Mom didn’t have a clothes hamper.  She just dumped dirty clothes into a pile on the floor inside a bedroom closet.  When the pile was large enough, she’d put it into a laundry basket and take it to the wringer washing machine down in the basement.  I had a brilliant idea.  I took my brown modeling clay, made the best-looking dog turd you’ll ever see, and hid it in the pile. Mom was SURE that Tiny, my rat terrier pet, had pooped in the pile and wanted to beat the living he** out of her. I saved my dog by ‘fessing up and Mom was forced to suppress her laughter and act mad at me. She didn’t let on, but I think she was quite proud of me for having thought up the scheme.  After all, I was only 5 at the time.  Ok, now that I’ve got your attention, let me give you the details of my existence. 


Dad as a single man.

  Albert Warren Hontz, Sr. had first been married to Mae Hann 

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 and she had borne him three sons: Albert Warren “Warren” Hontz, Jr. in 1928; Robert Wadsworth Hontz in 1933; and Clifford Arden Hontz on January 22, 1940.  (In between Warren and Bobby, Mae had had a stillborn little girl in 1932.)  Unfortunately, Mae died of a cerebral hemorrhage while giving birth to Cliff and Albert was left a widower with three boys to raise. 

 "Albert and Mae’s first two sons, shortly before she died giving birth.”

"My youngest and oldest half-brothers.”  

 “All four of Albert’s boys together in one place (behind Cliff’s house) in 1968.  One of the few (maybe 4) times we were ever together as adults.”  

 “The very last time we were together, in 1987, when Warren’s wife, Janet, died.”

  Mae’s half-sister, Clara Calkins Holcomb stepped in to raise baby Clifford. Albert’s Mom, Fannie Johnston Hontz, came to live with him and the older two boys.

Albert remained unmarried for a little over two years. Then a fellow miner introduced him to Gertrude “Viola” Smith, a 36-year-old from Larksville who was well on her way to “old maidenhood”. 

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"Pictures taken by her best friend, Myrtle James and given to Ron Hontz some 40 years later.”   

“Picture probably snapped by Myrtle James.  Albert had Clark Gable’s ears. LOL”  

He married her on June 10, 1942. Viola’s first pregnancy, in 1944, had ended in the premature birth of the little guy who would have been my older brother, had he survived.  (An internet search for “How I Found My Little Brother” will turn up the story of how it took me over 50 years to learn I’d even HAD a little brother.)  I was born (on August 17, 1946) a year and eleven days after Hiroshima and the world hasn’t yet recovered from either event. LOL 

Warren had been 12 when his Mom died giving birth to Cliff.  Having lived that long with his birth mother, Warren didn’t take kindly to the new stepmother Dad brought home when he was 14.   He, too, went to live with his Aunt Clara and Cliff. 

Bobby, on the other hand, was only 7 when his Mom died, and, at 9, he readily took to his new stepmother.  Viola took him everywhere and was as proud of him as if her were her own child.  By the time I was born in 1946, Bobby was already 13.  When I was only 3, he was 16 and graduated from high school.  He eventually got a job in New Jersey and I saw him only on weekends. 

I apologize for having made you read that entire genealogy but it was necessary to explain how, despite having 3 older half-brothers, I was raised, essentially, as an “only child”.

I’ve already introduced you to my dog Tiny, so let me now tell of a few more adventures we shared.  Tiny, it seemed, was forever having puppies and we kept them in a box under the kitchen table until they were able to walk.  When I was only 5 or so, I already displayed my future liberal leanings, i.e, I cared for my fellow man AND all creatures.  From time to time Tiny would have to make a trip outside, leaving the puppies behind in the box.  Mom once found me, covered with dog poop, all curled up in the box with the puppies, caring for them in Tiny’s absence.  Tiny had a serious set of toenails, for we never trimmed them and that made it hard for her to navigate on the tiled kitchen floor.  She also had a hankering for bon bons.  I took great delight in rolling them across the floor.  She’d chase them and then slide head-on into a cabinet as she unsuccessfully tried to brake.   Being a rat terrier, she would also catch a few field mice that had found their way into our house but most mice we caught in traps.  I tried to induce her to eat the trap-caught mice but she seemed to favor only ones she herself had killed.  I solved that problem by tying a string around a dead mouse and then dragging it across the yard, causing it to “jump” as it encountered clumps of grass.  That satisfied her “live” requirement and she’d pounce on it to feast.

