ONO, Pa. (AP) — Ruth Deitz remembers driving through a snowstorm to the first German Gathering in Ono in 1952. It was a new event for the Ono Volunteer Fire Company's Ladies Auxiliary, and 300 people were expected.
"We didn't have the kitchen supplied the way it should have been," recalled Deitz, who operates J.P. Donmoyer, a transportation firm in Ono.
Deitz said she and Ethel Wentling went to a restaurant store in Reading the day before the event and bought enough dishes — paper plates were not commonly used then — to fill their needs.
"When I got back to the intersection (Route 72 and Jonestown Road), it was snowing so much I couldn't even see," she said. "So I drove with my door open so I could see to come up to the firehouse."
Although she made the trip to Reading for dishes, Deitz said she still didn't have enough at that first gathering.
"We got dishes out of homes," she said. "Those days you didn't serve on paper plates. And we didn't have plastic knifes and folks. We just brought everything out of each lady's house."
The gathering — now officially known as the Deitsch Versammling — will celebrate its 60th anniversary starting at 6 p.m. Oct. 13 at the Ono Fire Co. in East Hanover Township. Conceived by Raymond Kreiser as a way to raise money to help build a firehouse in Ono, the gathering is one of the last -— if not the last — of its kind in Lebanon County. The group is expecting about 120 people to attend the banquet this year.
Deitz, a member of the Versammling planning committee, has been present for all 60 events. Kreiser, an insurance agent, thought that the village really needed its own fire company. He raised the idea with local businessman Jonas P. Donmoyer and Monroe Bohn, Deitz's late husband. Soon, interested citizens held their first meeting in the Lincoln school.
Donmoyer, who owned an empty building, agreed to sell the building to the fire company, Deitz recalled.
Kreiser could speak Pennsylvania Dutch, which became the main theme of the annual fundraiser.
"Knowing everybody in the community, he decided we should have a Deitsch Versammling, a Dutch get-together, so that we could raise some money," recalled Deitz, who was the first president of the Ladies Auxiliary.
The first Versammling was held the first Saturday in November. After that first snowstorm, the group decided to move the event back a month to avoid such poor weather.
The first meal was a big Thanksgiving-style dinner, with turkey and all the trimmings. It hasn't changed much through the years. This year's dinner will include Brod un Budder (bread and butter), buhne (beans), welschkann (corn), ebbelsaes (applesauce), kaffee (coffee), lattwarrick (homemade apple butter), filsel (filling), welschhaahne (turkey), schunkefleesch (ham), peffergraut (pepper cabbage), boi (pies) and es dunkes (drinks).
In addition to raising money for the fire company, the Versammling also serves as a way to preserve the Pennsylvania Dutch language. For many years, people at the dinner were not permitted to speak the more common language of the land.
"You weren't allowed to talk English," Deitz said. "You were supposed to talk (Pennsylvania) Dutch, and if he (Kreiser) caught you talking English, it would cost you a dollar."
"He roamed the floor, back and forth," Versammling committee member Lenny Gibble recalled.
At the time, many people could speak Pennsylvania Dutch, derived from German. Not so today, so they don't fine people if they speak English. And everything that is spoken in Pennsylvania Dutch is translated.
The evening includes familiar songs, music by the Happy Dutchmen, and speakers who tell stories in Pennsylvania Dutch, with a translation. Gibble said the group changed to this format in 2003, "simply because so many of the people (who could speak the language) were dying."
"It was withering away," he said. "We had to do something."
Vernice Helms, now in her 70s, has been helping with the Versammling since she was a teenager. She learned a little Pennsylvania Dutch from her father.
"The only time I ever hear it anymore is if I go to an auction, and I hear the older guys talking it," she said.
Helms recalled the Pennsylvania Dutch plays that also were a separate event to help raise funds for the fire company.
"They would stage a little play," she said. "Local people used to be in it. It was just a form of entertainment."
Deitz grew up in Millbach in the 1930s, and Pennsylvania Dutch was spoken regularly.
Gibble said he doesn't speak the language. He started working with the fire company when he was 16 years old and, through the years, served as president and assistant chief of the fire company.
Gibble has been organizing the gathering since the mid-1980s. This year's speaker is Patrick Donmoyer, who will give a 45-minute PowerPoint presentation on Pennsylvania historic barns. He is the building conservator and exhibit specialist at the Pennsylvania German Cultural Center at Kutztown University.
In addition to the meal, songs and speaker, the evening will include recognitions and an auction, with items such as mums, homemade brooms, shoofly pies and whatever food is left in the kitchen. Luke Habecker is the auctioneer who conducts the sale in Pennsylvania Dutch.
"It brings in some funds, but it also keeps the community involved with the fire company," said committee member Gale Smith. "I think that's very important.
Information from: Lebanon Daily News, http://www.ldnews.com