Category Archives: Published articles

“Bold & Bling: What’s Hot? What’s Not?”

A/N: This article was previously published in the December issue of BusinessWoman magazine.

By: Rosalba Ugliuzza

The beauty of jewelry is special; it’s a personal extension of fashion that brings versatility. From bold to bling, jewelry gives a touch of confidence to a woman that can transform her to a precious darling or a sexy diva.

And with the seasons changing, so do the trends. Whether the hottest piece of jewelry is a big, bold pearl, a unique colored gemstone, or sterling silver, one thing is for sure each year: Customers want to be wowed.

“Jewelry is such an emotional purchase, whether that emotion is a celebration or a reward. At Mountz Jewelers, we always want to fulfill that need for a customer. We stay current with the trends,” said Cherie Grove, manager of Mountz Jewelers in Camp Hill and a Certified Gemologist Appraiser. “Customers want something that will wow them, and that they can be proud wearing because its unique.”

Year after year, the diamond still proves to be a girl’s best friend as it is a timeless classic for every woman to own.

“Diamonds stud earrings never go out of style,” Grove said.

With a lot of the young people, particularly children of the baby boomers, getting married, bridal jewelry is selling like hotcakes.

More diamond engagement rings are being set in white gold rather than yellow gold to amplify the unique look.

“Right now, we see so many of the diamonds surrounding the diamonds, and it gives this great look that is big,” said Julie Gantz, manager of Warren Jewellers in Lancaster. “It’s bold, but it doesn’t have the gloss of one single diamond itself. A lot of sparkle or a lot of glamour that comes out of, for example, halo settings.”

Grandma-style pearls may be out the door, but big, bold, colored or white pearls are still in style.

Pearl jewelry has become so versatile for women that they wear them with a t-shirt or with a little black dress at a party to mimic Jackie Kennedy.

“We’ve found pearls are really, really big right now,” Gantz said. “A lot of pearl bracelet styles are out there.”

Gantz said while chic is in, many people are taking the classic look and injecting it with their personal flavor. For example, an 18-year-old customer was shopping for her prom and ultimately bought a double-strand pearl necklace and pearl earrings and bracelet at the store because she wanted to look like Audrey Hepburn from Breakfast at Tiffany’s.

“Colored pearls give it their own unique taste. It’s not something that’s too expensive or out of reach for most women,” she said. “It’s a really special moment when we can all look at someone going to their prom, and they want to look like Audrey Hepburn.”

According to the Chinese calendar, 2012 marked the year of the dragon, which symbolizes wealth, prosperity, protection, and love in the Asian culture. Designer brand John Hardy is one of the leading designers using traditional Balinese jewelry-making techniques and patterns to create modern pieces that incorporate the dragon motif. It is also a staple brand at Mountz Jewelers.

“Known as the Naga Collection, the dragon is the inspiration behind every piece of the collection. Naga earrings may reflect the scales of the dragon, while one of the bracelet’s clasps features the dragon head. The pearls and circles in the Naga Collection all symbolize love,” Grove said.

Bracelets have become popular and cover entire gamut from chunky and block-colored to beaded bracelets in rainbow hues, especially with Pandora jewelry.

“The Pandora brand offers jewelry in addition to the charms and releases a collection every fall. They’ll do the same thing in the spring as well,” said Grove. “Every season, customers have the opportunity to add the new, fresh beads, which is wonderful.”

Stackable rings from Pandora have become a hot trend as well, according to Gantz.

“You can come in and buy yourself a new ring starting at $25 and be able to mix and match colors and be able to not wear the same ring every single day,” she said. “A lot of gemstones in the designs are big, bold trends (at Warren Jewellers).”

Gemstones in any color are still a hit with customers, while the traditional birthstone jewelry is a thing of the past. Since the inception of autumn, rough-cut quartz has become popular with its brown hue that one can wear with neutrals or any fall wardrobe.

Keeping up with the trends can be a fun, enjoyable, shopping experience for customers and jewelry designers and salespeople. However, no matter the style or the trend, every client is unique.

“As the customers continue to change, the designs will have to continue to evolve, and Mountz Jewelers will continue to offer a unique and diversified selection of jewelry for our clients,” said Grove. “So it all kind of goes together to fulfill that needs of each client when they’re looking for a beautiful, special place.”

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Posted by on February 11, 2013 in Published articles


October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month

A/N: 1 in 8 women are diagnosed with breast cancer, and it is one of the leading causes of cancer among women. I was so humbled to interview three extraordinary survivors for the October issue of BusinessWoman’s Magazine‘s insert. Below are their stories:

Monstrosities, Adieu

Sherry Smith-Weber couldn’t wait to get her two “monstrosities” off her chest so that she could attend the opera on time.

After years of being very large breasted, the 56-year-old opera aficionado opted to get a bilateral mastectomy with no reconstructive surgery. Fresh out of chemotherapy since May and now taking tamoxifen, Smith-Weber is glad to have followed her instinct.

“The doctor said that I would have had as good a prognosis if I had the lumpectomy, but I was a triple B size. I’d always wanted a reduction, but I’d never do cosmetic surgery,” said the Hummelstown resident. “I always said that if I need to have any type of breast surgery, they were both going, and there would be no reconstruction either. I was very set on what I wanted.”

Diagnosed in December 2011, she discovered a lump during a self-exam. In the past, Smith-Weber has had four negative biopsies, but she knew that something was wrong.

Time was of the essence as doctors at Penn State Hershey Medical Center performed the mastectomy in late January. She thought the cancer would put a damper on her opera schedule, but the surgery was such a success that by late February, Smith-Weber attended the last concert of Wagner’s Rain Cycle at the Metropolitan Opera in Manhattan.

“The nurse at the Breast Center said they put on the front of my chart, ‘Get her to the opera on time,’” she said. “After having invested 18 hours of opera, I was not going to miss the last one.”