My first few years with Mom were a true delight.  She took me along as her “bag boy”, carrying her sample bag as she sold Avon, Christmas cards, and nylons door-to-door around Sweet Valley.  The best parts were when we stopped at houses where other little boys lived, as I then had someone to play with as she sold items to their mothers.  Bobby Kunkle was a year younger than me and had, among his toys, a little fire truck since his Dad was the fire chief.  He didn’t want me to play with it, though, and once smacked me in the head with it.  Bob grew up to be a teacher and then a principal but, strangely, he never remembered this event from when I was 4 and he was 3. 

Inasmuch as Mom went door-to-door peddling her products, some peddlers also came to our “black house” (see below) but I don’t recall them coming later to the new house.  The reason for that is that, most likely, Mom was usually found at home in the black house.  Later, just Dad and I lived in the new house and the peddlers wouldn’t have found as much of a market there.  Most prominent in my mind is the “Rawleigh Man” who came around with his truck and sold all sorts of salves, ointments, and oils.  From Internet research as I write this, I see that the Rawleigh company had been around since 1899, and also sold such things as flavoring extracts like vanilla.  The Jewel Tea man also came around but I don’t recall what all he sold other than tea and coffee. 

Mom also once took me to a “party” at the home of Stella Kittle where a salesman was demonstrating amazing new “waterless cookware”.  I’m not sure of the manufacturer but it may have been “TowneCraft Cookware”. I was way too young to know exactly how it worked, so I hereby turn to my proofreader, Sharon Strzelczyk Robinson to explain it, because she still owns a set of these pots that her future mother-in-law bought.  “The “waterless cookware” salesperson would offer to cook a free meal for a person, asking the person to invite friends over to sample the meal and to see how well the cookware worked.  The lids fit so tight on the cookware that very little oil/butter was required.  The steam from the meal being cooked rose up, hit the lid, then “showered” down on the food, keeping it tender and moist.  If used correctly, there was very little chance of burning anything.  The expected end result was that the host and guests would all buy some or all of the set of pots and pans.  The host received additional cookware based on the amount(s) purchased by the guests.”

Religion-wise, Dad and Mom took me to a Methodist church back on Mooretown Road.  I recall a Halloween party held in the church hall.  Dad and Mom won the best-costume prize for disguising themselves as Lord Plushbottom (from the Moon Mullins comic strip) and Gravel Gertie (wife of B.O. Plenty from the Dick Tracy strip).  The hall rang with laughter as they unmasked, for Dad and Mom had pulled off the ultimate disguise; they’d puled a gender-switch.  Dad had been Gravel Gertie and Mom was Lord Plushbottom!! Halloween was also an occasion for Mom to dress me up and take me “trick or treating” around Mooretown.  In modern times, “trick or treating” has evolved into “You’d BETTER give me a treat, sucker, or I’ll TP your house!”  In the late 1940’s and early 1950’s, however, I had to sing “Jesus Loves me” to earn my treat.  I specifically recall doing just that at the home of Bruce Rosencrans. I’m told by Freda Kittle that the Mooretown Methodist church eventually closed because it lost its pastor.

We then began attending the “Brick Church” in the middle of Sweet Valley where the pastor was Rev. Ira Button.  That’s where I learned to sing “The Doxology”, which was always the final song of the Sunday School session. I and the other small boys made a mad dash for the door as soon as its last note, “Amen”, was sung.  Christmas was a special event at that church.  My earliest theatrical lesson was learned then, for I was given a “piece” to recite.  Unfortunately, while I excelled at learning my lines, my timing left a lot to be desired.  I began the recital as I left my front-pew seat and headed up onto the stage.  By the time I reached center stage, I was done, so I turned around and headed back to my seat.  Most church members would also bring at least one present to be handed out at the Christmas pageant.  Mom’s present to Dad was a large aluminum tub to be used to haul ashes from our furnace to the driveway to serve as traction on the winter ice.  “Santa” looked at the name tag on it and loudly pronounced “Albert Hontz! Albert Hontz! ”, merrily thumping on the tub all the while.  Dad was mortified and shrunk into his pew, all red-faced and with ears a’twitchin’.  (I inherited that gene from Dad and I, too, can twitch my ears upon request.)

