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No. 84 July 9, 2008

A Taste of What Mt. Gretnans Fear Most

Nothing strikes fear in the hearts of Mt. Gretnans faster than the glimpse of smoke from a burning building or a threat that we could lose our trees.

Both occurred last month, leaving their mark on a town surrounded by forests and filled with cottages made from century-old wood.

An early morning fire at the Hideaway June 30 sent sharp reminders: Nobody’s more valuable than our volunteer firefighters, whose quick response saved the building and confined the blaze to a kitchen. Within a week, chefs using an auxiliary kitchen were serving patrons out on the deck. Full dining services should return in August, contractors say.

Meanwhile, officials in the state game lands and Governor Dick park are surveying damage done by gypsy moth caterpillars. Aerial sprays this spring had only spotty results. The voracious insects hit some trees for a third consecutive year, a trauma most oaks can’t withstand.

Game land official David Henry says they’ll have to clear more than 50 acres of the 3,000-acre tract that lies west of Pinch Road.

Governor Dick Park directors are not yet sure what they’ll do. “Cutting down trees is an easier decision for the game commission than it is for us,” trustee Ray Bender told the Lebanon Daily News. They’ll await reports from state conservation experts before deciding.

The gypsy moths also hit a few trees in Chautauqua and Campmeeting. But many cottage owners called in commercial sprayers to apply a second treatment and are keeping their fingers crossed.

Why didn’t the aerial sprays work everywhere? Nobody really knows. Some speculate that heavy rains washed the treatment away before it had a chance to work. Others think the insects may have hatched over prolonged periods rather than all at once. But most are still scratching their heads.

Volunteers: Suddenly the need is urgent

In our original draft of this newsletter, the following item was supposed to have appeared near the bottom of the stack—simply as a routine call for volunteers. But in the last 48 hours, those calls have taken on an unexpected urgency.

For the first time in a town where eager helpers seem always to arrive almost magically, just when and where they’re needed, warning lights on the volunteer index now are flashing a cautionary yellow.

Tom Mayer says some sign-up blocks on the concession stand’s roster for July are still vacant. At evening and afternoon performances in the Playhouse, an usher shortage sometimes develops. Julia Bucher still needs help in filling those booth sitter assignments at the art show. Peg Smith and Betty Miller can use some more green thumbs to help with the flower beds and planters that give Mt. Gretna its special touch. And Jessica Kosoff says she, too, needs volunteers—‘lots of them’—at the Information Center.

What’s going on? To be sure, everyone’s busier than ever. Retired people especially. Some say it’s yet another sign of modern America: When everyone’s busy, everyone assumes that somebody else will do what needs doing.

While that’s generally foreign to the thinking in Mt. Gretna—where voluntary energies and talents propel most of what goes on here—it’s also true that volunteers now seem in shorter supply than ever. Not everywhere. Not yet a crisis. But a disquieting trend.

Among the spots where volunteers are needed at mid-summer:

? Playhouse concession stand: Call 361-1508 to volunteer.
? Information Center: e-mail Jessica Kosoff
? Art Show booth sitters: contact Julia Bucher,
? Garden Club: Peg Smith 964-2101
? Gretna Theater: Renee Krizan 964-3322
? Gretna Music: Carl Kane 361-1508

Also note the historical society’s new Web page, especially for volunteers:

When it comes to paving, these guys are good

“If the weather continues to be on our side, we’ll be at least 90 percent completed with the Rte. 117 paving job by Aug. 14—ahead of the art show,” says Burkholder Paving’s Dave Powers.

The Ephrata-based contractors start the “leveling course” (taking out bumps and dips in the roadway) around July 28. They’ll begin final overlays the week of Aug. 4, followed by line painting and then backing shoulders, side roads and driveways.

How goes the theater season?

“The season’s great, the economy stinks,” says producing director Larry Frenock, whose refreshing candor and resilient optimism continue to wins friends for Gretna Theater.

“Audience response for our season has been positive—overwhelmingly positive. People are just thrilled with the things we’re doing this year,” he says.

