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Mt. Gretna E-Mail Newsletter No. 90 January 9, 2009

Mt. Gretna E-Mail Newsletter

"A Bulletin For Folks Who Love Mount Gretna. . . Wherever They Happen to Live"
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No. 90                                                                                 January 9, 2009

To first-time visitors, the somnolent streets of Mt. Gretna may cast an impression that not much happens here in January. They assume that since the most visible signs of human activity are only occasional wisps of smoke from chimneys, most of the townspeople are either asleep or sunning themselves in Sarasota. Inside the cottages that are occupied, they imagine, the principal business at hand is a comforting collection of tea pots, warm woolen blankets and good books surrounding the fireplace.
However alluring, such visions overlook and undervalue winter's essence. For it is a time when the town renews its energies, lays plans for a satisfying summer to come, and brings to those who remain life-enriching gifts often unknown in places where garage doors open and residents disappear into suburban cocoons. 

In a town where cottages nearly touch, staying in touch ranks high. Regardless of what happens on Wall Street, what counts most on the streets of Mt. Gretna are familiar faces, shared experiences and the assurance that everyone here plays a vital role in making it all work.
Even as icicles drip and thermometers barely budge, the pulse and promise of spring surge forward. People are busy at work on diverse ventures such as the 2009 Summer Calendar, surely to be the most widely referenced document in town.

Those charged with shaping summer programs are assessing ideas and affirming commitments. Shapers of the Heritage and Cicada festivals are nailing down final details. Theater and music impresarios are putting final touches on their Playhouse offerings. And assorted community groups that delve into everything from afternoon bridge games to bird-watching rambles gather in steady assembly at places like the fire hall, the Nature Center and in private homes -- a diverse array of people who've mastered the art of making the most of a Mt. Gretna winter.
We report on some of those ingredients in this issue. Others we'll tackle in February and March, when we hope to have a report on the pace of the economy as it touches on life here as well as a commentary on what Mt. Gretna shares in common with Gretna Green, the Scottish town where weddings flourish and couples return often to recapture the glow of romance. For now, however, a few of the topics stirring in Mt. Gretna as the new year begins:

Last year, it was the blowout of the winter season, one of the most popular community events in fire company history. So this year, you may be certain that planners of the Jan. 24 Italian Night event -- a pay-what-you-want, eat-all-you-want fundraiser -- will be ready for big crowds with plenty of food from the kitchen of
Chef-on-the-Go Becky Briody. 
Becky's planning for another extravaganza, complete with pasta, her incomparable secret sauce and meatballs, plus salads, Italian breads, drinks and desserts. 

The doors open at 4 p.m., and servings from the bountiful buffet line will continue until 7. Come early. Bring your friends. It's guaranteed to be a social highlight of the winter this year in Mt. Gretna.

And the money you'll contribute couldn't go to a better cause -- the firefighters who protect our lives, homes and property year in and year out.


Sailing the murky seas of today's economy isn't getting any easier, but about a dozen  hearty Mt. Gretnans have discovered a way to ease the journey. They gather for an hour or so about twice a month at the Chautauqua Board Room to compare notes, share ideas and gain a better perspective while enjoying the company of neighbors.
"Ours are free-wheeling, respectful  discussions about what caused the problem, what's happening now and where the economy is likely to go from here," says Paul Heise, a retired Lebanon Valley College economics professor who guides the sessions, usually held on alternate Tuesday mornings.
"This is not light stuff," he says, "but a real attempt to get at the guts of what's happening and strip away the notion that the average person cannot understand the economy. Our premise is that it may take work, but our economy and finances can be understood by thoughtful citizens."
If you'd like to join them, drop Paul a
note. He'll keep you posted on meeting times, topical updates and changes in schedules.



