Summer things never change Chicken-corn soup and other traditions in the Penryn Picnic Grove

By on August 22, 2012

By: JANET SCOUTEN Record Express Correspondent, Staff Writer



Photos by Stan HallThe Penryn Picnic Grove was a festive setting for last weekend's Sunday school picnic, a community event that has been going on for well over a century.

In the countryside between Lititz and the neighboring community of Penryn, the end of summer is making itself known. Corn stalks are taller than a full-grown man, tobacco leaves are drying in the barns and the fertile land of Lancaster County is ripe with the bounty of the season.

The past 100 years have brought changes large and small to this area, but one thing has remained constant — last Saturday’s annual St. Paul Evangelical Lutheran Church picnic in the grove off Penryn Road.

For generations, this church picnic, open to the community at-large, has been a sweet farewell to summer days. As seasons and years have passed, the little children who once ran around underfoot are now the elders of the group, sharing their wisdom and memories with new generations.

At least five generations of one family in particular, the Galebachs, have attended St. Paul. With the branches of this family tree woven throughout the church, Galebachs young and old serve alongside other members at the picnic in a variety of functions.

Bustling around in their navy blue St. Paul Evangelical Lutheran Church t-shirts, with the words "Celebrating 260 Years of Bearing Fruit" imprinted in lime green, church members were easy to spot in the crowd.

Chanda Galebach, who has belonged to the church for her entire 60 years, has recently served as the picnic’s flower lady, arranging mason jars of summer blossoms on each table. This year’s bouquets included zinnias and a local variety of Black-eyed Susans that Chanda said are "almost like weeds around here, there’s so many of them."

"Many years ago, there was a couple who used to grow all the flowers for the picnic," she explained, but now various families donate what they have available from their gardens.

Behind the dessert counter, one of St. Paul’s longest-standing members, Ilene Landis (nee Galebach) waited to dish up her famous home-baked pies.

With sparkling eyes and a ready smile, Ilene has been attending this picnic for 84 years, first as a babe-in-arms with her mother and father in 1928, and now as the matriarch of pies.

Baking her pies at home from scratch, Ilene spends Wednesday preparing the crusts and Thursday making crumbs for her crumb-topped pies. All day Friday is spent in the kitchen, baking her final creations.

Serving her famous coconut-molasses pie, vanilla pie and pecan pie to a long line of picnickers, Ilene reminisced about a time when pies now out of fashion used to be popular — a sweet green tomato pie and lemon sponge pie, among others.

Ilene’s favorite early memories of the picnic are the cake walks, which continue to this day. Church members donate cakes, and cake-walkers vie for a chance to take one home. Ilene reminisced about cake baker Mary Shenk, "who always made the best cakes, decorated with nonpareils."

Fellow pie-server and baker Brenda Sweigart remembered winning the cakewalk twice in her youth. One year, there was a tie, and so she had to cut the cake in half with another winner.

One generation younger than Ilene, Brenda has been coming to the St. Paul picnic since she was four years old.

Brenda, along with other longtime members of the church, explained that, until about five years ago, the young people of the church acted as waiters and waitresses, walking the aisles between the long picnic tables, serving soup and other picnic foods from trays.

Laughing and wrinkling her nose a bit at the memory, Brenda remembers waiting tables as a teen, saying, "My mother made me do it."

Now switched over to a cafeteria-style self-serve plan, St. Paul’s picnickers walk through the food line, first selecting their fruit cups or watermelon, moving onto the main course, and finally reaching the desserts, including ice cream.

For Liz Bartsch, 19 years old, one of her earliest memories of the picnic is the colored plastic lights that hang at the ice cream station.

As she took her turn monitoring the bouncy castle, with children literally bouncing off the walls inside, this member of the younger generation said with affection for her church, "My family is very involved."

When she was a very little girl, Liz remembered, "I always got so excited about this picnic."

She recalled her parents giving her a handful of dollars each year at the picnic and being able to use it to buy whatever she wanted for dinner, using the remainder for treats.

The most popular dinner item on the picnic menu, by far, is chicken-corn soup, made on the premises in giant iron cauldrons.

Soup Man John Schreiber has been helping make the famous standard for the past 20 years, since he married into the church family. Some of the hardest working folks at the picnic, John and his team fill up iron pots with tasty ingredients into make five cauldrons worth of soup.

For another man who married into the church, Henry Kensinger, the famous soup has always been his best memory. Married to Mary Alice (Galebach) Kensinger, Henry serves as the picnic cashier, noting exactly which picnic foods are the day’s bestsellers. According to Henry, it’s always the soup:

"Everybody likes it. Everybody has it on their tray."

As picnickers finished making their dinner selections, Lancaster’s Malta Band began setting up under a tin-roofed pavilion with rough log posts and wooden rafters. The band, celebrating 100 years, received its first charter in early 1912 from the Knights of Malta lodge in Lancaster, holding its first concert on March 1, 1912.

Now under the direction of conductor Bruce "Bo" Weaver, the band’s opening set for this year’s picnic honored its history by featuring popular music from 100 years ago. Kicking the concert off with the national anthem, the 1912 songs that followed included "Poet and Peasant Overture," "HMS Pinafore," "March Grandioso" and crowd-pleaser "Take Me Out to the Ball Game."

To help commemorate 100 years of the Malta Band, St. Paul’s choir director and organist J.P. Welliver coordinated with other church members for a donation of well over 100 celebratory cupcakes.

J.P., who at 24 years old is one of the church’s younger members, revels in the summer tradition of an annual picnic in the grove.

"Everyone comes together and it’s such an amazing experience," he said. "It’s simply not the end of summer without this picnic." More PICNIC, page A16