakers in those increasingly popular Tuesday morning book reviews. Campmeeting president Jeffrey Hurst, one of the world's leading authorities on chocolate, giving residents here a voyage into not simply its pleasures—but its role in both history and health. Artisan Dale Grundon, exploring the splendor of stained glass in sessions at the Hall of Philosophy.
The list of Mt. Gretnans contributing to summer's sparkling panorama is almost endless: Dr. Carl Ellenberger in a performance with the celebrated Audubon Quartet, crafts instructors like former art show director Karl Gettle or chef Becky Briody sharing their insights with appreciative morning audiences in June and July, and Col. David Pierce lecturing in the Wellness series on three Thursdays in August. . . and others, many others.
Indeed, the closer one looks, the more apparent it becomes. Unlike other communities similar in size, Mt. Gretna possesses enormous resources. Not just in knowledge, talent and intellect—but in an enthusiasm to share. Mining those resources is an endless, joyful process—one that each year amplifies the richness and value of a Mt. Gretna summer, which now lies just ahead.
With another gypsy moth invasion looming this spring, local municipalities will, for the first time, get help from state game land officials who are joining in a widespread spraying campaign in and around Mt. Gretna.
The voracious insects devoured area treetops last summer, leaving a pervasive—and starkly evident—impact. After caterpillars munched their way through the forest, motorists en route to Mt. Gretna along Pinch Road—and accustomed to entering under a shaded canopy—were startled to glimpse broad vistas drenched in sunlight.
This year the state game lands, plus all Mt. Gretna-area municipalities—including neighboring sectors of West Cornwall, South Annville and South Londonderry townships—are taking no chances. They'll cover the area early next month with airborne sprays of Bt insecticide--which officials say kills the caterpillars but doesn't harm humans or mammals.
Regional forester David Henry says the State Game Commission will be spraying two sites in Gameland No. 145 (which adjoins Mt. Gretna): an L-shaped 101-acre tract directly south of town, and a 55-acre stand of white oak trees south of Rte. 117 near Colebrook. That should help mitigate the insect's destructive effects this year.
County and municipal officials we contacted confirmed that this will be the first time they can remember that state game lands have joined in a widespread spraying campaign. If their combined efforts succeed, however, Mt. Gretna's comforting canopies should be restored to a community that, above all, cherishes its trees.

Apologizing in advance for the unavoidable inconvenience—and reminding Mt. Gretnans that "progress has a price," Burkholder Paving Company's jovial Dave Powers says the Rte. 117 project will be in full swing this week. He'll have four to five crews working in town, "which means there'll be four to five different traffic patterns" residents must cope with before work winds up in the central business district around April 29.
All repaving work should be done in the heart of Mt. Gretna by May 20. Afterwards, crews will move to areas east and west of town, aiming to finish the entire $2.1 million job by Aug. 27, a week or so ahead of the original schedule announced by PennDOT.
No road construction work will occur during art show weekend, Aug. 16-17.
The increasingly popular "university for a day" concept -- now attracting adults nostalgic for the formal academic environments they once knew in college -- comes to the Hall of Philosophy July 31.
Summer program planners expect to fill the "Chautauqua University for a Day" program with talks by four distinguished lecturers, a catered luncheon by chef Becky Briody and a wine and cheese party to wrap up the event around 4 p.m.
Similar programs—some costing up to $259 a day—take place in Connecticut, New York, New Jersey and Massachusetts. The cost here will be $50. "We thought we'd try one here and see how it goes," says Chautauqua president Peggy O'Neil. A recent AARP Magazine article describes the concept as "an opportunity to get a synopsis on current thinking in many areas, including one you might know nothing about. . . . It's like a health club for the brain."
Stacey Pennington, eager to get started at Gretna Emporium, says her home in Lebanon is filling up with items already selected for the store she'll open Memorial Day weekend at the former gift shop. "I've been out buying all kinds of unique items, and my house is getting overrun with boxes," she says. "I now know the UPS man on a first-name basis. He stops at my house every day."