One of the hardest parts in her recovery was feeling tired at times, but Smith-Weber is thankful for the love and support of her husband of 32 years and their daughters.

“I made it through, but it was hard,” she said. “But it does come to an end.”

Mom’s the Word

When 36-year-old Maggie Pfitzenmaier discovered she had cancer, she quickly focused on one thing: being a mom.

In 2010, Pfitzenmaier, of Lancaster, was six months pregnant with her third child when she developed breast cancer. Her priority was putting her unborn son’s needs first.

“We chose to do the lumpectomy first and proceed with the other treatments after I had the baby because I wanted to make sure that he was healthy first,” said Pfitzenmaier. “I’m a mom so my priority was to make sure (my kids) were fine so I could get through it as best as I could.”

The tumor was located near Pfitzenmaier’s heart. After the lumpectomy, she started chemotherapy when her youngest son Trent was five weeks old. By September 2011, doctors at Penn State Hershey Medical Center performed a bilateral mastectomy with reconstructive surgery.

According to, breast cancer is the most common type of cancer for pregnant women in their mid-30s. Though pregnancy doesn’t cause breast cancer, the hormonal changes in the body during pregnancy can augment the tumor growth. In Pfitzenmaier’s case, the cancer was non-hormonal, meaning there was no increase in her hormones.

Physically, Pfitzenmaier’s mastectomy proved grueling.

“Mastectomy was hard because I couldn’t pick up my kids. I had to be careful like I couldn’t even get a dish out of the cabinet,” she said

With the constant support of her loved ones, Pfitzenmaier, who has participated in the Tougher Mudder race since her surgery, said cancer has made her stronger and credits her daughter Lily, 8, for making her see the positive of her recovery.

“She would come up with the most inspiring words out of anybody, which is very heartwarming,” Pfitzenmaier said. “She said, ‘OK, Mom, we are going to get through this. It’s OK, Mom, we are going to get a baby.’”

Living life to the fullest

The American Cancer Society reports that each year about 180,000 women are diagnosed with infiltrating ductal carcinoma, a common type of breast cancer.

Diane Funston was among those women. The news hit her like a ton of bricks, but with the unconditional support of loved ones and the passion to educate other women about the disease has made her live life to the fullest.

“Breast cancer has taught me so much: how to enjoy life and how much more I can enjoy life. There is a lot of life still out there for me,” she said. “I’ve learned that I can help another person through their journey from diagnosis through treatment and even to the end of their journey.”

Funston’s journey began in October 1996 when she was diagnosed at age 42. Her emotions initially delved into dread and terror.

“I couldn’t think straight. My thoughts were all about dying. I had no risk factors,” she said. “I had a thousand questions, but was afraid to ask even one of them. I wanted to disappear or turn back time.”

Funston underwent a lumpectomy with axillary dissection followed by a mastectomy. Navigating through her chemotherapy treatments were difficult because it made her ill and unbearable to work.

She found encouragement and empathy through a support group. Her family and friends were also very present in her recovery.

“They cooked and made meals for me. They stayed with me after my surgeries and treatments so I wouldn’t be alone,” she said. “They were everything to me and so much more.”

Funston urges newly-diagnosed women to never give up on their fight.

“Facing breast cancer involves fear, distress, courage, and hope. Armed with knowledge, a positive attitude, and the will to survive, we can prevail, overcome and even triumph,” she said. “We are in this together.”

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Posted by on October 7, 2012 in Published articles


Fight for Julian

A/N: September is National Childhood Cancer Awareness Month, and this article was originally published in the Sept. 19 edition of the Lititz Record-Express

Julian Sperduto is a blue-eyed toddler who watches “Little Einstein” from beginning to end in one sitting, eats solid foods on his own (his favorites are pizza and ham loaf) and loves cars.

The 21-month-old Lititz boy has Stage IV Wilms tumor, a rare form of kidney cancer, and has spent the past four months in and out of the hospital and is currently fighting for his life.

His parents, Jason and Mandy Sperduto, have been doing everything they can to help save him before time runs out.

“You just don’t want your kids in pain. If we could take this cancer from him, you wouldn’t have to ask us twice,” said Mandy. “Absolutely without question. Anything for him, all the way down to our life.”

Yesterday, doctors at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia removed his right kidney and the tumor, but according to his mother, Julian’s road to recovery is going to be long and rough.

“We’re not sure what’s going to happen after,” said Mandy.

According to the American Cancer Society, about 500 new cases of Wilms tumor are diagnosed in the United States each year. Most Wilms tumors are unilateral, meaning that they affect only one kidney, but five percent of children have the cancer in both kidneys.

There’s no clear cause, but symptoms include swelling or hard mass in the abdomen or stomach, fever, nausea, loss of appetite, shortness of breath, constipation and blood in the urine.

Stage IV of the disease indicates that the standard treatment is surgery followed by radiation to the abdomen. Julian, who will be two on Thanksgiving Day, has a favorable histology, which means the chance for a cure is very good. More than nine out of 10 Wilms tumor have a favorable histology.

However, doctors have recently found that the four modules or tumors in Julian’s lungs have grown from ¼ to ½ centimeter. This latest news has shocked his parents.

“We are just as scared as when we heard that he had Wilms tumor,” said Mandy. “We really thought this round of chemotherapy would work.”

Julian was about 16 months old when his parents first noticed that his stomach was swollen. He had also developed a low-grade fever, which lasted for about four days.

Mandy repeatedly took him to the pediatrician, who told her he had nothing serious.

“We noticed that he didn’t want to play much. He just was off. Something wasn’t right,” she said.

Then, in another trip, Julian had bloodwork and a chest X-ray done, and the results came back that he had bronchitis.

Meanwhile, his pediatrician was concerned about Julian’s high white blood cell count. After examining his urine sample, the doctor believed that he also had a urinary tract infection.

