The women of the Ladies Auxiliary of Susquehanna Post No. 2493 of the VFW began cooking at 4 a.m. They grilled 64 pounds of sausage, filled hundreds of fruit cups and mixed enough pancake batter to fill cement truck.
Eva Murphy was one of the women in charge of mixing batter. She scooped from a big Sam’s Club-sized bag of pancake mix, poured water into the stainless-steel bowl and whisked. She’s a veteran of a lot of pancake breakfasts, having been affiliated with the VFW for a lot of her 91 years. She is currently serving as secretary.
This breakfast, though, was different.
She was cooking for the 47th governor of Pennsylvania, son of Mount Wolf, Tom Wolf, and a couple hundred of his close friends.
“This is exciting for Mount Wolf,” Murphy said.
Across the table, Pat Anderson mixed another bowl of batter. Like Murphy, she grew up in Mount Wolf and knows all of Wolf’s family. Everybody in town, it seems, knows Wolf and his family.
“This was a great place to grow up,” Anderson said. “We had everything here — a butcher shop, a grocery store, a pharmacy, a movie theater.”
Those things are long gone, but the small-town values they represented remain, the same values that shaped Wolf.
“I’m a Republican,” Anderson said.
“I am too,” said Murphy.
“And if we like him, there has to be something special about him,” Anderson said. “Nothing against Governor Corbett, but I like Tom Wolf better. I know him.”
Not long after 7 a.m. — earlier than the announced 7:30 a.m. starting time — people began streaming into the Eagle Fire Company. Mount Wolf people are always punctual, if not early. Ask anyone who followed Wolf’s campaign; he consistently arrived early for events.
Ann Duerr was among the first in line for the community pancake breakfast that began Wolf’s first day in his new job.
“I’ve known Tom since he was a little guy,” Duerr, who lives a block away from Wolf’s family home, said. “He used to play at my house. He was a good kid. He hasn’t changed much over the years.”
She recalled talking to Wolf’s mother a while back, before Wolf announced his intention to run for governor.
She asked his mother, “Is he going to run?”
His mother said, “I think he is.”
Duerr said, “But he’s too nice to be involved in politics.”
She’s 88 and her husband had worked for Wolf’s family business before opening the Fun Bowling alley in Manchester, now the site of an Ace Hardware store. Wolf used to bowl there when he was a kid. Duerr wasn’t impressed by his bowling skills.
“I think he just did it for fun,” she said.
That’s how the day began for Wolf, the first day on a new job, leading the nation’s sixth most populous state.
He told reporters that he felt nervous, like anyone would on the first day of a new job, his first day in elective office. As he said numerous times throughout the campaign, “This is all new to me.” He does know that he is taking the helm of a state that he says is facing huge problems — inadequate school funding, a huge pension debt, an eroding manufacturing base — and he’ll have to do it working with a legislature that can be generously described as bitterly partisan.
The day started, at least publicly, at 8:24 a.m., when he walked the block from his home — a house his great-great grandparents built — to the fire hall for breakfast.
His neighbor, Beverly Hayes, waited on her back porch for the new governor — at the time, still governor-elect — to walk by so she could capture the moment with her cell phone. It’s not every day that your neighbor becomes governor, she said.
“Tom’s just always been such an awesome guy,” she said. “It doesn’t surprise me a bit.”
The real buzz in town, she said, was that the Northeastern High School band would be performing at the inauguration.
Wolf entered the fire hall at 8:30 a.m. to handshakes, hugs and cheers. He told those assembled, “I see some of my former baby sitters here. There are no more surprised people than them, my former baby sitters. I’m a lot better behaved now.”
He spoke about his hometown and his love for it.
“When I do what I’m going to do, it’s going to be Mount Wolf up there,” he said. “Everything I am, I owe to this place.”
Two of his former baby sitters — sisters Mary Ann Gingerich and Bonny Seifert — both said they love Wolf, but this day had a strange feel to it, that the little boy they baby sat grew up to be elected governor.
“It is weird,” Gingerich said. “That’s all I can think of. It’s just surreal.”
Toni Smith left York at 8 a.m. to head to the inauguration. The former York City councilwoman wanted to make sure to she got a good seat. And she wanted to be first in line to get into the Capitol’s East Wing complex, and she was.
She’s been to two other inaugurations — for presidents Clinton and Obama — but this was her first gubernatorial swearing in. She had to be there.