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In Other News

[] Polar bear ambles coming this month and next at Governor Dick Park. First, "How to identify trees by their buds," at 12:30 p.m. tomorrow (Jan. 10). Next, "Spotting owls and other nocturnal creatures" at 6:30 p.m. Feb. 7 (followed by hot chocolate around the fireplace.) For details:
write for a copy of the park's latest e-mail newsletter:
 [] Odd Questions Dept.: Mt. Gretna Pizzeria's engaging Rose Bair, who's worked alongside owners Damian and Elidio Orea for the past dozen years, says her two favorite questions from callers are (1) "Do you folks carry pizzas?" And "Do you put cheese on your pizzas?"
(That tops our previous favorite, asked at the Information Center nearly every summer: "Do people really live in these cottages?")
[] Bright Idea Dept.: Maureen MacDonald, who's run the post office in neighboring Lawn for the past 16 years, came up with a "Free Box," placed just inside the door so neighbors can drop off their old magazines for others to also enjoy. Some patrons deposit unwanted issues the same day they arrive, she says. It's an idea everybody loves -- in a village even tinier than Mt. Gretna. 
[] News about organic produce from a Lancaster farm
co-operative, which may make Mt. Gretna deliveries next summer if enough people sign up, was the best-read item in last month's newsletter.
Heights resident
Susan Wood says order-sharing among two-person families is an increasingly popular practice.
The 25-week program offers locally-grown, freshly harvested and certified organic produce plus eggs, chicken, bison sausage, yogurt, raw milk, honey and maple sugar.   
[] Urging township supervisors to approve plans for a new residential community outside Lititz, a developer charmed officials last month by promising that his development would have a "craftsman cottage feel, similar to Mount Gretna," a
Lancaster newspaper reported.
[] The Cicada Festival's opening act Aug. 4 may be a familiar name, but it's one that no audience here or anywhere else has seen before. Organizer Ceylon Leitzel says the idea of blending Phil Dirt and the Dozers with musicians from the Hershey Symphony in a Beach Boys tribute evolved over the past several years. 
"It's never been done before," says Ceylon, "and it'll happen for the first time at the 2009 Cicada Festival."
With the lowest-priced tickets in town ($8 last year but likely to rise in 2009 due to greater costs for entertainers and reduced donations last year), the popular family entertainment series depends entirely on volunteers, ticket sales and donor contributions.
Other Cicada 2009 offerings will include The Vogues (with original lead singer Bill Burkette) Aug. 5; Baltimore's Shades of Blue Big Band Aug. 6; a Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin tribute Aug. 10; and the Main Street Cruisers, an oldies band well-known in the Lehigh Valley,  Aug. 11.
Order forms will go
online once organizers have settled on this year's ticket price. When the ticket office opens in June, volunteers will process orders on a first-come basis. Since many buyers order all five shows in the series, performances often sell out early.
The all-volunteer staff urges patrons to add generous donations to their orders whenever possible, since ticket revenues fall short of the festival's actual costs. 
[] He may not know much about American football, but when it comes to Mt. Gretnans' Superbowl Sunday favorites, Damien Orea's an expert.
This year, the impresario of Mt. Gretna's Pizzeria (964-1853) will offer on Feb. 1 two all-tax-included Superbowl Specials: Two large cheese pizzas and a dozen wings for $22 -- or, for less hearty appetites -- a single large cheese pizza with 12 wings for $13.99.
Damian and his dad Elidio run one of the most imaginative pizza shops anywhere in the county: Six days a week, starting at 7 a.m., they whip up breakfasts with everything from baked oatmeal to eggs-any-way-you-like-'em, delighting locals and making this THE spot to catch up each morning on all the goings-on in town. 
At mid-day, they switch the menu to an assortment of about 50 Italian specialties -- everything from salads, lasagna dinners, cheese steaks and chicken tenders to  pizzas (pepperoni's the favorite!).
And this month they rang in the new year with a traditional pork and sauerkraut dinner.  Not exactly your average pizzeria. Not by a long shot.
[] The Winterites resume their first-Tuesday-of-the-month-at-1 p.m. gatherings at the fire hall Feb. 3. Next: a Maggie Stroh retrospective, honoring their 1950 founder, with shared memories from those who knew her.  The programs continue through April with discussions on native plants, their importance to the environment, and the author of a mystery novel set in Mt. Gretna.

