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The Mt. Gretna Newsletter
“Mt. Gretna, Pa. . . . not a place, but a spirit” – Marlin Seiders

No. 86 Sept. 1, 2008


At precisely 11:44 on the morning of Sept. 22, the autumnal equinox will arrive. But that will be a non-event in Mt. Gretna, where calendars and metronomes run at their own private pace.

Here, fall will have already begun. Even before Labor Day, summer dwellers commenced the gradual ritual of shuttering their cottages, rolling up porch rugs, storing away rocking chairs and loading their overstuffed vans and SUVs for the trip home. A caravan of stereos, DVDs and countless other creature comforts rumbling off to winter havens. Before the first frost, Mt. Gretna's population will have dropped by 40%.

Those remaining breathe a huge sigh -- an admixture of fond memories tinged with sadness perhaps, but also the reassurance that another Mt. Gretna summer lies straight ahead.

Yet what a summer this one has been. August's month of music capped two full months of theater, recapturing the magic long associated with performances at the Playhouse. Attracting the biggest crowds as usual was an art show of remarkable quality, one that for many was the best they can ever recall.

Art show attendance was up 12.5% over last year, a feat unmatched by most art festivals elsewhere. Picture-perfect weather encouraged crowds to turn out for a glimpse of exquisite artwork chosen by a judges' panel that, to assure freshness, changes in its makeup every year. And even though the price of admission remained unchanged since 2005, gate revenues edged to a new high: $96,982.

Yet revenues and crowds are never the gauges by which Mt. Gretnans measure their art show. "Bigger is not necessarily better," says show director Linda Bell, radiating the quiet confidence of a woman centered on the show's original purpose: To encourage new and established artists, to lift the arts and to extend its pleasures to all who visit.

For anyone who cares to look more deeply, Linda extends an invitation to view the accounts. What they discover is that income and expense statements generally show overall revenues (including entry and booth fees as well as food stand income and ticket sales) of over $200,000, with expenses and community donations of roughly $130,000. What's left over helps launch the next year's show and provide a cushion for unexpected calamities -- like that storm which hit the Midwest recently, canceling an art show and requiring refunds.

Keeping the show small and grounded to its original aims may help explain its enduring vitality. As the Mt. Gretna outdoor art show enters its 35th year, Central Pennsylvania magazine readers recently voted it their favorite arts and crafts festival. Harrisburg Magazine readers have done the same.

Yet what accounts for its abiding appeal is probably not much different from that which has attracted people to Mt. Gretna for over a century: Summer afternoons of strolling beneath the trees, enjoying cultural pursuits, walking along narrow streets lined with cottages that date back to the late 1800s, and touching an elusive spirit of earlier times. It is a spirit that most feel instinctively, yet few are able to describe.


? Renovating a cottage? The Mt. Gretna Area Historical Society is assembling a list of contractors, craftsmen and other specialists experienced in restoring area homes and cottages. Earl Lenington, who heads the society's architectural preservation advisory group, invites builders and suppliers, as well as residents, to contact him at

? Traveling to Mt. Gretna can be hazardous. Craig Smith's family and three playmates avoided serious injury Aug. 16 when a large tree fell across Pinch Road, smashing their Chevy Trailblazer. It totaled the SUV but didn't spoil their plans. Friends took everyone to the lake and, later, to the Jigger Shop for ice cream. (See

Arlyne Meyer, who just turned 90, remembers when travelers encountered thugs hiding in low-lying tree limbs. As cars chugged up the hill to Mt. Gretna, scoundrels jumped onto running boards, robbing passengers (including her father) 70 years ago. But that never stopped Arlyne. Years later, she's still enjoying her 5th Street Campmeeting cottage.

? First "emerging artist" ever to win a judges' choice award at the Mt. Gretna art show: Cory Nogle, a 23-year-old Northumberland, Pa. woodworker.
Cory just earned a degree in fine art woodworking at Rochester Institute of Technology. His strongest source of inspiration: "Putting a smile on somebody's face."