“I love Tom Wolf,” she said.
She sat in the frigid, damp weather, waiting. The swearing-in was still more than two hours away.
Jim Whorl, a Caterpillar retiree from Mount Wolf, and his wife, Celia, arrived early too, leaving home at 6:45 a.m. — stopping at the Manchester Cafe for breakfast on the way — and arriving in plenty of time to get good seats.
“It’s history,” he said, “hometown history.”
As prelude to Wolf taking the oath, the Northeastern marching band played. The Pittsburgh Renaissance Choir sang. The House of Representatives and Senate arrived, taking seats flanking the stage. The state’s judges and elected officials were announced. Former governors were introduced. From the seats in the bleachers, it was odd. The officials were announced as they left the Capitol and were out of sight to a lot of spectators until they walked onto the stage a minute later.
Behind the bleachers, in a small park called Soldiers’ Grove, anti-fracking protesters set up across a grassy plaza, chanting “Ban fracking now,” a chant that would punctuate the event. Next to the anti-fracking protesters was a small group of tea party activists, waving Gadsden flags — the yellow “Don’t Tread On Me” flags — protesting the protest, it appeared.
After Mount Wolf’s Dr. Elizabeth Murphy, an acclaimed soprano, sang the National Anthem, recording artist DaMarra Chanel took to the stage to render the Pennsylvania state song, titled, seriously, “Pennsylvania.” It begins, “Pennsylvania, Pennsylvania, mighty is your name,” just to make sure listeners know the song is about Pennsylvania. Chanel sang the song well, but she wasn’t crazy about it. When she first heard it, she said she thought, “Oh my God.”
On stage, behind Chanel, former Gov. Ed Rendell leaned over and said something to Corbett. Corbett responded and both men laughed. Asked later what that was about, Rendell said, “how terrible that song is.”
After Rendell introduced Wolf — describing him as “a kind, compassionate man” who “carries with him the hopes and good wishes of all Pennsylvanians...or at least most Pennsylvanians” — York County Senior Judge Penny Blackwell administered the oath of office, Wolf placing his hand on a Bible passed down from his paternal grandparents’ family and pledging to “support, obey and defend the Constitution of the United States and the Constitution of this Commonwealth” Pennsylvania and the United States.”
He delivered a 15-minute speech, thanking Corbett for his service and outlining his vision for the commonwealth. Later, Rendell said Wolf’s speech was “exactly like Tom,” describing the address as calm, patient, compassionate and conciliatory, drawing a contrast to his own fiery, sometimes combative style.
While Wolf spoke, some anti-fracking protesters who got into the event began chanting and waving small green banners. One, a tall, gray-haired man with Namaste tattooed on his neck, was among eight protesters arrested for disrupting the event and was led away by state police.
Wolf didn’t miss a beat, even acknowledging the protesters while speaking about the state’s abundance of natural resources, saying, “To the protesters here today, I say: Help me develop these opportunities in a way that is clean, safe and sustainable.”
He spoke for a few more minutes and then, it was over.
He was governor.
After the ceremony, Wolf retired to the Governor’s Reception Room, where he performed his first official duties in office — swearing in his cabinet and signing two executive orders, one banning any gifts to members of the executive branch and another requiring any contracts with outside law firms to be opened to competitive bidding.
The orders were evidence that there is a new sheriff in town. Corbett often accepted lucrative gifts — trips and tickets to sporting events, among them — from concerns doing business with the state, and outside lawyers were hired without a bidding process to reduce costs.
There was even more evidence of that things will be different when Wolf went to convene the meeting and those assembled in the room continued to talk among themselves.
Wolf whistled loudly to get their attention and let them know that it was time to shut up and get to work.
Call it the Wolf whistle.
As is the tradition, the new governor opens up his house to the public and greets the people he has pledged to serve. This reception was a little different. Wolf doesn’t plan to live in the Governor’s Mansion, opting instead to commute, in the state’s most famous Jeep Golden Eagle, from his home in Mount Wolf. So he was, essentially, greeting people at the home he has no plans to occupy.
Virginia Zalakar, a substitute teacher in Spring Grove schools “playing hooky,” and her son, Michael, a pharmacist at a Giant grocery store in York, were among the hundreds who waited in line in a freezing drizzle for a chance to shake the governor’s hand and have a photo snapped with him.
