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Living Life to the Fullest

Emily Weidner, 84

First, there was her baby carriage, then a scooter. By age 12, when Emily Weidner received her first bicycle, her love of wheels was evident. “Back then, you just rode,” she says, pausing to smile. “It’s such a freeing feeling. It’s so fascinating to get on a bicycle and just go.”

Now 84, Weidner has taken full advantage of her license to ride. She’s spent her lifetime on two wheels, touring states from New York to Virginia and once participating in Ride to the Sun, a popular cycling event in which riders follow a route that stretches from Minnesota to Canada.

“I feel better when I’m on my wheels,” she says.

These days, Weidner, a Muhlenberg resident, rides mostly around town and on local trails. Some of her favorite moments include hopping on her self-described “trashmobile,” an old five-speed Schwinn, and riding to the supermarket, Target or church. “That’s my car,” she says. “It’s so easy to ride and get to everywhere I need to go.”

“It’s complete freedom,” she adds. “I think everyone should ride. There’s a joy that comes with cycling.”

A biking advocate and retired cycling instructor, Weidner is a volunteer with the National Association of Bicyclists, the Thun Trail and the Adopt-a-Highway program.  She is also a charter member of the Berks County Bicycle Club and an active member of Walk Bike Berks.  At one time, former Reading mayor Tom McMahon appointed her as chairperson of a group tasked with making the city more bicycle friendly.

“I want to get more people out there riding bicycles,” says Weidner, who was instrumental in working with the Muhlenberg Township supervisors to have “Share the Road” signs erected in the township. “I want people to understand that you don’t have to have high-tech equipment to ride. All you need is a bicycle, helmet and casual clothes.”

And if that’s not enough to convince potential cyclists to get moving, Weidner quickly points out even more benefits. “It reduces your carbon footprint. It’s the freedom. Look at the ecological benefits from it, the health benefits,” she says in rapid-fire succession. “You can ride your bike and go so many places.”

Tom Masano, 95

Sitting on the deck of Cottage 11 at Galen Hall, Tom Masano enjoys an afternoon snack of peanut butter crackers and ginger ale. In between bites, he points to the bright blue sky and cotton-ball shaped clouds. “Take time to look at the view,” he says. “I love coming here. It’s my second home.”

On the surface, Masano is a well-respected local businessman who built a car sales lot into a mega set of dealerships. But, at his heart, the Wyomissing resident is a woodworking aficionado whose childlike imagination and out-of-the box ideas keep him young.

Masano, 95, has spent the past eight years transforming his 250-acre Galen Hall property in South Heidelberg Township into a whimsical wonderland with surprises at every twist and turn. He converted a vacant swimming pool into a vibrant tropical garden and plain, wooden street signs into works of art.

“Did you see the horse?” he asks excitedly, referring to the 14-foot-tall wooden horse that sits atop a nearby boulder. “I had it even before the movie The Warhorse came out. People think I did it because of the movie. No, I had that idea a long time ago.”

The majestic horse, which weighs more than a ton and is crafted from dead cedar branches, is among Masano’s favorite carved pieces. It’s become a popular attraction at Galen Hall, with nearby residents and seniors stopping to see it, says Bob Wasko, Galen Hall manager.

“I like to be creative. I get ideas from when I traveled around the world. I spent time in Italy, a couple of years in China,” says Masano, a father of four who was in the Air Force.

“Then, through the observation of things I see, I think, ‘OK, I’d like to do something like that here.’”

In addition to the hideaway tree house where Masano likes to watch the sunset, he enjoys checking on the “cedar family.” The family, positioned in an open field, includes a 22-foot-tall man, who, as Masano explains, needed a wife. After she was created, Masano then decided the couple needed a child, who, of course, needed a dog.

Ephrata area artist Dean Fox, whom Masano has commissioned to make nearly 40 pieces, ranging from small animals like squirrels and owls to a mermaid and an alligator, creates the intricate pieces. Most are carved, but others are pieced together from dead cedar trees, branches and trunks found at Galen Hall, Wasko says.

“Tom’s always thinking,” Wasko explains. “That’s what keeps him so young. He gives me drawings of what he wants us to have made and then I call Dean and tell him. For him to be 95, and still be so active, it’s great.”

Phyllis Ensher-Peters

Standing just above five feet tall, Phyllis Ensher-Peters is in stark contrast to her instrument. With 47 strings and seven pedals, weighing about 75 pounds and standing more than six feet tall, the concert harp is no match for her unique style and sound.

Peters is a classically trained harpist who has been playing for most of her life. She won’t tell you how old she is–a lady never does–but she’s old enough to have seen a successful career span more than 60 years with an instrument she began playing some 70 years ago.

It was her mother’s deep love for the arts and music that introduced her to the harp.

“She loved playing piano and opera,” Phyllis explains. “She particularly loved the harp. She thought if she ever had a child, her first born would play the harp, and that was me.”

Peters was 11 years old when her mother insisted it was time for the shy girl to leave the safety of the family farm in West Bridgewater, Mass., and learn to play the harp. The turning point was performing as a harpist. “I got bitten by the bug,” she says of playing in front of an audience. After high school, she continued to play. Music opened up a new world of people and places.

After hearing her play, renowned harp teacher Carlos Salzedo invited her to study with him in New York City. She then attended the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia where she met her late husband, Frank. He played oboe and English horn, and the couple would go on to play with the Atlantic Symphony Orchestra in Halifax, Nova Scotia, where Phyllis was the principal solo harpist for 18 years. She later played for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation and even Disney before her husband’s job brought them to Wyomissing.

At a time when most of her peers are well into retirement, Peters has a youth and vibrancy to her, which she attributes to her music and her work. She was the principal harpist for the Binghamton Philharmonic and the Tri-Cities Opera for more than 30 years–up until this year when she decided to focus on playing locally for weddings and special occasions as well as with the Reading Pops. She also teaches harp to students age 10 and up. It’s the legacy of passing on knowledge she’s gained through so many different experiences that she so passionately wants to share.

She loves everything about her music.

“I enjoy the sound; I enjoy the teaching, the performance. It’s all those things melded into one. I have to have an audience and students to do that, but I can entertain myself at home. I can put on a record of the Bee Gees and play along with them,” she says. Her business cards say “Artistry in Sound,” and Peters thinks it’s the perfect way to describe her music and style.  

“When I play a piece, it doesn’t matter whether it’s classical, popular, Broadway or any genre,” says Peters. “I always put something of myself in that music. It gives me a feeling of serenity.”
–By Rebecca J. Doubek

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