? How to find volunteers? Needing seven more ushers with only two days to go before the Leon Redbone concert, Ben Wiley taped a "VOLUNTEERS WANTED" sign on his back and strolled into the art show volunteers' picnic. Within minutes, he'd signed up his quota.
"If you wanna find volunteers, look for 'em in their native habitat," says Ben, whose grandfather was an early Campmeeting minister and who has himself volunteered here for years. His 1905 cottage, "Jo-Ann," was on this year's tour of homes and gardens. (See

? Art show cofounders Bruce Johnson and Reed Dixon now appear on the growing roster of artists in the Arts Council's online gallery See

The lineup includes other well-known Mt. Gretna artists such as Carol Snyder, Barb Fishman, Madelaine Gray, Fred Swarr and about 24 others.

Available free to artists who have lived here or draw inspiration from Mt. Gretna, the site displays photos, website links, email addresses and other contact information. A handy site, especially for shoppers seeking special Christmas gifts they won't find in the malls. Email Jess Kosoff (

? What's Mt. Gretna's magic? "What's not to like?" asks Lancastrian Linda Stienstra, who drives up with her husband at least once a month. Linda's lively blog often cites their favorite lures: organ recitals, dinners at the Timbers, Jigger Shop sundaes and evenings at the Playhouse. See

Another perspective comes from Sara Achuff, a Harvey's Lake, Pa. teacher whose "Last Day of Summer Post" captures favorite views of cottages here. Sara grew up in Campbelltown and learned to swim at the lake. "I absolutely love to come and walk around Mt. Gretna," she writes. See

? Audiences who applauded Gretna Theater's stellar season will have yet another opportunity to deliver a standing ovation Oct. 11. That's the date for one of the year's grandest events, the 2008 Gretna Gala at the Hotel Hershey. The "black tie-encouraged" happening is an essential fundraiser for Gretna Theater, one of the nation's two oldest summer stock theater groups. Always elegant, the affair this year will include auction packages for out-of-the-ordinary vacations, elegant dinners, key sporting events, original art and jewelry.

? A wave of condolences began rolling across town last month even before the news was confirmed. David Clapper, a 46-year-old missionary pilot and son-in-law of Mt. Gretna "flower lady" Mary Hernley, died when his plane crashed in Indonesia Aug. 9. He leaves a wife, Beth, and five children. White Oak Church of the Brethren, 1211 N. Penryn Rd., Manheim, PA 17545 is receiving memorial gifts. See

? Repeat customers, as every entrepreneur knows, are like golden egg-laying geese.

Allegra and Allison von Hirschberg invoked that durable marketing principle in registering a 125% art show lemonade stand sales increase this year -- their fourth outside the Brown Avenue cottage of grandparents Ned and Emily Wallace. Another strategy: Smiles from the 12- and 10-year-olds that would light up the darkest corner of Africa.

Africa, in fact, is where the girls live with their parents, who own a computer company in Swaziland's capital. Money earned, some $270 this year, will go to pay school enrollment fees for orphans there. "People know us and come back," says Allegra. "Some left $10, even though they only ate a cookie."

? What Mt. Gretna's firefighters are up to this month:

[] Sept. 6, dedication ceremonies at 11 a.m. for that new $300,000 addition, providing room for more firefighting equipment. If you'd like to help pay off the mortgage, drop a tax-deductible check in the mail to Mt. Gretna Fire Company, P. O. Box 177, Mt. Gretna, PA 17064.

[] Sept. 13, that mouthwatering pig roast. Chef Becky Briody's tantalizing secrets include, we're told, Lawry's seasoned salt and a can of beer placed inside the roaster, right alongside the 235-pound guest of honor. The fun starts at 4 p.m.

? After judging quilt exhibitions from West Virginia to upstate New York this summer, Campmeeting resident Mary Zesiger is back in central Pennsylvania. She'll address a quilters group at Hershey's Derry Presbyterian Church Oct. 8 (at 7 p.m.)
A quilting teacher for more than 20 years, Mary has made Campmeeting summers a part of her life for the past six decades. She's a former registered nurse and once ran her own quilt and cross-stitch business. She and husband Rick moved here permanently in 2005.