Mom had been an avid churchgoer as a single woman and had been given a Bible for years of faithful attendance at her church in Larksville.  I kept that Bible into my adult years, long after Hurricane Agnes thoroughly soaked it in the 1972 flood.  I guess I eventually trashed it.  In my teen years, I also trashed any religious beliefs I had held and the ensuing years have only strengthened my resolve in that direction.  I will write more later about that transformation.

I had a favorite childhood hangout just up the road at the home of Fred and Isabel White. 

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 “Ready for more biscuits. Courtesy of Everett White.”  

Isabel baked the tastiest biscuits and I’d arrange to be there as she removed them from the oven.  Buttered while still piping hot and dunked in cocoa, they were an absolute taste treat.  Fred and Isabel had two kids; Everett, who was 13 years older than me and hung out with my brother Bob, and Dorothy, who was 7 years my senior.  (I think Mom MAY have left me with Isabel in day care while she worked over town in a cigar factory but Dorothy can’t recall if that’s true or not.)  Suffice it to say, I headed for the Whites’ house every chance I got, even when Mon told me not to.  Once was in the winter time and I thought I had brilliantly covered my tracks.  I CARRIED my sled all the way with no thought at all about the footprints I was leaving.  LOL  I’d head up there despite two grave dangers: Fred had a mean billy goat and a mean duck.  As I approached the house, I’d furtively hide behind one small evergreen tree and then the next, keeping an eye out for that danged goat who’d butt me off my feet if he got the chance.  From the last tree, I’d run screaming for Isabel to open the door, hoping that I’d make it to their porch before the goat caught me.  Fred made that duck mean because he’d make it fly up to pick bread out of his pocket.  He and I once headed across the road to remove nails from the pile of boards left when he’d torn down his old shed.  I said, “I hope that duck doesn’t come around” which only led Fred to call out “Here, duck, ducky!”  Sure enough, that winged menace made an appearance, nipping at my ankles.  Terrified, I threw my hammer and I think, broke its wing.  Fred then got mad at me but I could only say “You KNEW I was afraid of him!”  The Whites also had four items I DID enjoy playing with: a player piano a kaleidoscope, a View Master , and an old-fashioned stereopticon and  (Some 50 years later, I found occasion to tie the Whites into my story, which can be found at “The Legend Of Juber White”.)

My first 3-plus years or so were spent living in what we later called the “black house” even though, decades later, as this picture shows, the Stroud family had painted it white.  

I’m not sure how old the house was, and it MAY have dated back to a Civil War vet named Daniel Hontz.  Dad bought it in 1937 but never got around to adding siding to it.  Thus, it remained covered only by black tar paper all the time we lived there.  A hand-powered pump in the kitchen was the extent of our indoor plumbing, bringing water from the spring house 100 feet away, and we had an outhouse downhill from that.  We had a phone on the wall, a phone that was operated by a crank.  Incoming calls were signified by “two longs and a short” while outgoing calls would be placed through a local operator sitting at a switchboard in her home.  All phone lines were party lines and Mom would often listen to neighbors’ calls to pick up on the local gossip. 

In late1949, after I’d turned 3 in August, Dad began to build a new house below our old black house and fronting on what was then PA State Route 115.  (A few years later it was changed to Route 118.) 

“New house under construction is seen in the upper-left corner of the picture on the left.  The old black house is seen behind me in the right-hand picture.” 

Dad had only an 8th-grade education but, somewhere along the line, he had learned carpentry.  (In my late-50’s, while doing genealogical research, I ran across one Jasper Hontz, who had been Dad’s first cousin, once-removed.  Jasper was 55 years older than Dad and lived on the very next farm to my Grandpa’s where Dad grew up.  Jasper had built the house on that farm as well as two other houses around Sweet Valley, judging from their matching style, all the way down to the “gingerbread” around the eaves.  I’d say it’s a fair guess that Dad was taught carpentry by Jasper.)  In any case, Dad built 98% of his entire new house by himself, bringing in specialists only for the kitchen cabinetry and bathroom tiles.  My brother Bob would help out on weekends when he came home from New Jersey, and I specifically recall them up on the roof together, tacking down shingles in the Spring of 1951.  I was their water boy, carrying cold water down from the spring and, most of the time, spilling about half of each pail full on the way.  I’d tie it onto a rope and they’d haul it up to the roof.