[] Wondering whatever became of your canoe? If you left it at the lake last September, it's probably now spending the winter alongside the borough's maintenance building, about half a mile down the road.
Notices posted last spring announced that abandoned canoes would be removed in September to make way for a clean-up, fix-up project.
Officials will decide what to do if canoes they hauled away remain unclaimed by fall. Meantime, if you're wondering about yours, call secretary Linda Bell (964-3231).
[] Never in doubt and unfazed by forecasts from her more famous cousins Punxsutawney Phil and Octorara Orphie, Penny the Penn Realty groundhog will be back in town Feb. 2, proclaiming winter's end and heralding the coming of spring.  
Exactly who is Penny? Nobody knows for sure, but noted Lebanon custom clothing designer Kate Smith did get a "furry outfit" order from Mt. Gretna several years ago.
And Penny, always freshly coiffed, has been showing up ever since -- dispensing coffee, smiles and frosty greetings to surprised travelers along Route 117.
Afterwards, she makes her annual trek across the highway to face tough questions from critical five-year-olds in Carol Mather's nursery school class. They're not sure who Penny is either, but they're smart. Many have been to Disneyworld and have developed finely honed instincts for distinguishing what's real from what's stuffed.



6 Years that Karen and Ceylon Leitzel have raised funds for Mt. Gretna area non-profits through their annual end-of-summer music and dance party at the lake.
They've already booked this year's "Music Under the Stars" event for Aug. 22, the first Saturday after the art show.
The Leitzels, who've owned a summer cottage in the Campmeeting for several years and will soon move to a year-round residence in Timber Hills, share proceeds from this popular end-of-season  event widely.
Their contributions have aided the fire company, Heritage Festival, the Campmeeting's Bible Festival, Mt. Gretna's United Methodist Church, a choral group and the volunteers at Lawn Ambulance.

100 Eagles hunting for fish from high above the Conewago Dam, Ravens battling Crows over the Susquehanna, and rare glimpses of everything from siskins and purple finches to pileated woodpeckers have delighted members of Mt. Gretna's Bird Club this winter. They sometimes even watch backyard birdfeeder action while enjoying breakfast at the homes of fellow members. Like to join them? Drop a note to Sid Hostetter and Evelyn Koppel for e-mail notices of special trips, meeting updates and weather cancellations.

ALICE V. McKEONE (1922-2009)

Shared qualities run through the lives of Mt. Gretnans who come to be regarded as legends. Quietly and without fanfare, they add to the lives of their neighbors -- with gifts of laughter, friendship, faith, comfort and compassion.

Alice McKeone, who lived out the last 64 years of her life in a cottage on First Street in the Campmeeting, knew both joys and tragedy. She and her husband raised five children there, three of whom survive. An eight-year-old son was killed while crossing Route 117. Another son, Thomas, a pastor, passed away last year. Her husband, George McKeone Sr., had died in the living room of the cottage she cherished, the cottage where she herself passed away last Saturday.

Yet she filled up her 86 years in joyful service to others. A few weeks before she died she was busy assembling prayer shawls to comfort others in times of stress. For more years than anybody can count, she devoted her life to the volunteer fire company, serving for over a decade as the ladies auxiliary president. She became known for her famous ham and bean soup, flavored with the Pennsylvania Dutch delicacy known as rivels and based on a recipe passed down by her grandmother. It was the essential ingredient in nearly 30 years of successful fire company fundraisers.

Alice left memories that several generations will honor. Such are the qualities of those who make a difference in the communities where they live.

Memorial contributions are being received by the Mt. Gretna fire company and by Mt. Gretna's United Methodist Church. Following a 1 p.m. graveside service at Mt. Lebanon Cemetery, 235 Maple St., Lebanon tomorrow (Jan. 10), a reception will be held at the church in Mt. Gretna.