Yet with a tough economy, ticket sales are “not increasing as much as we’d hoped,” he says. We’re ahead of last year. But with rising costs, we’re not where we need to be.”

Lessons from her 3,000-mile bicycle Race Across America:

Robin Smith, Mt. Gretna’s top ultra-endurance athlete, finished the non-stop event at 8:31 a.m. June 19 in Annapolis, Md.—seven days, 15 minutes, and 12 seconds after her team left Oceanside, Calif.

Yes, the riding was hard, but “everything else was harder”:

? Her four-member team got lost twice. (Minor problem).

? The RV required to accompany her group had a flat, just as they were within 25 yards of overtaking the first-place team. (Major problem: “We never caught up,” says Robin.)

? As she crossed a 10,200-ft. peak in the Rockies, temperatures dropped to 30 degrees. “Water bottles froze,” she says. “But the next day, we were riding in 115-degree heat.”

Robin also crashed at one point. Racing full-speed, her foot slipped out of a pedal clip. “I fell over, but got right back up and (despite a bruised knot the size of a golf ball on her leg) kept pedaling. “

Other lessons: “I discovered that I don’t need much sleep.” Also, “Respect your fears, but don’t let them hold you back. Just keep pushing. You’ve got to find the motivation in yourself.”

Favorite memory: “A ride late at night through Mercersburg, Pa. One guy was standing in the town square, all by himself at 11 p.m., and clapping for me. I don’t know,” she laughs. “Maybe he’d just left a bar, but he was applauding.”

Would she do it again? “If anyone asked me, I’d go tomorrow.”

A typical Thursday at Marian’s flower stand. . .

Arriving for the first concert in this year's organ recital series in a stretch limo, organist Todd Davis was running late. But he wanted to take his hosts, Peter Hewitt and Walter McAnney, to lunch.

"I'm afraid we haven't time. You'll need to rehearse," said Peter, warily eyeing the clock in his home at 1 Cedarn Point, where Pinch Road converges with Rte. 117 and Princeton Avenue.

But the organist insisted, asking his driver to take everyone to lunch—across the street to Mt. Gretna Pizzeria.

When the limo pulled up in front of the pizza parlor, jaws dropped as five people got out: Peter, Walter, Mr. Lewis, his page-turner and a woman who had accompanied them from York.

After they had eaten, everyone got back inside and drove to the opposite corner where Marian Brubaker was selling flowers, including some yellow lilies that Walter spotted from inside the limo and thought might add a nice touch to the recital.

"I'll walk them over to you," said Marian.

"I'll take you," said the driver.

So, with lilies in hand, Marian joined the group for the return trip to the Hewitt-McAnney residence 40 yards away. After everyone got out, the driver took Marian back to the stand where she's sold flowers, fruits and vegetables for nearly 40 years. But never on a day like that. It could only happen in Mt. Gretna.

How to keep in touch with all that’s going on in Mt. Gretna this summer? Check out these “Don’t Miss” Websites and e-mail bulletins:

? “This Week in Mt. Gretna” (email your request to A day-by-day chronicle of events all summer long, with last-minute calendar updates. Free

? Historical events: From Mt. Gretna’s historical society, which opened its museum last week.

? Chautauqua happenings: Added insights into special programs and educational opportunities, including “University for a Day” July 31.

? Tabernacle programs: A quick reference to events such as that July 20 concert by the Pennsylvania Flute Choir.

? Art Show updates: A new website, now with previews of art and artists that’ll be at the 2008 art show Aug. 16-17.

? Governor Dick events and newsletter: With full details on Summer Explorers Camp for children, Mission Discovery and other programs.

? Gretna Music: You never imagined that classical music could be such fun – and now you can buy tickets online, with a mouse click.

? Preview 2008 Tour of Homes: This year: A 1905 cottage that arrived on a wagon as a $125 kit from Sears, a dining room table where dinner guests carve their initials, and a porch where Charlton Heston, sipping a beer with locals, often relaxed.