Stacey says "the buzz is out." Customers at her Cleona educational toy and instructional materials store, Resource Island, are asking, "what's going on at Gretna Emporium, when I'm going to be open, and they're pretty excited for me. I'm happy about that."
She plans a preview on Thursday May 22 just for Mt. Gretna residents, then a formal ribbon-cutting ceremony the next day at 1 p.m. with Chamber of Commerce officials and others.
Although she wants to save as a surprise exactly which items she'll be offering, Stacey assures there'll be something for everybody—children and adults alike. She'll also have T-shirts and sweatshirts with a unique flavor of Mt. Gretna: "No scenes—just a saying," she says.
Plus she'll offer other distinct Mt. Gretna items for collectors, summer residents and year 'rounders, as well as those who dwell here only in spirit. Those fond of Mt. Gretna collectibles won't be disappointed, she promises.

The passing of actor Charlton Heston this week recalled memories of his return to Gretna Theater in 1992 after an absence of more than 40 years. At a gathering at the Timbers, someone asked how he wanted to be remembered. Heston replied, "As a pro. He knew his lines, and he didn't bump into anyone."
Mt. Gretna's Henry Homan did his first professional broadcast interview with Heston while he was here in 1948. Yet so many other Mt. Gretna legends have attached to the actor's time here that it's often difficult to separate fact from myth.
Several cottages have been sold under the "Heston slept here" claim. But, in truth, he and Lydia, whom he married in 1944, rented "Berkshire," the Granoff cottage, which is located at 102 Brown Avenue—alongside Pinch Road and just in back of where art show co-founder Bruce Johnson once lived.
During the 1940s, Mary Sell owned the cottage where Heston actually stayed that summer. One afternoon, Mary stopped by and discovered Heston sitting at the dining room table and eating peanut butter straight from the jar. That offense, clearly, was high on Mary's 'thou shall not' list. Betsy Brown, who lived across the street, says Mary "gave him a calling down." Added Harry Balmer, recalling childhood memories, says that "If Mary ever raised her voice to Chuck Heston, he'd surely remember it. She could peel and core an apple at 25 yards with her voice if she raised it."

With the Race-Across-America only two months away, it's easy to know what Lancaster Avenue's Robin Smith is doing with her spare time these days. Newspaper reports chronicle her arduous practice sessions, cycling throughout central Pennsylvania every day to prepare, at age 46, for a continuous, 3,000-mile race across the country as part of a four-member team starting in California June 11.
Her team hopes to raise $180,000 for local charities and complete the journey in seven days. Accompanying them will be crews in automobiles and RVs, which team members (two men and two women) will use to grab sleep in four-hour shifts as they race across the country in an event which is to cyclists what Everest is to mountain climbers.
If you'd like to contribute to the fundraiser (which benefits the Pennsylvania Breast Cancer Coalition, a fibromyalgia group, and Hershey's Vista school for children with autism), contact her at
Police covering the seven neighborhoods that make up Mt. Gretna are turning to new technologies.
E-mail advisories were used for the first time after thieves tried to break into the ATM beneath Le Sorelle Cafe last month. Cornwall Borough police issued an e-mail alert to all Mt. Gretna residents who've asked to be part of the new alerting network, seeking their help in tracking down the culprits. It's a network they also intend to use occasionally to call attention to community-wide events such as National Night Out, bike rodeos and self-defense programs. If you'd like to add your e-mail address to the roster, drop a note to (Be sure to state your name, where you live and e-mail address.)
South Londonderry Township police (who cover Timber Hills, Timber Bridge and Conewago Hill) are now using infrared beams to catch speeders. The township's latest newsletter suggests that radar guns may soon be obsolete. Now, patrol cars linked to portable, inconspicuous transmitters sitting along even rural roadways can record your speed from up to a quarter mile away. It's part of a statewide crackdown on aggressive driving.
If you'd like to receive the township's quarterly newsletter via e-mail, send a request to The Winter-Spring issue is now out.