? Kicking off a 59th season, the Winterites will sprinkle their catered noon luncheon Oct. 7 with insights into artist Eleanor Sarabia's latest project: a detailed model of Chautauqua's Literary and Scientific Circle Building.
In November, they'll hear an antique road show speaker. Donna Kaplan, 964-2174, has details on these and other "first Tuesday" monthly (except January) programs.

? Sharing memories, former art show chairman Karl Gettle and 94-year-old Patrick Bowman, who's spent the last 60 years in Mt. Gretna, will appear on a WITF-TV special, "Growing Up in Lebanon County" Sept. 8, 8-9:30 p.m.


35 Species of birds spotted at Governor Dick Park by the Mt. Gretna bird club, meeting at the park every Friday (9 a.m.).
Other park events: Ambles along the trails with naturalist Audrey Manspeaker (Sept. 13 and Oct. 11), shuttle to the tower for seniors (Sept. 13), "Workings of an Iron Furnace" (Sept. 14), night sky telescope views (Sept. 26), "Cornwall Railroads" (Sept. 28), map and compass reading (Oct. 11) and "November Nocturne," a 7:30 p.m. bon fire at the tower. Write for free newsletter ( or call 964-3808.

CATHERINE M. COX (1943-2008)

If, as is said, friendships form the strongest legacy, Cathy Cox, who died Aug. 24, leaves behind a rich legacy indeed. Friend, wife, mother and teacher, she and her husband Stan spent 26 memorable summers here.

Their cottage at Otterbein and Fourth Street in the Campmeeting became a kind of launching pad for Cathy's volunteer endeavors, which stretched across town from the Playhouse to the Tabernacle, and to the concession stand, the tennis club, the art show or wherever else she could find opportunities to help out.

That cottage was a haven that Cathy discovered on her own one weekend when her husband left on a hunting trip. When he returned, Cathy announced that she had found a "perfect" cottage and bought it on the spot. Fortunately, Stan quickly grew to love it, too.

On summer afternoons, she was often at the lake, sharing stories spawned by her Irish heritage or dispensing berry custard pies that delighted friends like Bill Harrington, Martha Brod, Ed Landis, Roland Nissley and John Davis. Those who knew her also knew her gentle kindness -- shaped, no doubt, by helping children, her own as well as those from the Philadelphia School District where -- for 30 years -- she had served as teacher, counselor and friend.


? Ronetta and Keith Krause discovered that their 16-year old poodle was lapsing into convulsions during the art show. Jack and Jane Anderson, volunteering at the information booth, quickly helped the Walnutport, Pa. exhibitors. Jack loaned Ronetta his cell phone so she could stay in touch with Keith, who was rushing to an emergency vet. Meanwhile, Ronetta tended to customers at her booth. After the show, with their dog safely back at home, Mrs. Krause sent a thank-you note: "Yours is by far the nicest show we've ever been to," she said.

? A week later, someone turned in a cell phone they'd found on steps leading up to the Hall of Philosophy. Scott and Jane Zellers were the information booth volunteers. With no cellular service available for the phone locally, Scott and Jane drove to a spot where they could call the last two numbers dialed and left messages. An hour or so later, the owner -- an international flight attendant living in Lancaster -- reclaimed his phone and offered to buy their dinner. The Zellers graciously declined.

? Outdoor worship services are another distinctive jewel of Mt. Gretna life. Organizer Don Zechman and volunteers Edie Hollinger and Bruce Gettle have made the Bible Festival a centerpiece of the community's spiritual life. And at Chautauqua services in the Playhouse yesterday, Chancellor Nancy Besch and pianist Mary Ellen Kinch were honored for 20 years of service. That follows a standard Mary Hoffman set. Now in her 90s, Mary's distinguished term as chancellor extended even longer.

? Earlier this summer, Linda Wilson found a six-pound snapping turtle, seemingly disoriented by the Route 117 construction, laying her eggs alongside a parking lot near the Jigger Shop. Several young kitchen crew members helped nudge the expectant mom to a safer nesting spot.

True, news like this would rarely make news in larger towns. But this, after all, is Mt. Gretna. And here, as we noted, life proceeds at its own distinctive, well-ordered pace.

Kindest regards,

Roger Groce


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