“They gave him 10 days of Amoxicillin. He was getting this Amoxicillin, and they said that his counts seemed to be getting better,” said Mandy.

In reality, Julian’s health was getting worse.

A couple weeks later while putting Julian in the bathtub, Mandy and Jason discovered that his stomach had increased in size again. The next day, on Friday, June 1, Mandy found blood in Julian’s diaper, and she immediately called the doctor again.

Because the regular pediatrician wasn’t available at the time, Mandy and Julian saw another doctor in the same practice. The doctor told a very different story.

“He had seen him, and immediately said, ‘You’re going to leave and you’re going to get an ultrasound. By the time, you come back down, I’ll have the results of the ultrasound.’ So we went to get the ultrasound done, came back,” said Mandy. “By that time, Jason was able to meet up with me and we were in the office and we sat down and he said, ‘There’s a mass on Julian’s right kidney, and the radiologist believes it’s Wilms Tumor.’”

The Sperdutos didn’t realize Wilms tumor was cancerous until they came home later that night and did research on the Internet.

“I don’t think we slept that night. We stayed up all night, researching Wilms tumor and that’s when we’ve seen the word ‘cancer’ and realized it was kidney cancer,” said Mandy. “The doctor did not tell us that. They said he had a tumor in his kidney.”

Not only did they research about the history and success rate of the disease – there’s an 80 percent chance of survival – but they also looked up hospitals that offered the best treatment care for children with Wilms tumor. CHOP became their number one choice since their success rate for children with Wilms tumor was in the 90th percentile.

“The doctors won’t give percentages,” said Jason. “I think the more you know, the less you speculate. Ignorance breeds fear.”

The family was initially supposed to get a call from Penn State Hershey Medical Center to schedule a CAT scan appointment on Monday, but they decided not to wait. They wanted to get a second opinion.

The next day, Julian and his parents headed to CHOP.

“When we researched CHOP, we thought their success rate was a bit higher. Also, they have new, cutting edge things there,” said Mandy. “We thought though Hershey is a great hospital, we thought CHOP might be better for our son in the cancer aspect of it.”

Julian’s CAT scan was done on the day they arrived on Saturday and three days later, he had a biopsy. His biopsy sample was then sent to a specialist in Chicago that focuses on kidney cancer, which ultimately confirmed that Julian had Stage 4 Wilms tumor. Meanwhile, the CAT scan resulted that the cancer had spread to his lungs.

Prior to his surgery, Julian has been getting a series of chemotherapy treatments and lab tests done every other week at a CHOP outpatient specialty care office in King of Prussia.

The frequent medical appointments has required Mandy to quit her job as a school bus driver in order to take Julian to King of Prussia or Philadelphia at least five days a week. A week of chemotherapy costs about $125 in gas.

“We have a week which is usually admission to the hospital because he usually gets sick, and then we have another week where we usually have to go back to King of Prussia to do testing,” she said.

The Sperdutos said the staff at CHOP has taken great care of Julian.

“The hospital, as a whole, has been very nice,” said Jason.

But from his attentiveness and funny personality, one would never know how much Julian has been forced to endure because of his illness.

“He’s very happy, playful, curious, and very smart,” said Jason, who works in carpet cleaning restoration.

“He’s really funny. He’ll do things. He’s so serious and then music will come on, and he’ll start dancing,” said Mandy. “He looks normal. You wouldn’t even know he had cancer. If you look at him, he looks like a normal toddler with no hair.”

Julian will be on chemotherapy for another year. His parents have been frugal on their spending since Jason is the breadwinner right now. They’ve had to cut their grocery bill 60 percent because most of the items needed are bought for Julian.

“I am buying soup. Julian is different. I am buying everything he needs,” said Mandy. “His PediaSure is $10.99 for a six-pack, a pack a week. He has to drink a PediaSure a day. It helps with his weight gain. We buy him that and diapers.”

Mandy hopes to go back to work in November for Premier Designs Jewelry, a direct sale jewelry company, in order to help pay for their daily expenses.

“I don’t want people donating money to us thinking that we have these astronomical medical costs,” said Mandy. “My husband’s job doesn’t cover all of our expenses, plus mortgage, plus car payment, plus credit card bills. I want people to know that.

The Sperdutos have had a strong support system that has helped them ease their difficult situation. Their extended families have supported them emotionally. Mandy’s bus employees have given her an EZ-Pass to help with the cost of turnpike tolls as well as hot food once a week to the house.

A few women from the Lititz United Methodist Church have also expressed interest to bring food as well, but now according to Mandy, it’s getting to the point where they’ve had to say no.

“I’m like, ‘You can’t’ because I don’t have enough room in my freezer because it’s only Jason and I and Julian. We don’t eat all the food so we freeze it so it doesn’t go to waste,” said Mandy. “I tell them, ‘You have to wait until I can afford a stand-up freezer so you can bring more food.”

Mandy and Jason are very humbled and grateful by the amount of support that they’ve received from the community even though they feel they don’t deserve it.

An anonymous person sent them a $100 gas card, and they’ve received an $800 donation from a local family who has dealt with cancer and other medical problems. The couple was overwhelmed by the donation that they wanted to donate half of the amount back to the family, which in return they refused.

“It’s unbelievable how many strangers are helping out,” said Jason.

Last Friday, Dianne Fussaro, a friend of the couple, organized a Premier Designs Jewelry fundraiser at Lancaster Catholic High School, where 100 percent of the proceeds went to help Julian and his parents.

Fussaro said when she found out about Julian’s cancer, she immediately had to act.

“The first thing I said to Mandy was, ‘Let me do this for you,” she said. “This is the only way I know how to raise money is by having a jewelry show and inviting as many people as I know.”

Fussaro said Mandy and Jason, whose first son Landon died two hours after his birth two years ago, are great role models for Julian.