[] A new book, "Nudge," suggests that if you want people to use less energy you could (1) make it very expensive or (2) simply let them know how much they use compared with their neighbors. Armed with that insight—and noting in this week's TIME magazine that when San Marcos, Calif. did that, heavy users quickly lowered their consumption—we asked Met Ed how much electricity the typical Mt. Gretna household uses per month. In a sampling of 560 customers with Mt. Gretna addresses, the typical summer usage is 815 kwh per month. In winter, it's 1,090 kwh.
Now then, take a look at your recent bills. Feeling a little gluttonous? Join the crowd. Met Ed's Dan Logar tells us the average usage rate for all their customers was 500 kwh in the 1990s. Today, it's averaging around 750 kwh.
[] Mt. Gretna Art Show has a freshly updated website (, thanks to Lancaster Avenue computer guru Shawn Harbaugh. Tip: Click on the Amish harvesting photo in lower right to see a commercial done for the show last year. Among faces you're likely to recognize: Barney and Cindy Myer, Penn Realty's Joe Wentzel and Dejango, the monkey who's here every year with owner Jerry Brown, a.k.a Uncle Sam.
[] What's behind the growing popularity of those twice-a-year fire company block shoots? No question about it, says volunteer Karen Lynch: "It's Alice McKeone's famous ham and bean soup, from a recipe her grandmother used. Adding rivels and other special ingredients, Alice has honed it to perfection over the past 50 years." Rivels? (They're not in the dictionary but are in the soup: small dumplings, a favorite of the Pennsylvania Dutch.)
Hot dogs and sauerkraut, cookies and refreshments are also part of the fun. So are prizes, which anyone can win just by showing up and buying a ticket. The rewards increase if you sponsor a shooter whose pellets hit closest to the bull's-eye. Plus there's the chance to spend a relaxing hour or so with neighbors. The next block shoot event comes up May 10, from noon to 5 p.m., at the fire company parking lot. All proceeds, naturally, go to the fire company.
[] Alisa Pitt, a collegian who's been skiing and scaling mountains in the Western U.S. ever since she was a youngster hop-skipping along Pennsylvania Avenue, will compete in an Adventure Racing event in Austin May 17. She'll be part of a team in a race that requires Iron Man stamina—running, paddling and mountain bike racing for six consecutive hours under the Texas sun.
Yet that's not the only item on her schedule. She'll also complete her requirements next month to qualify as a member of the National Ski Patrol, the largest winter rescue organization in the world. And when she returns to Mt. Gretna May 24, she'll compete in the annual "Got the Nerve" triathlon—swimming, cycling and running against 600 other competitors.
"Alisa loves outdoor sports," says her mother, Marla, herself a triathlon competitor last year. No question about that. As a college freshman two years ago, with skis strapped to her back, Alisa defied high winds, freezing temperatures and treacherous ice that turned back all but a few hearty souls, scaling a 1,000 vertical-foot peak in Bozeman, Mt. Once at the summit, she skied her way back down.
Mt. Gretna's summer book review series has become one of the most popular programs in town. Starting at 10 a.m. on Tuesday mornings beginning in late June, crowds assemble at the Hall of Philosophy to hear professors and lecturers from Lebanon Valley College review books on wide-ranging subjects, adding their insights and perspectives to make the assembly one of the most stimulating hours of the week. Free, with donations encouraged.
This summer's lineup, coordinated by LVC's Gary Grieve-Carlson:
June 24: The Political Teachings of Jesus by Tod Lindberg; reviewer: Paul Fullmer, chaplain, Lebanon Valley College.
July 1: The Old Way: A Story of the First People by Elizabeth Marshall Thomas; reviewer: Gary Grieve-Carlson, LVC professor of English and director of general education.
July 8: The Judgment of Paris: The Revolutionary Decade That Gave the World Impressionism by Ross King; reviewer: Scott Schweigert, director, Suzanne H. Arnold art gallery and assistant professor of art.