Virginia said, “I’m a fan of Tom Wolf. I think it’s time for a change.”
Her son said, “I’m a fan of the heat.”
Also among those in line were several anti-fracking protesters. The state police security contingent was on alert, having received word that the protesters would try to disrupt the reception.
One of the protesters, Maria Kretschmann, was dressed as Marie Antoinette, wearing a platinum wig and a flowing period gown, a reference to Wolf’s statement that he wanted to “have his cake and eat it too” in regard to fracking, allowing the practice of extracting natural gas so long as it could be done safely while also generating needed tax revenue from drillers.
She told Wolf that they needed to talk about fracking and Wolf agreed, asking her to trade contact information with one of his staffers so they could set up a meeting. “I hope he means it,” Kretschmann, a 33-year-old Beaver County resident, said.
The reception had a hometown feel for Wolf. A lot of those in line were from York County.
Even the entertainment had that feel. The pianist who played in the reception hall, Karl Hausman, is from Philadelphia and is a veteran of gubernatorial receptions, playing at 13 of them, starting with Rendell’s tenure in office, but he has ties to Wolf’s home county.
Back in the 1960s, Hausman had a band called The Kit Kats that had some regional popularity. WSBA radio used to play its music and the band developed a following in York. Among the band’s regular stops on tour was York’s 615 Lounge, a well-known nightclub in the day. The band also played dances at what was then known as York Junior College.
“They used to put wrestling mats down in the gym and all the kids would dance,” he recalled. “It was a good time.”
That gym was called Wolf Gymnasium, named after the Wolf family.
“Small world,” he said.
The governor’s inaugural ball has traditionally been a formal affair, attendees donning tuxes and gowns to dance the new chief executive into office. Wolf’s was simpler, another indication of the changing of the guard. It was intended to be more casual, which, in York County, the joke goes, means people wear shoes.
Still, the gala, billed as a celebration, not a ball, was dressy. Most of the men in attendance wore suits, the women gowns.
It was a Pennsylvania-centric affair. The two open bars were stocked with Pennsylvania wines and microbrews, including Troegs, Appalachian, Yards and Susquehanna Brewing Company, and served state-themed cocktails, including one called a Mount Wolf -- a whiskey sour made with rye, a libation invented in the Commonwealth.
Those in attendance snacked on smoked pike, kielbasa, pierogies, cheesesteak quesadillas, elk meatloaf and some other, non-Pennsylvania foods. For instance, the state doesn’t have a large shrimp industry.
The doors opened at 7:30 p.m., but it took a while for the party to get rolling. The early crowd had drinks and snacked and frolicked with the Phillie Phanatic, the Pittsburgh Pirate’s Parrot and the York Revolution’s Downtown, among other mascots. The Phanatic wound through the crowd, kissing women and teasing men and pretending to guzzle beer, stopping along the way to pose for photos.
One couple took to the dance floor, the first to avail themselves of the opportunity. They were immediately surrounded by half a dozen photographers snapping photos. Wolf doesn’t like to dance, so the photogs had to settle for a couple that isn’t composed of the governor and first lady.
By 10 p.m., when Wolf arrived, the Hershey Lodge’s Great American Hall, a cavernous ballroom, was packed, shoulder to shoulder. The anteroom was jammed. The line to get in snaked from the ballroom, down a flight of stairs, along a long hallway lined with gift shops and bars and through the lobby to the hotel’s front doors.
They had been expecting 3,300 people — the catering bill of fare included food for that many at $58.33 a head, for a total of $192,489 -— but it seemed as if twice the number showed up.
Rendell, serving as emcee, introduced Wolf, presenting the man “who has the chance to become the greatest governor in Pennsylvania history, though, admittedly, that’s a very high bar.” Rendell, it could be said, is the anti-Wolf, personality-wise.
Wolf squinted into the stage lights and joked, “I can’t see real well, but it looks like there are three or four people out there.”
He made a few remarks and then said, “Tomorrow, we have to get to work, but tonight, we’re going to celebrate.”
He didn’t celebrate for long. After being surrounded by the huge crowd, he and his family left the ballroom just after the main attraction, the Philadelphia-based 14-piece show band Dreamtime, took the stage. It took about half-an-hour for many of those in attendance to realize that the governor had left the building.
His exit, like the man himself, was low-key.
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