One of the area's oldest and most popular summer traditions...

One of the very first assignments I ever drew nearly a quarter century ago as a “cub reporter” with The Weekly Almanac remains one of my all-time favorites to this day.

The Rock Lake Picnic has been a staple of the northern Wayne County community for more than 150 years now.

When the date is set each year, folks from all over the region mark their calendars and pray for a sunny day.

This year, those prayers paid off in a big way.

As I left White Mills Saturday afternoon, it was pouring. There was a break in the action when I reached Honesdale, but by the time I cruised through Bethany, my windshield wipers were going full bore.

However, as my mighty Kia made the turn onto 247 at the Red Schoolhouse, conditions were improving.

Finally, as I began the final climb to Rock Lake … that wonderful stretch of road where you can just see the church steeple rising majestically above the treeline … skies had cleared and the sun was shining.

Apparently, somebody up there is watching out for my friends at St. Juliana's.

Dinner Time

The main event of the Rock Lake Picnic each year is the dinner served upstairs in the parish hall.

Of course, there's much more to the event than just great food (flea market, games, bingo, etc.) but this family style supper is the stuff of local legend.

On Saturday, more than 600 sitdown meals were served family style … folks savoring a delicious main course consisting of turkey and ham with all the fixins.

There's also a wide range of beverage choices and homemade desserts that will have you loosening the old waistband no time!

Many more meals were packed up for takeout, bringing the final toll to well over 700.

It's a tribute to the dozens of selfless volunteers who donate their skill and time each and every year.

The Bell Tolls

One of my favorite aspects of the Rock Lake Picnic takes place right after supper.

The dining area has been cleared and volunteers shift gears from serving food to setting up for the square dance.

While the band is busy fine tuning their equipment on stage, folks wander downstairs. They browse the flea market, play games of chance or just stand around in groups and chat happily.

At about 6:20 p.m. the old church bell in St. Juliana’s begins to toll and people start strolling over to the church for mass.

At exactly 6:30 p.m., Father Stephen Krawontka processed down the center aisle with Deacon Carl Albright.

Several hundred people filled the pews of this beautiful old church whose cornerstone was laid in 1866. The vibe was calm and relaxed, local folks welcoming visitors like me with genuine warmth.

Father Krawontka delivered an excellent homily which drew inspiration from the Gospel reading “Enter through the narrow gate.” (Matt 7:13)

At the end of Mass, Father Krawontka offered his blessing and encouraged everyone to head on over for square dancing.

He also smiled broadly while recalling a polka mass he once presided over while serving the fine folks of Shickshinny and Mocanaqua.

I couldn't help but imagine the altar servers, lector and cantor all dancing in the sanctuary as accordion music pulsed down from the choir loft.

Don't mind me … I'll be okay!

Swing Yer Partner

Square dancing began at eight o’clock and continued deep into the night.

The music and calling were provided by “Just Us,” a local band whose appearance is made possible each year through the generosity of Wayne County Coroner Edward Howell.

Edward is always among the first to hit the dance floor, joined enthusiastically by his wife and children.

Across the room is another big group led by former Honesdale distance running star Summer Hill and her family.

Summer’s favorite partner is her husband Jesse. The two were just married July 13 in a beautiful ceremony beneath the waterfalls at the Historic Joel Hill Sawmill in Equinunk.

Greg Quaglio sits on a stool in the far corner, smiling as he takes in the sights and sounds.

Greg is one of a tireless band of volunteers who helps make the Rock Lake Picnic a resounding success each year. He’s retired now, but spends countless hours each year working here and as a member of the “Brotherhood of the Mill.”

Greg is happy to take a breather and share some of his favorite memories of the Rock Lake Picnic.

“When I was a boy, no more than five or six-years-old, I’d be downstairs looking up and seeing the ceiling vibrate. I can remember wondering if I was going to get through this alive,” he said with a laugh.

While the vast majority of folks who come every year are locals, people also come from hundreds of miles away.

“That young lady right there,” says Greg gesturing to a pretty girl perched on one of the benches that hug the wall. “She drives all the way from Lancaster.

“And members of my own family make the trip from Allentown. It’s tradition. It’s a great place to see people you haven’t seen in a long time.”

In addition to being the social event of the year in Northern Wayne County, the Rock Lake Picnic also serves an extremely important practical purpose.

“It’s by far the biggest fundraiser of the year for this parish,” Greg said, referring to St. Katharine Drexel. “There are so many things that we wouldn’t be able to do without the money raised here each year.”

Over & Out

As the night wore on and the dance floor became crowded, I found a quiet spot in back and just soaked it all in.

There were smiling faces everywhere I looked and the entire room seemed to swirl with the music.

The adults performed their dances with near-perfect synchronicity while the children scampered about, doing their very best to imitate mom and dad, older sisters and brothers.

It was a scene of pure, wholesome Americana, a snapshot of simple happiness that I hope to carry with me in my mind's eye until this time next year...