July 15: Elizabeth & Leicester: Power, Passion, Politics by Sarah Gristwood; reviewer: Kevin Pry, LVC Associate Professor of English.
July 22: The Stillborn God: Religion, Politics, and the Modern West by Mark Lilla; reviewer: Jeff Robbins, LVC assistant professor of religion and philosophy.
July 29: What Hath God Wrought: The Transformation of America 1815-1848 by Daniel Walker Howe; reviewer: Jim Broussard, LVC professor of history.
August 5: The Painter of Battles: A Novel by Arturo Perez-Reverte; reviewer: Diane Iglesias, LVC professor of Spanish.
August 12: Alice: Alice Roosevelt Longworth, from White House Princess to Washington Power Broker by Stacy A. Cordery; reviewer Jean-Paul Benowitz, LVC adjunct instructor in history.
August 19: The Sorrows of Empire: Militarism, Secrecy, and the End of the Republic by Chalmers Johnson; reviewer: Paul Heise, LVC professor emeritus of economics.
August 26: American Creation: Triumphs and Tragedies at the Founding of the Republic by Joseph J. Ellis; reviewer: Howard Applegate, professor emeritus of history and American studies.
Over 500 Art show applications this year, a slight increase over the number received in 2007. But the best news, says show director Linda Bell, is that the quality of entries has never been higher. "Everything the judges will review this year is quality work," she says. Judging takes place April 19. Linda expects to notify all entrants—including the 265 or so who'll be invited to exhibit in August—by the end of this month.
Among this year's likely repeat exhibitors: Delaware's Sandy Askey-Adams, just named to the Paint America Top 100 roster. "I'm so excited, I feel like I've just stepped into the twilight zone," she told Linda. Another plus: All of last year's crowd-pleasing food vendors return this August—including one who first thought the show was "too much work" and declared that she wasn't coming back. What changed her mind? "My employees told me they had so much fun, they wanted to do it again," she says.

2,317 "Documented visitors" to the Mt. Gretna Information Center last summer. "I say 'documented' because it's hard to keep track of them all," says coordinator Jessica Kosoff.
She'll hold an "open house" at the center (10 a.m. Saturday, May 24—Memorial Day weekend), inviting volunteers to sign up for time slots they'd like to work this year. "They'll be rewarded with coffee and donuts," she promises.
But the real rewards will likely come from questions they'll get—especially from people making their first Mt. Gretna visits. Among questions visitors asked last year:
[] Do people really live in these cottages?
[] Can you fish in the lake?
[] When's the House Tour?
[] Do you have snacks here?
[] What's Mt. Gretna all about?
[] Where is Dinosaur Rock?
[] What's that large leafed plant across the street? ("No one knows," says Jessica. "Dale Grundon thinks it's a red bud something or other, but no one's really sure, even arborists.")
[] When did the last train run through Mt. Gretna?
[] Where can we get ibuprofen?
[] We were out for a Sunday drive and came upon this place. What the hell is going on here?
$2,618 Donated to Mt. Gretna's fire company, church, Heritage Festival and other nonprofit groups thus far—proceeds from those summer's end Big Band nights at the Lake. Organizers Ceylon and Karen Leitzel are planning to sponsor another one again this year—on Aug. 23. They'll soon have details on ticket orders, entertainment and refreshments at this year's "Music Under the Stars" event but promise ticket prices will remain unchanged at $18 .
8,000 Fewer ATMs in the U.S.A. nowadays. That's a two-percent decline from last year, says a Boston consulting firm. Those shrinking numbers reflect consumers' growing use of debit and credit cards.
So does that mean Jonestown Bank might someday remove the one they installed in 2004 under the Lodge (Le Sorelle Café) along Chautauqua Drive?
Not likely, says bank vice president of operations Joe Lieb—despite that attempted break-in last month. The botched effort caused about $17,000 in damages, but officials quickly had the unit running again. The Mt. Gretna ATM now handles about 200 transactions a month during the off-season, and as many as 600 per month from May through August.