The new house was quite the showplace for the times and all visiting females went away marveling at the hardwood floors.  It featured 3 bedrooms (one down and two up), a kitchen, living room, and dining room, with a finished basement.  By “finished” I mean that it had a concrete floor, into which both my and Mom’s handprints can still be seen 50 years later.  Dad also installed in the basement something I don’t think I’ve ever heard of another house having.  From his friends on his former job with the state roads department he obtained a piece of terra cotta pipe normally used to convey water though culverts.  It had been slightly cracked and was probably going to be pounded to pieces and used as roadbed because it wouldn’t stand the weight of tons of earth atop it.  Dad patched the crack with some cement and it served his purpose.  It was a junction piece used to connect one pipe to another.  It had a diameter of maybe 2 and ½ feet on its widest end and 2 feet on the smaller end.  Dad stood it one end and set the lower end into a concrete foundation right on the basement floor.  A 1” copper pipe brought water from our spring and filled this new reservoir.  On its way to the house, it was buried deep enough below ground to avoid freezing in the winter.  Dad cut a small notch in the rim of the reservoir Overflow spilled down into a small channel cut into the floor, on out through an exterior wall, and into a ditch outside.  We thus had a ready source of “running water” that afforded us a cool, refreshing drink even during the hottest summer days.

Best of all, our new house had a BATHROOM!  No more going to the outhouse on cold winter nights. Televisions had come into the marketplace around 1947 but Dad thought they were an extravagance, so we did without. In the dining room we did have a black rotary phone that sat on a small table. Our phone number had changed from “one long and two shorts” to a 7-digit number that began with GR-7.  The GR stood for GReenleaf much as Ted Mack’s call-in-to-vote number was JU(dson) 6-7000.  (In 2008 the GR-7 still lurks behind Sweet Valley’s 477.) 

In the black house, we’d had a large piece-of-furniture-sized floor model Philco radio with a large green eye that grew brighter or dimmer as one got closer or farther from an exact AM frequency.  It even had a short-wave band but FM hadn’t yet been invented. In our new house, it was replaced by a table-model radio. Our first record player was a small adjunct unit that utilized the radio’s speakers. It came from the factory with only a skinny spindle in the center, meant for playing 78’s and 33’s.  I suspect that the music business folks had later come up with a bright idea that would make us buy new players; they invented 45’s which had MUCH larger holes.  That bright idea, like many, was defeated in the after-market, by some genius who came up with a larger-diameter adapter to fit over the skinny spindle.  With it, we were able to play the 45’s that were bought mostly by Bob.  (About two years ago, in 2006, Bob was absolutely SHOCKED when I e-mailed him an MP3 of “The Johnson Rag”, one of the 45’s he’d bought in 1949 or 1950.  He found it totally amazing that I remembered a song I hadn’t heard since I was 4 or 5 years old.)

We had no kindergarten in those days, but Mom made sure that I was ready for first grade.  By the time September, 1952, rolled around, I knew my ABC’s and could count up to 100 and beyond.  Sherm Kunkle picked me up with his bus right in front of our house and delivered me to the Mooretown (a\k\a “Retreat”) one-room school just a mile west of there.  (I was lucky, for both Warren and Bob had had to walk to school and they had just returned from there on January 22, 1940 to learn their Mom had died.)  Warren grew up to be an Electrical Engineer and, even as a child, he’d been precise in his ways.  At age 70 or so, he told me that it had been EXACTLY one mile to school and I checked it with my car’s odometer.  The sonuvagun was RIGHT!) 