“They’re fabulous parents. This little boy is the light of their life. They’ve been so strong through all of this and fighting for him all the time,” she said. “I’m amazed how much stamina they have, taking him to chemotherapy and the next week he’s back in the hospital.”

Mandy and Jason have their eyes set on a bright future for Julian, hopefully witnessing him doing good things in the world.

“I just want to see him grow up into a smart, healthy man who maybe has a hand in curing childhood cancer,” said Jason.

An account has been set up called “Julian’s Cancer Fight,” where people can donate money at any Citizen’s Bank branch office.

There will be a pasta dinner fundraiser at the Brickerville Fire Hall on Sunday, October 14 from 4 to 7 p.m.

“I’m not thankful that he has cancer, but I’m thankful that he has a curable cancer,” said Mandy. “But we still fight for him.”

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Posted by on September 23, 2012 in Published articles


It was quite a run for hometown Galen’s

A/N: The following was originally published in the Sept. 19 edition of the Ephrata Review. For more information, visit

As rows of clocks chimed in unison to mark the beginning of the hour, Don Schwarz walked out of Galen’s of Ephrata for what would be one of his final times.

“It’s a shame,” said Schwarz, of Ephrata, who bought a Howard Miller clock last Thursday. “It’s a small community. There aren’t many mom and pop stores anymore.”

For shoppers who didn’t receive a postcard in the mail several weeks ago announcing Galen’s “Going Out of Business/Retirement” sale, they sure have gotten the memo now as yellow signs clutter the storefront indicating that after 63 years of retail service, everything must go.

Owners Mike and Edith Amico have received many notes from their longtime customers sadly thanking them for their superior customer service over the years.

“They’ve been very good, very supportive, very sad. A lot of them are quite sad because we’re closing. They’ve said, ‘Now where can I possibly go to buy appliances if you’re not here anymore?’” said Mike. “I know why they say that because we always had pride in how we handled our customers. We took good care of them, had the proper service, quality delivery.”

Barbara Keffer, of Lititz, who has shopped at Galen’s since its days at the Lincoln Mall on West Main Street, agrees.

“(The employees) were very pleasant and friendly. They don’t try to push you to buy something,” she said. “It’s a nice experience.”

The decision to close was not an easy one for the Amicos as they kept their customers and 45 employees in mind. Their lease will expire at the end of November. Renewing their lease for another 10 years at its 389 North Reading Road location was out of the question and selling the business would be difficult so it was ruled out.

“We thought that now was the time for us to retire,” said Mike.

Many of its employees have worked at the store for many years, and most of them understood the reason behind the decision. Advertising manager Ruth Daniels plans to retire as well, after working at Galen’s for 30 years. She said the Amicos’ foremost concern was for her fellow co-workers.

“They’ve provided a good place for a lot of the employees over the years,” she said. “It’s been a good place to work.”

Ephrata Mayor Ralph Mowen said the Amicos have made a positive impact in the business community.

“The Amicos have been very friendly with Ephrata Borough and happy to be part of the Ephrata store,” he said. “I wish them good health in their retirement.”

There’s no final day of sale at this point, and no rush to sell its products from the store.

“It’s like a family leaving,” said Larry Herrold, of Lititz.

In addition to having longtime customers coming through the doors, the final sale is also attracting some first-time shoppers. Carl Schenskie, of Denver, moved to the area from Philadelphia six years ago. Last Thursday, he stepped foot into Galen’s for the first time after finding out about the sale in the newspaper. He was looking to buy a new dehumidifier.

“I have seen small stores close in Philly,” he said. “With small stores, the salespeople know what you want.”

Secrets to Success

Over the years, Galen’s has gained long-standing traditions that have helped the business soar to success. First, according to Daniels, the Amicos have developed a reputation of being hands-on in the store.

“It didn’t matter how good the ad looked or how great the prices were. Edith did as much good for our sale when she’d be down on the sales floor to talk with all the customers,” said Daniels.

“We’ve enjoyed it, and we both didn’t mind to work,” said Edith.

Second, the retail business created generations of customers. One longtime customer wrote a note saying that he remembered shopping with his dad as a little boy and got his first Silly Putty for 99 cents.

“It’s such a tribute to Galen’s. I think that a lot of our customers are kids of customers,” said Daniels.

Many years ago, Galen’s had done a survey on what brought people into the store. The options included The Shopping News ads, television and radio ads, newspapers, and other.

“Other would always win because ‘other’ was ‘my family always shopped at Galens,” said Daniels.

Lastly, the salespeople have maintained a dexterous ability to stay ahead of the game with its furniture and appliances. The employees have seen how the Internet has changed the ways customers buy merchandise.

“It’s so much easier for them to get so much information from the Internet before they come into the store …the customers come in much more educated, so you can’t be somebody off the street and be successful as a salesperson or in a store like this,” Daniels said. “You have to really be on top of your market.”

“We had a bunch of super employees,” said Mike. “They contributed to building the business over the years.”

The Face Behind the Name

James E. Galen was an established community activist when he founded his eponymous store in the fall of 1949.

Born in Lancaster, Galen was instrumental in setting up Ephrata Borough’s Christmas celebration, which included putting up decorations and having Santa Claus come to town. He was the president of the Ephrata Farmer’s Day Fair Association from 1945 to 1947 and of the Ephrata Kiwanis Club, and started the Key Club at Ephrata High School in the early 1950s.

But it was his business sense that truly shined.

“He was a visionary type businessman,” said Ephrata Borough Council President Dale Hertzog.

In the late 1940s, Galen had 16 years of retail experience under his belt and was the manager of the former Sears department store in downtown Ephrata.

Deed records showed that he and his wife Romaine Tracy bought the former Hunt’s Hardware, which was located at 1438 W. Main St., from the late Oram and Sara Hunt, and renamed the store. In addition to hardware products, the store sold housewares, sporting goods, and some appliances. In the early years, Galen’s also had a big floor covering department.