"We've had a good response from the community," says Mr. Lieb. "We like being associated with Mt. Gretna. The ATM unit there does quite well. So we're there for the long haul and are not going to let something like that deter us."
Meanwhile, the bank has added new security measures, and police investigations continue.
[] How will Mt. Gretna firefighters pay for that new $300,000 fire hall expansion? Ryan Brunkhurst is helping lead the way. The 15-year-old organist and church choir director—probably the youngest in the U.S.—will give a recital April 20 at Lebanon's St. Luke's Episcopal Church. All proceeds go to the fire company's building fund. The performance starts at 7 p.m.
[] Lebanon Valley's rail-trail, which annually brings thousands of hikers and cyclists through Mt. Gretna, will soon span 20 miles, from Elizabethtown into downtown Lebanon. Planners say the route could eventually extend another 15 miles to Pine Grove, in Schuylkill County. See
[] Earth Day celebrations at Governor Dick Park April 19 include a hike to the tower where volunteers will help replace bluebird houses, tree-plantings and nature hikes, plus videos on conserving nature's diversity. A DVD program, "Planet Earth: From Pole to Pole; Mountains; and Fresh Water" starts at 2 p.m. April 20. For details: 964-3808 or e-mail:
[] Nothing in Mt. Gretna artist Eva Bender's schedule suggests she's even thinking about slowing down. On May 16, she'll be at an artist's reception at Lebanon Valley College's Arnold Gallery starting at 7 p.m.. It's part of "Inspiration and Expression," a retrospective exhibition of her work and those who inspired her. The following month, she'll display her latest paintings at the Lancaster Arts Hotel Gallery, with an artist's reception June 6, from 5 to 8 p.m.
[] The Chautauqua's lively Thursday morning religious discussion series this summer will include three talks at the Playhouse by former Newark bishop John Shelby Spong. A New York Times story announced his retirement eight years ago with the headline, "Boat Rocking Bishop Sits Down at Last." His appearances here in July won't be his first locally. He has previously lectured at Lebanon Valley College, Trinity Lutheran Church in Camp Hill, and at Lancaster's Unitarian Church. In 2003, the Lancaster Intelligencer Journal described him as "one of the most controversial figures in contemporary Christianity." See bishop also maintains a Website:
[] Lou Schellenberg, a Mt. Gretna resident and member of the faculty at Elizabethtown College, joins two other area art professors in an exhibition this month at the Lancaster Campus of Harrisburg Area Community College. The "Three Painters" exhibit displays works by artists who "investigate the tension between representation and abstraction," says Ms. Schellenberg, who is married to the playwright Eton Churchill. The exhibit continues through May 2. A panel discussion and reception begins at 5 p.m. April 16 in the campus' East Building, Room 203. Details: e-mail
[] Mt. Gretna Area Historical Society officials are seeking to help a genealogist wishing to contact descendents of Rev. Henry Milton Miller, a United Brethren minister and Hopeland native who lived and preached most of his adult life in Lebanon County. He had a daughter, Esther, who lived in Mt. Gretna when he died in 1946, and two sons, John D. and Frederick D. Historical society president Fred Buch asks anyone who may know of Rev. Miller's descendents to contact him (
The minute you walk into the building, you know that Chris Kagg's new workout facility is no ordinary gym. For one thing, four huge truck tires sit in the middle of the exercise floor. For another, there's the name itself--Corps Fitness, signaling a Marine-like atmosphere to a place where the emphasis is on bringing out one's best.
If the name sounds familiar, it's because Mr. Kaag has been coming to Mt. Gretna for the past four Memorial Day weekends, firing the gun that marks the start of a grueling triathlon attracting athletes from across the United States.