The Mooretown school was taught by Myron Moss and he handled grades 1 through 8 in one large room.  Each grade would take its turn in the front row as their lessons were taught but the entire rest of the room could overhear what they said.  It was no real trick to learn beyond your current grade level and both Warren and Bob had “skipped a grade” and graduated from high school at age 16.  We first graders were tested on our counting and, for that, Mr. Moss used the two halves of a box that had held 12 dozen pencils.  We would count 100 marbles from one half into the other half.  It HAD to be extremely boring to listen to our counting aloud and he’d sometimes doze off.  I counted only 97 on my first try and he made me do it over again.  I again got 97 and then made HIM count them.  Dang it—I was RIGHT!  Some little bugger had stolen 3 of the marbles!  Once a week we sang from an old yellow songbook; such songs as “Reuben and Rachel”, “A Spanish Cavalier”; and even a Czech folk song entitled “Stodola Pumpa”.  I have seen that “Golden Book Of Favorite Songs” for sale on e-Bay but it got too pricey at auction and, besides, I have my memories to sustain me.  We wrote in tablets that bore the legend ”Education Is the Bulwark Of Our Nation”. I had no earthly idea what a bulwark was but it sure felt good to be part of one anyway.  The school had a coal-fired furnace and each grade took a weekly turn hauling in buckets of coal and drinking water for a large urn.  I think that each of us brought our own cup for drinking from the urn.  Still, even with personalized cups, it’s a true miracle that we didn’t all come down with some sort of plague.  Sanitation-wise, we had two outhouses and we boys learned it was great fun to terrify the girls in theirs.  We’d wait until they got comfortably seated and then we’d whack the living he** out of the back of the outhouse with a large stick.  Corporal punishment was allowed in those days. Such tricks would earn us about three slaps on the butt with Mr. Moss’ “rubber paddle”  which he’d fashioned from about 10 layers of inner tube melted together.  I once earned five slaps for having dropped a huge piece of tree bark on his son, Bob Moss, while we were building a fort at lunch time.  Bob says he doesn’t recall me doing that to him but I sure remember the paddling.

Mom had, I think, worked in a cigar factory before she got married and I know she did at some point after I was born.  Bob can’t confirm the dates when she worked but I have a vivid memory of Dad taking me to pick her up at work more than once.  We had, as far as I know, only one car, a 1952 Chevy that we bought from Warren Boston, and I can’t quite figure out how she GOT to work if we had the car to go pick her up.  Maybe we took her to and FROM work.  She may have carpooled with another lady or maybe she only worked there when Dad was laid off from the mines.  I’m pretty sure the cigar factory was on South Main Street in Wilkes-Barre and it may have been the Consolidated Cigar factory.  He’d park the car and send me in to get Mom.  I knew which floor she was on and could tell the elevator operator where to go and, once there, I knew the way to her machine.  Wow!  The smell of that raw tobacco was enough to nearly knock over a small lad but, even worse than that was the reception I got from the other ladies.  They insisted on patting my head, pinching my cheeks, and telling me what a nice little boy I was!

Dad had worked at several jobs over the years.  I can place him in 1935, at age 31, as a boss at the ice dam up at Mountain Springs.  In 1937, he was part of the crew that paved Route 115 for the first time, turning it from a wagon road into an official state highway.  I guess he went where the money was, for, following that, he went into the anthracite mines all around the Wyoming Valley.  Two kinds of guys worked in the mines, laborers and official “miners” that had “mining papers” issued by the state of PA.  Dad was one of the latter.  A couple of times, on his day off, he took me to see where he worked.  It was a “slope” mine where one descends down a gradual slope from the surface rather than ride an elevator down in a “shaft” mine.  He took me inside the engine house where a huge wheel would pull a sometimes-miles-long steel cable to bring out the filled coal cars.  A number of “dings” on an electrical bell would tell the wheel operator how many cars were coming this trip and, therefore, how much power the wheel needed.  The cars traveled on steel tracks and, long after the cars were out of sight, the miners could hear them through the rails.  The deeper they dug, the longer the sound would last, for it took longer and longer for the cars to reach the surface.  If the sound ever stopped before it should, they’d all dive into “headers” which were wider than the main tunnel.  They’d hug dear Mother Earth and pray, for an early cessation of sound meant the cable had snapped and runaway cars were headed back down their way.  The trailing cable could whip around and cut a man in half!  As a miner, Dad’s main job was to figure out where to drill holes and then place the dynamite inside.  With a shout of “Fire in the hole!” everyone would duck for cover to avoid the blast.  Sometimes they wouldn’t get fully around a corner before detonation.  Dad had innumerable small pieces of coal under the skin of his hands and even a few pieces alongside his nose from the times he wasn’t quick enough.  My guess is that, with the rising price of coal, by the time he died in 1976, he was worth a couple of hundred dollars.