In 1966, a devastating fire completely demolished the original site, which was then replaced with a one-story building. According to Mike Amico, the fire was started in an oil furnace in the basement.

Mike first gained appreciation for Galen when he traveled with him to a Chicago business show in October 1969, and he witnessed first-hand how Galen bought various products.

“He was a True Value store, and I never experienced anything like that. I was very much impressed,” he said.

Galen retired from the business in 1972 and died from a long illness on Jan. 18, 2002.

“He was a great guy. We were friends for years,” said Edith Amico. “We went on vacation with them. He and his wife were very, very good people.”

The Amico Purchase

By the time 1970 rolled around, Mike was a merchandising manager for the former Hess’s Department Store and had worked for many years in department stores in Lancaster. Yet he and his wife wanted to have their own business.

He had heard about the news of Galen retiring and decided to give him a call.

“I made an appointment one evening and wanted to see him. We sat down in his office, and the first thing he said was, ‘Mike, I gotta tell you I just got an offer today. Somebody in New Jersey that I was really thinking I was going to take (the offer). So I’d like to interview you,’” he said. “So we talked awhile. He asked me some merchandising questions. Then he said, ‘Mike, I am going to tell you something. I’m going to call this guy back in New Jersey and tell him no.’ He said, ‘I really like you, and I’d like you to have the business.’”

After the acquisition, the Amicos kept the Galen name and remained at the original site.

“That’s why they call me Mrs. Galen,” joked Edith.

They expanded their business five times between 1974 and 1980, adding lines such as clothing, linens, domestics, greeting cards, school supplies, health and beauty aids and carpeting. In 1974, Galen’s added a complete line of General Electric appliances and televisions.

“As the months went on, we had a lot of opportunity, and we took advantage of it,” said Mike. “Baby clothes were the first clothes we added on.”

In 1975, the Amicos added a U.S. Post Office sub-station in the store, and it has remained a Galen’s tradition to this day.

“Michael saw that downtown had no parking, and we had all that parking, so people loved it. Lots of people come here now for the parking,” said Edith. “We hear it a lot now, ‘What are we going to do for postal?’ because customers don’t like to go downtown that much because of parking.”

Pat Shober, of Ephrata, has been shopping at Galen’s for three years and enjoys going to the postal sub-station.

“It’s convenient, and the parking is good,” she said.

Though it’s unclear how much mail gets processed in the store, Mike said the number most likely is high.

“I was told years ago that as a sub-station, we were in the top numbers. In fact, it was larger than some post offices in the county,” he said.

Ephrata Chamber Board President Michele McHenry, whose business Laser Labs is located at the same address of Galen’s inception, said the store was well-represented and respected in the community.

“For me, it’s bittersweet. They’ve been a longtime supporter of the community. They’ve brought value to customers. It’s a great place to go get a deal,” she said. “It’s always nice supporting local business rather than big box stores.”

Move to the Lincoln Mall

By 1983, the Amicos couldn’t expand anymore because they outgrew their store in both space and parking.

Mike received a store visit one day from John Martin, founder of Martin’s Country Market in Ephrata, who would eventually solve his problem.

“He told me what he was going to do to the (Lincoln Mall). A small complex down there and asked if I would be interested. I said, ‘Yeah, I would be. I’d like to hear more about it,’” he said.

The Amicos moved Galen’s down the road to the Lincoln Mall location and into the 42,500 square foot space, where they stayed for 19 years.

Sally Holmes, of Reinholds, has been shopping at Galen’s since she moved here from England in 1986. She remembers shopping for clothes and shoes at the Lincoln Mall.

“I used to buy women’s clothes, towels, linens, and gifts. Their baby department was adorable,” she said. “When they moved (to its current location), it was a bummer because they didn’t have the clothes anymore.”

Relocating to North Reading Road

By 2002, clothing and linens were two lines that didn’t make the cut when Galen’s relocated again to the 32,600 square foot, former Pharmhouse site on North Reading Road. According to the Amicos, the buyers’ market had changed at that point, and they had no room to place the clothing department at its current location.

“Some were really shocked that we didn’t have the clothing department,” said Mike.

The move marked the start of a $5 million renovation project, which currently houses a purple and gold painted circular sales counter that serves as a focal point and six terminals to process customer transactions. The current store continues to sell electronics, appliances, furniture and bedding.

In addition to the post office, Galen’s has also kept the tradition of selling dog licenses.

“If you were new to the Ephrata area, and you were trying to think what store in the area would sell dog license, you really wouldn’t think of Galen’s,” said Daniels. “At this point with the mix of merchandise that we have, it’s a carryover from what Galen’s was.”

Mowen names Galen’s as part of a trifecta of important local businesses, alongside Doneckers and Sprecher’s Hardware, leaving a mark in the community.

“It’s a sad time for us all. Galen’s has been a part of Ephrata for most of my life. I put the closing up there with losing Sprecher’s Hardware. Both businesses were part of Ephrata for a long time,” he said. “Depending on the merchandise, we always looked to Galen’s first.”

Edith said she hopes to keep in touch with her customers after the store closes.

“When we go retired and we have a lot of time, we will visit them all,” she said. “That’s what I say all the time. I’m going to visit everybody.”

In the meantime, the Amicos would like to thank their many local customers for shopping at Galen’s over the years.

“We are sorry to say good-bye,” said Mike.

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Posted by on September 23, 2012 in Published articles


A Chance of a Lifetime

A/N: This article was originally published in the August 1 edition of the Ephrata Review. For more information, visit

What does a Hollywood A-list cast and an Ephrata resident have in common? Quite simply, they were in a movie together.

“There is one moment where I think, if you were to look hard enough, or pause the film you might be able to see me,” said Amanda Martin.