This year, as last, 600 competitors are expected to take part in the event which starts shortly after 8 a.m. with a 500-yard swim at Lake Conewago, a 14.8 mile bicycle race over the surrounding countryside, and a five-kilometer run along area roads and highways. It will be the fifth annual "Got the Nerve Triathlon," an event that raises money for the Myelin Project, which promotes research for debilitating nerve disorders like that which crippled the 31-year-old Mr. Kaag himself a decade ago. His story was chronicled April 5 in a Reading Eagle article ( "I was faced with a decision to dig deep and push on, or give up and let my condition take over my life," says a statement on his website
His new gym in Wyomissing emphasizes calisthenics, plyometric and body-weight exercises in a circuit training team format. "It's more about the philosophy," he told a reporter. "I want people to realize more about themselves than they would in a gym."
Next month's triathlon here will likely attract a few local athletes. Entering last year were Mt. Gretna competitors Becky Davis, Brad Ditzler, Chris O'Brien, Robert and Sandy Moritz, Dan Chirico, Brian Spangler, Adam Harlan, Marla and Alisa Pitt, John Weaver, and Pat Allwein.

Jack Bitner died March 14.
That simple statement of fact might appeal to the man himself. For he countenanced no flattery, no embroidery of his many achievements in a distinguished career, no effusive praise for his gifts, which were many, to the community he loved.
Yet at his 90th birthday celebration last year, he graciously endured a shower of tributes. Graciousness, respect and decorous restraint were at the core of his soul, a hallmark of his generation. But the next day, it was business as usual. A morning game of solitaire. Coffee with Jeanine in the little breakfast nook overlooking their garden. A welcoming wave to passersby making their way past his window. And if you paused along the path, you'd likely be invited to join him in spirited conversation. For nobody loved talking with others, particularly with those who shared an abiding affection for Mt. Gretna, more than Jack. In an age of cell phones, instant messaging and sometimes clipped communications, he held to the standards of an earlier era--one in which thoughtful, measured discourse was valued. And in part because of the example he set, here in Mt. Gretna, it still is.
We have circulated previously the obituary that appeared in the newspapers. For posterity, we repeat its essence here:
Born in Harrisburg, he was the son of John Donald Bitner Sr. and Ethel Daugherty Bitner. He entered the U.S. Army Air Corps at Langley Field, Va. and subsequently enrolled in aeronautical engineering in 1938 at the University of Pittsburgh. In his senior semester he met his future wife, Jeanine Stephenson. Upon graduation, Jack was commissioned into the Army Air Force and assigned to the Air Force Development Center at Wright Field, Ohio. During World War II, Jack was engaged in the correction of combat aircraft problems and tests of modifications. After the war, Jack and Jeanine were married, and he took employment with Glenn Martin Aircraft Co. in Baltimore, Md. Jack designed several missiles at Martin, one of which was deployed in Germany and Okinawa as an atomic deterrent against Russian aggression during the Cold War. His later career consisted of managing the development and deployment of several highly classified projects. Upon retirement, he and Jeanine bought a home in Mt. Gretna where the family always had a cottage going back to his grandparents at the first campmeeting in 1892. He has published two books on the history of Mt. Gretna, in addition to documenting the history of the Pennsylvania Chautauqua and the Mt. Gretna narrow gauge railroad. He also presented countless lectures for community groups. Jack is survived by his wife, Jeanine, of Mt. Gretna; son, Robert, husband of Carol Bitner, of Elizabethtown; daughter, Joan, wife of Tom Brown of Marietta; three grandchildren; and a great- grandson.
But those key facts inadequately convey the legacy Jack Bitner left with us. Not simply the artifacts and detailed accounts of Mt. Gretna's history, nor even the considerable contributions to America's defense and aerospace explorations. Rather, he left us with a finely crafted example of how a life, at its fullest, ought to be lived.
Donations in Jack Bitner's memory may be sent to the Mt. Gretna Museum, P.O. Box 362, Mt. Gretna, PA 17064. A tribute in his honor will be held at the Hall of Philosophy Aug. 1, an evening that he was scheduled to have given a lecture, the working title of which he told us would be "Unwritten History: Some Things I Didn't Include in My Book"
She had been the Playhouse pianist, accompanying summer stock theater and silent film showings in the days before 'talkies.' Her parents had owned a cottage here even before she met her husband, whose parents also were Mt. Gretna cottage owners. And for more than 40 years—even long after her beloved husband (a teacher, author and Civil War historian) had passed away, she continued to come here—drawn by friendships, memories and a lifetime of summers in Mt. Gretna.