? Gretna Theater: Smashing season? Yes, but the best is yet to come: “The King and I” July 17-27, following “All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten,” which winds up July 13.

? Cicada Festival: Hurry, tickets are already sold out for “Phil Dirt and the Dozers.” Others are going fast. Programs start Aug. 5.

Mt. Gretna’s tribute to the late Jack Bitner, who chronicled its history following retirement from a distinguished career as an aerospace engineer, takes place Aug. 1 at 7:30 p.m. in the Hall of Philosophy.

That date was originally scheduled to be Jack’s tenth annual “History of Mt. Gretna” presentation—when he had planned to discuss “topics I left out of my book.” He died March 14 at age 90.

Other happenings:

[] Former Mt. Gretnan Wendy Ulmer, who now lives in Maine, will be on the porch at Gretna Emporium from 7 to 9 p.m. July 11, signing copies of her whimsical new children’s book, “A Isn’t For Fox: An Isn’t Alphabet.”

[] Online artists listings ( sponsored by the Arts Council now feature Mt. Gretna-inspired artworks. Interested in displaying your works? Contact Jessica Kosoff (

[] Glen and Barbara Acker are showing 60 of their photographs and paintings this month at the Lebanon Valley Arts Council Gallery. Opening night: July 11, 5-8 p.m.

[] How to keep up with Princeton Ave. resident Bill Gifford, who writes about adventures on skis, wheels, wings and assorted other launching pads of the rich, the famous and the fascinating? Check out his blog ( ), where you’ll find the latest on Tour de France winner Greg LeMond.

[] Weather-related construction delays postponed the fire company’s building dedication ceremonies until sometime in September. Originally, they planned to dedicate their $300,000 expansion July 12.

[] The first seven weeks at Gretna Emporium (964-1820) have “exceeded expectations,” says owner Stacey Pennington. Besides a mind-tingling array of puzzles, games and imaginative home décor items, she offers Mt. Gretna Christmas tree ornaments likely to unleash another collectors’ craze. The 2008 edition is nearly gone.

[] Audubon Quartet cellist Clyde Shaw joins Gretna Music founder Carl Ellenberger at a Playhouse retrospective Aug. 19, looking back over the quartet’s 32-year relationship with Mt. Gretna.
During their weeklong engagement, the quartet will also explore music’s healing powers in behavioral healthcare work with Philhaven staffers and their patients.

[] One third of tickets to the fourth annual “Music Under the Stars” fundraiser at the lake Aug. 23 are already gone. Organizer Ceylon Leitzel says buying tickets ($18) in advance will guarantee a space under the tent for this Hershey Big Band event. Locally grown wines and bringing your own picnic basket (“We’ve seen some creative ones,” says Ceylon) are part of the fun at this affair, which benefits Mt. Gretna non-profits.

You’ll find this year’s art show exhibitors already online—with previews of the art they’ll be displaying Aug. 16-17 at

The only Mt. Gretna artists exhibiting this year: Madelaine Gray and Fred Swaar. “Most of our resident artists are getting older and deciding not to do it anymore,” says show director Linda Bell.

Surprises this year? “Look for decorative new touches on the exhibit grounds,” Linda hints. But, with the touch of a seasoned promoter, she stops short of explaining further. For a few more weeks, she’s content to let that tantalizing thought linger.

Questions Readers Ask

[] Now that Rte. 117 is being repaved, the average speed of cars going through Mt. Gretna seems to be increasing. What’s being done to control this? Although the mobile radar sign helps, it’s never posted west of town. And where are crosswalk signs like those you see in Hummelstown, Annville?

<> Cornwall police chief Bruce Harris says that after the roadwork is finished, they’ll be running speed checks as often as “manpower and scheduling allow.”
Cornwall owns two radar trailers, but one must stay in Cornwall Borough. The other flexes between Mt. Gretna and other places in West Cornwall Township. (In 2007, it was here about 21 percent of the time.)
“If Mt. Gretna wants to buy one of its own, that would be fine with us,” he says. (The units typically cost around $7,000.)
Chief Harris has already asked PennDOT to supply those hinged portable crosswalk signs (called ‘minicades’) for Mt. Gretna, but he’s not sure when they’ll arrive.