Martin, a 2005 graduate of Ephrata High School, was among more than 11,000 extras cast in the football game scene in director Christopher Nolan’s box-office hit, “The Dark Knight Rises,” which premiered in the U.S. on July 20.

With a star-studded cast that includes Christian Bale, Anne Hathaway, Morgan Freeman, Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Tom Hardy, “The Dark Knight Rises” is Nolan’s final installment in the Batman film trilogy. The movie was shot last year in several large city locations, including New York and Los Angeles, but three weeks of the production occurred in Pittsburgh.

Shooting locations within the “Steel City” included Heinz Field, the home of the Pittsburgh Steelers, which took place last mid-August. In fact, some of its players played on the Gotham Rogues football team in the movie. Martin was there for one day of shooting as one of the thousands of “fans” sitting at the top of the bleachers near the end zone.

“I was really hoping to see myself up there in the stands, but a lot of the audience reaction shots went by so quickly, it was so hard to tell,” she said.

A huge fan of the Gotham City comics, Martin got wind of the casting call through a friend, who told her about signing up on the website. About a month before shooting, she did just that.

“The open slots were filling up quickly, so we didn’t have a lot of time to make the decision. I’ve always found the behind-the-scenes footage to be really interesting, and this was a chance to see it in person,” Martin said.

Martin then received an e-mail from a representative from the website with instructions regarding parking, arrival time and what to bring, among others.

“They had everyone park nearby and there were buses to take us directly to the stadium,” she said.

Because there was a lot of downtime between shots, production had moved in a slow pace. Martin and her fellow extras had the advantage to witness how the crew filmed a scene. Unfortunately, the extras were not allowed to take any pictures during the shoot due to an agreement each had to sign prior to production. The weather conditions depicted in the movie sharply contrasted the actual forecast during shooting.

“We were supposed to appear as if it were cold outside, so everyone had to bring winter jackets. In between scenes, we were allowed to take the jackets off, but it was incredibly hot that day,” she said. “(The crew) supplied us with sunscreen, but a lot of people, myself especially, got very bad sunburn.”

Explosive squibs were placed to simulate explosion points in order for the field to collapse. While the crew set up the field with more than 40 explosions, the extras had to practice their reactions during each boom.

“We had to pretend to be cheering and then suddenly be frightened,” Martin said. “We only had one chance to shoot the scene.”

Martin said acting frightened turned out to be an easy process.

“With the actual explosions, I found it pretty easy to act as if something terrible had just happened,” she said.

The entire cast wasn’t present during the shooting of the scene, but Martin did get a chance to see one actor in person.

“After the explosion scene, Tom Hardy (who plays Bane) came out on the field and spoke of a few of his lines,” she said. “He also helped give away the raffle prizes after the shoot was over.”

Among the raffle prizes drawn were comic book collections, signed posters, iPods and airfare and tickets to see the movie premiere.

After watching the final product on the big screen, Martin said she was happy to be involved in the experience and that the movie deserves all the hype.

“It’s a really cool feeling,” she said. “It was the kind of experience that I’m glad I did once, but I wouldn’t have to do it again anytime soon. It was definitely an unforgettable experience.”

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Posted by on August 2, 2012 in Published articles


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Forever home

A/N: Written by yours truly, this is a feature about my former high school World Cultures teacher and his wife’s dream to adopt a special needs child from Latvia. They’re a wonderful couple with a lot of love to give. Please read their story below and help them make their dream come true by making a donation to either fund-raiser. Please visit or

Being a parent with special needs kids means that no two days are ever alike, but Ephrata High School social studies teacher Matt White says it’s the ultimate gift.

“No matter how good of a job you did at work. No matter how bad of a job you did at work. These two are always there at the door with the biggest smiles on their face, ‘Daddy, daddy, daddy!’” said Matt, referring to his adoptive sons 11-year-old Aidan and five-year-old Kieran. “It kind of makes you forget about the real world. It’s really nice. I look forward to those two hugs more than anything every day.”

Matt and his wife Beth have always wanted to provide stable, loving home for orphaned children with special needs. A month ago, they welcomed its newest member with open arms. This summer, the couple has been hosting a child from the Baltic country of Latvia named Einars in their Lancaster home.

“He’s fitting right in to the American culture and quickly picked up on the sense of entitlement and asking for things in stores and saying, ‘This mine?’” said Matt. “It’s fun to discover him.”

An aficionado of cuddling, superheroes and chocolate, Einars, 9, understands a little bit of English and has been getting along so well with his host family that the couple is planning to adopt him when his visit ends in a few weeks and is asking for the public’s help.

The family has developed two fundraising websites to assist with their adoption costs. The first is called Just Love Coffee Roasters, a program created by the company founders and adoptive parents Rob and Emily Webb in order to help struggling parents with staggering adoption costs. The company has given more $200,000 to adopting parents, non-profit organizations, and the arts.

“They use their fair trade products so that in turn they can help build self-sustaining economies for third-world countries and help them to learn how to better care for themselves and give them the resources to do so,” said Beth. “We really wanted to find something that was a way not only for people to help us, but a way for us to give back as well. We didn’t want it to be all one way.”

The second fund-raiser is through, a PayPal-type website where the minimum amount people can donate is $2. However, the family has a long way to go to reach its goal of $13,000.

“For the most part, Matt and I put a lot of money toward the adoption. We’re to the point where we don’t have any funds left,” said Beth. “If we don’t receive the funds, we are not going to be able to complete the adoption process so we are really fully relying on God at this point to bring it about.”

Getting the word out about their fund-raiser has been a challenge so the White family has set up a Facebook page focused on their mission, including information on helping orphans in Eastern Europe and ways to support families who are hosting orphans.

“We have a lot of our fund-raisers on there so that they can look through in order to find us,” Beth said. “Our sphere is limited because at this point in time, we go to a very large church, but they don’t really encourage letting people know about these things because that would bring everyone wanting to jump on board. In that sense, it’s been hard for us to get the word out.”