Sara I. Hoffsommer died in February. She was 101. She and her late husband, Robert D. Hoffsommer (author of "This Was Harrisburg: A Photographic History" and numerous articles for Civil War Times and other publications) had owned the cottage at 709 Fifth St. in the Campmeeting. She had been a member of the Winterites as well as the former Chautauqua Auxiliary. Besides the Paxton Presbyterian Church, where she was a member for more than 70 years, she requested that memorial donations be made to the Mt. Gretna Historical Society, P.O. Box 362, Mt. Gretna, PA 17064.
GARY JON MILGATE (1941-2008)
Lt. Col. Gary Milgate died March 26. He was a native of Ohio, a graduate of Wittenberg University, and a resident of Mt. Gretna Heights with his wife of 44 years, Rosemary Wenzler Milgate.
He served with the U.S. Army in Vietnam and remained active with the Pennsylvania National Guard until his retirement. He later worked for Pennsylvania's Department of Welfare in Harrisburg and, following a second retirement, served as an on-call driver for the Caron Foundation in Wernersville.
Noting his love for family, who "provided his greatest joy and comfort," his obituary also recounted his affection for jazz, travel and cruises. In addition to his wife, he is survived by two married daughters, Rosemary Jones of Lebanon and Dr. Susan Kuczura of New Hope; four grandchildren, a sister, and a niece and nephew.
He had been ill for the past year, battling cancer with optimism, a bracing spirit and good cheer that will long serve as a beacon to all who knew him.
Donations in Lt. Col. Milgate's memory may be made to Caron Foundation Scholarship Fund, P. O. Box 150, Wernersville, PA 19565.
Anna Marie Bowers Smoker, a Campmeeting resident for more than 40 years and widow of the Rev. John L. Smoker, died March 15. She had been a Winterite, a fire company volunteer and an accomplished pianist, having studied under Anton Rubenstein's last student, Dr. Becker von Grabill. As we noted last month, a profile of her life and experiences appeared recently in the Reading Eagle. She was a beloved neighbor, mother, grandmother and great-grandmother—known not only for her music and devotion to family, but also for her shoofly pie and extraordinary tapioca puddings. Survivors include three children, J. Richard Smoker of Monocacy Station, Joanne Marie Harner of Ocean City, Md., and James Robert of Reading; five grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren. Memorial contributions may be sent to Mt. Gretna United Methodist Church, Mt. Gretna, Pa 17064.
Despite modern technological marvels like BlackBerries and Bluetooth digital transmitters, nothing beats the communications efficiency of Mt. Gretnans' daily chats at the post office—and their essential adjunct—the community bulletin board out back.
Walking around Mt. Gretna shortly before Easter, David Hartman, a retired army colonel, discovered a set of keys and wondered how to best notify their owner that they'd been found. He hit upon the old-fashioned idea of posting a notice on the bulletin board. A few days later, the keys were back in the hands of their grateful owner. Col. Hartman, amazed, reflected that—in terms of efficiency—Mt. Gretna's Communications Central may be better than anything the Pentagon ever dreamed of.
Kindest regards,
Roger Groce
P.S. We gratefully acknowledge those who help create this newsletter--proofreading, fact-checking, and sending suggestions for stories, questions and other ideas--adding to the endless flow of interesting items. We also are indebted to the many who share pinted copies of this letter with others that, though they may not be computer-savvy, nevertheless are unequaled when it comes to their love of Mt. Gretna. A reminder that, thanks to the wizards at Gretna Computers, this newsletter also appears on the Web at That's a handy site to keep in mind if ever someone at your house disposes of your e-mail copy before you've had a chance to read it.