[] What colors are those Chautauqua buildings? The gals in our group say they’re yellow and green. The guys say they’re yellow and black. It’s a lively debate, and whoever is right wins a cheesecake.

<> Bill Care, the Wizard of Mt. Gretna, says this confirms what everybody should know by now: Women can see more colors than men.
The actual colors of the Playhouse, Hall of Philosophy, Information Center and other Chautauqua buildings are “April Yellow” and “Black Bottle Green.” (Adds Bill: “Please let the girls know that I really enjoy cheesecake.”)

[] We’re moving back to Mt. Gretna soon, and I want to find out how to join the tennis club. Whom should I contact?

<> Willy Brandt (964-3436) handles membership for the Mt. Gretna Men’s Club, which operates the tennis courts (as well as the picnic pavilion, shuffleboard courts and a barbecue pit).


Teachers, elementary schoolteachers especially, often leave behind a treasure trove of happy memories. They bequeath to others dreams, hopes, and joys—a kaleidoscopic assortment that sprinkles over generations with multiplying effects that even they themselves never realize.

Betsy Hambright spread such joys to the students whose lives she touched over 27 years as a fifth grade teacher. She and her husband John celebrated their 55th wedding anniversary last February. And she had enjoyed her years in Mt. Gretna, where she was a past president of the Chautauqua Auxiliary and a former secretary of the Chautauqua Board of Managers. She died July 6 at Spang Crest Manor. Besides her husband, a daughter, Lynn, survives her. A son, John S. Hambright, preceded her in death.

LESTER W. MILLER (1934-2008)

Some folks go through life with a perpetual twinkle in their eye. Les Miller—teacher, artist, father, coach, experimental airplane builder and alternative energy advocate—was one of those.

A teacher for more than 30 years, he was known in Mt. Gretna for his work as a jewelry artist and for his sense of humor. One New Year’s Eve, as trombonist Jim Erdman played Auld Lang Syne, he solemnly lowered a cardboard turkey buzzard from a flagpole.

On another occasion, he grumbled that although he’d created 32 shell jewelry items especially for an Outer Banks art show, he’d sold only a single piece. “Just goes to show, you can’t sell sea shells by the sea shore,” he lamented.

But he also delighted in his first acceptance into Mt. Gretna's juried art show. With others vying to get in from distant places like California and Florida, Les had only to walk down the hill from Lebanon Avenue, where he and Sylvia built their retirement home.

In addition to his wife, he leaves two daughters, three grandchildren, and a brother.

Finally. . . From our precarious perch at age 67, we ventured to offer super-endurance athlete Robin Smith a bit of advice after she finished that race from Oceanside, Calif. to Annapolis, Md. last month: “You’re 46 years old. Shouldn’t you be thinking about slowing down a bit?” we asked.

“I don’t want to burst your bubble,” she said, “but on that 3,000-mile Race Across America, I met a man from Berwyn making his first RAAM race. He’s 74 and plans to do it again next year.”

As we reached (again) for the Advil, we knew that thought was going to spoil the rest of our week.

Kindest regards,

Roger Groce

P.S. Our continuing thanks to the many folks who circulate this letter to friends. Alice Burgdorfer out in Phoenix, Ariz. receives it by e-mail, then promptly prints a copy and drops it in the mail to Alice McKeone, who’s lived in the Campmeeting for over half a century. After she reads it, Alice passes the letter along to her neighbor, Dorothy Frymeyer.

So when someone asks how many people read this letter, the answer is: We don’t know. But far more than we ever imagined when we began writing it seven years ago.

It is now a pleasurable retirement pastime, rich in rewards and pleasant associations. We thank all who help make it so.

And thanks also to our friends at Gretna Computers, you’ll find back issues on the Web at