So far, the family has raised about $1,500 through sub sales with the Ephrata Area School District and another fund-raiser held at Apple Tree Restaurant in Lancaster in late June.

Matt said he and his family are thankful for the support they have received from the school district.

“The school district did a tremendous job. They’re just people giving gifts or buying subs, and it was really a productive venture,” he said. “We had people buy from the high school, from the middle school, and I think from the Washington Educational Center. They really responded.”

Prior to Einars’ arrival, the family gained an education about the Latvian culture from Dr. Mara Anderson, a former German teacher at Ephrata High School and a Latvian native. According to Matt, Anderson has been a “godsend” in giving them Latvian cookbooks and providing them connections to her native friends in the area in case there are any questions or concerns.

“We’ll probably take him to a Latvian service while he’s here, in addition to going to (our) church,” said Matt. “There’s a Latvian church picnic which we are going to attend in August.”

Einars arrived to the United States on June 28 through New Horizons For Children, an international Christian hosting program that brings Eastern European orphaned children twice a year to stay with American host families.

Beth found out about the program years ago from a female acquaintance who was in her first year of hosting an orphaned child. After researching the organization’s website and blogs, she looked at multiple pictures of the children and one instantly caught her eye.

“Einars’ picture just grabbed me right away. I can’t explain why, only the fact that he looked like Kieran,” she said. “I read the little blurb (about Einars), and I knew instinctively that this was a special needs child, and I knew his chances.”

Like Aidan and Kieran, Einars was born to a mother who used alcohol and drugs during her pregnancy. As a result, Einars was abandoned at birth and left in the orphan care system in Latvia.

In Eastern Europe, the children are considered “broken” and “unwanted.” By the age of 16, the kids are released by the government and then put out onto the street.

“No child at that age is prepared to do that. There’s a high percentage of crime and prostitution and suicide as a result,” said Beth. “These are the children that we need to reach.”

Aidan and Kieran were also curious about learning about their soon-to-be adoptive brother, encouraging their mother to let him join their family.

“The boys have been 100 percent on board, and they’ve prayed for him every single day. They have not ceased it. It really has been an entire family effort,” said Beth. “They asked me every day, ‘How many days, Mommy, until Einars comes? How many days until he gets here?”

According to the 2011 survey by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, more than 1,700 European immigrant orphans were adopted by American families, 40 of them were from Latvia and 35 of them were children ages five and up. About 420 immigrant orphaned children were adopted in Pennsylvania. The United Nations estimates that between 100 and 200 million children from around the world are without parents.

“We hope to lower the statistic by one,” said Matt.

As part of the adoption process, Beth and Matt will travel to Latvia in the fall to spend a couple of weeks with Einars as well as meet with social workers and the courts to see if they are deemed suitable parents. About a month later, Matt will go back to Latvia for a day to attend another court session.

“After they deemed us fit, I’ll go to Latvia with Einars and what we’ll do is that we’ll get him medically checked out at the U.S. Embassy, and the adoption will be finalized,” he said.

The Whites have received a lot of support and encouragement from hosting and adoptive families affiliated with the NHFC hosting program.

“It’s a wonderful ministry, and they’ve been very effective putting children in forever homes,” said Beth. “This is how we came to this point currently.”

Another place where the family has received support is at the Schreiber Pediatric Rehabilitation Center in Lancaster.

“Schreiber has done wonders with my two sons and has expressed great excitement to help out with Einars,” said Matt.

The couple, who hope to form an orphan ministry at their church, haven’t ruled out the possibility of hosting and adopting more children, but they currently want to focus on the needs of their sons and welcoming Einars to his “forever home.”

“We feel God has called us not only with helping children without parents but also special needs children,” said Beth. “It’s a place we feel very comfortable.”

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Posted by on July 27, 2012 in Published articles


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What makes these fireworks fabulous?

Author’s note: This article was originally published in the June 28 issue of the Lititz Record-Express. For more information, visit

Lititz has many cherished Independence Day traditions, from queens on stage to babies on parade, but nothing holds a candle to the grand finale — the fireworks.

Each year, shortly after a queen is crowned, thousands flock to the field behind Lititz Springs Park to witness the beautiful bombs bursting in air, illuminating the night sky for miles around. It’s a continuing legacy that encompasses both power and beauty, in honor of the birth of America.

Organizers for the 195th annual Lititz Springs Park Fourth of July celebration have been busy preparing its show-stopper for next Wednesday night.

“Things are progressing very nicely. We are in the home stretch,” said Ron Reedy, president and historian of the Lititz Springs Park Board. “Our fireworks are the best on the East Coast right now.”

This is the fourth year that Lititz-based audio company Clair Global and Celebration Fireworks Inc. from Allentown have worked together to provide the 30-minute pyromusical display to this year’s theme, “Our American Heroes.”

“Lititz is really fortunate to have an organization like that (Clair Global) because they provide all of the audio throughout the day and the lighting and staging,” Reedy said.

Many of the songs will be focused on honoring the veterans, but there will be wide variety of genres to entertain the crowd, including country, dub-step and classic rock.

Without giving too many details away, Celebration lead designer Chris Hopkins and Clair Global operations manager Matt Clair say the audience is, once again, in for a treat this year.

“There are a couple of segments within the show that are hugely tied into the theme, and there will be very special moments in the show,” Hopkins said.

Between 10,000 to 13,000 spectators are expected to filter into the private park, which is owned by the Lititz Moravian Congregation. Though the park board is responsible for providing the facility, insurance and other logistics for the event, Reedy said its members are also in for a surprise.

“It’s a very sophisticated, high-tech presentation. The board is informed to a certain point,” he said. “We leave it up to their discretion. They know what we want.”