Dad would often carpool to the mines with George Sabaluski, who lived just down the dirt road from us.  Joe was, I think, a laborer while Dad, as I have said, was a miner. As “King Coal” was dying off around the Wyoming Valley, there would be times when George’s help wouldn’t be needed but Dad’s was.  (I guess there were also stretches when neither was needed, which would account for Mom working in the cigar factory.)  Sometimes when Mom needed our car to peddle her Avon and other products, we’d take the two men to work and then go back to get them when their shift ended.  I can recall them coming out of the mine totally filthy and I’d follow them into the washhouse (which my buddy, Rich Bronson says was also called a “shifting shanty”.)  They’d gone there before work carrying their clean clothes for after work.  The clothes had been loaded into a small wire basket and, by using a chain hoist, raised up near the room’s ceiling, well above the shower heads.  After the men had showered, they’d lower the clean clothes back down and don them.  Quite often, on the way home, the men would make Mom stop at a neighborhood tavern.  In that they had allowed 5-year-old me into their washhouse with all those naked men, they also took me into the tavern.  There I’d see them put into action an expression that, I found out in the 1970’s and 80’s, people in Richmond, VA and elsewhere found hard to believe.  When someone once asked too much of me, I queried “Whaddya want, eggs in yer beer?” I then proceeded to tell them that I had SEEN miners do just that; place a raw egg in their beer and swallow it, so as to wash the coal dust from their throat.

One night when just Dad was working, Mom and I went to get him.  However, this night was way different from all the preceding nights.  Mom was crying all the while on the drive to the mine and, outside the mine were flashing lights.  Men were being unloaded from the coal cars, placed on stretchers, and hurried away in ambulances!  There had been a cave-in and Dad was among those hurt.  I don’t recall a whole lot about his recovery period but Bob and others have since told me.  He’d suffered a broken back and fractured pelvis and his leg had been broken in three places.  He spent six months in a body cast.  It was very fortunate not only that he hadn’t been killed (like I found out in my mid-50’s, Mom’s Dad, Joe Smith, was back in 1911, some 35 years before I was born.)  It was also quite fortuitous that he’d managed to finish building our new house shortly before the accident.

As I recall, Mom had a problem with severe headaches all her life, due to, I guess high blood pressure.  I’m not sure what medications she took for them. She may have also had some orthopedic troubles, too, for I went with her several times to see a chiropractor.  I was such a little devil that she couldn’t leave me alone in the waiting room lest I tear it up, so I accompanied her into the treatment room.  While she was on the table get twisted and bent, I played with the plastic skeleton in the corner.

January 17, 1953 was a watershed date in my life.  I had started first grade just four months earlier.  It was a Saturday and Bob was home from New Jersey for the weekend.  Mom had taken to bed with a splitting headache and then Bob and Dad had to take her to the hospital.  I was sent up to Isabel and Fred White’s house.  Bob came to get me later and told me that Mom had died!  Her death certificate, which I obtained when I was in my 50’s, said the cause of death was “cerebral apoplexy”.  That is defined as “General symptoms, which people with hypertension or arteriosclerosis (hardening of artery) experience before an attack of paralytic stroke, are known as cerebral apoplexy” at

Psychiatrists say that we tend to block out unfavorable memories and I believe them.  I have no memory whatsoever of being told Mom had died.  Beatrice James, daughter of Mom’s best friend, Myrtle, told me that she looked after me and neither one of us went to the funeral.  I MUST have done a considerable amount of crying and moping about in the days following her death but those memories have totally gone from my mind.

Initially, Dad tried to hire someone to look after me when I got home from school and he hadn’t yet come home from work.  He sought out a neighbor lady, Allie Edwards, but she wanted $25 a day for just a few hours’ work, an outrageous amount in 1953, and Dad declined.  He was left with just telling me to not get into any trouble before he came home and I guess I followed that advice somewhat.

As one would expect, the death of a parent when one is only 6 has a lasting effect on one’s life.  In my case, the major effect didn’t show up until 5 years later but, when it did, it was a doozy.


Next up: Mooretown: Age 6 to 11.


Written in February, 2008 by



Ronald E. Hontz

33 Whitcraft Lane

Shrewsbury PA 17361

(717) 235-5791

cell phone (717) 309-1402