Plans for the fireworks display began in January, and plenty of discussion was held to make sure the audio and visual coordination is a success. A Lititz Springs Park committee member, Clair has worked closely with Hopkins in selecting and setting up the songs.

“Anytime there’s a question about one of the songs, I make sure I approve it with them (the park board). I bring it up in the meetings,” Clair said. “There are times it has to be OK with the committee to make sure we’re all on the same page. Planning has never been a problem.”

Everything is done digitally to create the fireworks display. Songs play an important role in getting the right audio editing down. Clair uses a software called Pro Tools to line up the songs’ time codes with the left-right audio track. Generally, the songs are either three to four minutes long.

“We usually take a verse out of a song. That way we can keep it tight and each song should have its own character, its own story, and its own look,” Hopkins said.

Working with a couple of different softwares, Hopkins begins the tedious design process of simulating the songs, meaning he puts the music in the computer and creates the display. Sometimes, simulation can take hours depending on the song’s beat and tempo.

“(The simulation) shows me visually what it’s going to happen. So it’s a place where I can test out concepts and theories and see what it looks like before I go loading tubes and firing things off,” he said. “It’s very helpful.”

Afterwards, Hopkins uses a computer database/media player program called ScriptMaker 2000 to program a set of instructions or coding to determine the certain points and time to fire.

“Not only does it play the music, but it shows me the different wave (lengths) so I can place at a very specific time, see how the waves form and can hear it,” Hopkins said. “I point and click at that time, then I indicate which fireworks I want to go off at this particular time from this particular place.”

Celebration Fireworks has an inventory of about 1,100 different firework effects. Hopkins digitally picks which types will be loaded up. Once they are entered into the computer, the machine uploads into different firing systems, which then supplies the electricity in various firing positions.

“Each firework is hooked up to a particular point,” Hopkins said. “When the computer tells that particular point to fire, enough electricity goes through a wire, which ignites an electric match, which lights the fuse and sends the firework up in the sky.”

But like any event, there’s always a possibility that something can go wrong, and there are tedious steps that need to be followed to prevent it from happening.

“I have to get it and insert it right into the program, and then the person pulling the inventory has to make sure that he pulls the right shell. Then the person writing (the proper indicators) on the shell makes sure it gets the proper cue like when it’s going and where it’s going to be connected,” Hopkins said. “Then the guy in the field has to take that shell and put it in the correct tube and hook it up to the correct port on the rail. It’s six or so places where if anything can go wrong, it’s wrong.”

The beauty of digitally planning fireworks is the ability to pre-program the length of time for them to fire and then explode.

“Let’s say a 3-inch shell takes 3.8 seconds to go from the firing up to 300 feet in the sky before it explodes. So it calculates, it knows that I want that shell to explode at 17 minutes and 37 seconds in the show, so it’s going to fire that shell 3.8 seconds earlier than that,” Hopkins said. “It has time to get up in the air and blow in the exact beat of music in order to explode. That’s really cool.”

Multiple test runs are done to see if the digital display is in-sync. Hopkins, Clair and their crew will arrive in Lititz on the morning of July 3 to set up their equipment at the park. They sometimes work through the night in order to get everything ready.

Clair Global will provide about 20 speakers and 12 low-end cabinet speakers for the bass, which will be located at the fence down by the baseball field.

Clair said people with sensitive ears should be cautious to where they sit at the park.

“For people who have never been there, the laws of physics says the lower the decibel level you want to hear, the farther you should sit from where the actual speakers are located,” he said. “The fireworks are definitely the loudest part of the event. If you sit next to the speakers, it’ll be loud. If you sit far away, they won’t be as loud. I know it sounds stupid, but a lot of people don’t understand that.”

Safety is taken very seriously when it comes to firing off fireworks at a public event like in Lititz. Celebrations Fireworks does comply in the standards set up by the National Fire Prevention Association. Hopkins and his crew have taken courses in safety training and follow specific guidelines.

“The things we worry about are the safety zones, how much space there is around us. Depending on how much of a safety zone there is, we can only fire a certain number of caliber shells – 3-inch, 4-inch, 5-inch, 8-inch,” Hopkins said. “The bigger the shell, the larger the safety zone. We have to be very careful knowing where our fireworks are, where the audience is, and where the roads are, buildings and what not. One of the ways to make it most safe for us is to use computers to fire. That way, we are nowhere near the product when it lights up.”

With the exception of smoke obscuring the field, Hopkins has never encountered a major safety problem while in Lititz.

“There’s not much you can do about that. It depends on the direction and how much wind there is,” he said. “Lititz has always been great with smoke. I never had a problem with smoke clearing. I think the wind’s been pretty much blowing from behind the audience, and it always goes away from the audience. That’s always been good.”

Lititz is the second oldest continuous 4th of July celebration in the country. The oldest event is in Bristol, Rhode Island. In the past, folks from California and up and down the Eastern seaboard and those who were born and raised in the area have returned to see Lititz’s signature event.

“People are just in awe of what is usually shown,” Reedy said. “Each year the choreography, music, and types of fireworks display gets better and better and better.”

As a designer, Hopkins said it’s important that people are enjoying themselves.

“There’s a lot of electricity in the air, and that’s how we try to lead the show,” he said. “Matt takes the temperature around the town and gets the impression from the organizing crew. He said at last year’s show he received the most positive feedback that he’s ever received. I think we’re headed in the right direction.”

Clair compares seeing the fireworks in Lititz is like going to a concert at the Giant Center in Hershey because both can give spectators the thrill of a lifetime.

“Everyone is cheering between each song, and the vibe is really cool down on the field,” he said.

Organizers are always looking to add new features to top the previous year’s event. Since spectators won’t have the luxury of having the long 4th of July weekend, Reedy hopes they take advantage on what this small town has to offer.

“Lititz is a real nice community. No question about it,” he said.

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Posted by on June 28, 2012 in Published articles


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