On and Off The Mountain/Stephanie Grubert

March has been challenging on the weather front, but when all seems hopeless we can all jump into “March Madness”. I am not a sports fanatic, but once a year the Grubert family participates in a family pool and we all get charged up about the NCAA Basketball Tournament games.

This year I tried a little harder to look at seeds and pick teams that I thought would weather the storm. At the end of Sunday’s second day of the tournament, which counted games from the original 64 teams into the next round of 32, my top dog Wichita was out. Most of the games that I watched to the wire were within 3 points of winning or losing. My picks at the end of Sunday were dismal losers in the 20-point range.

It is fun to go to NCAA March Madness Tournament at regional venues. Buffalo, New York, Orlando, Florida and Raleigh, North Carolina were the closest ones for East Coast fans this year. Next year we will have a closer advantage to enjoy the games.

The “Sweet 16” will play this weekend, Thursday through Sunday and then the “Final Four” will games will be April 5 with the Championship Game April 7.

Since the tournament begins in March and we are so desperate for some excitement in the never-ending Mountaintop winter, I vote for starting the tournament one week earlier and concluding the excitement by the end of March. That way the purity of the “March Madness” monocle is intact.

Whatever, we have two more weekends to look forward to. The first weekend is the most fun with 32 games on the schedule.

Damenti’s Loss

Mountaintop lost a historic business Monday March 17, 2014 when Damenti’s Restaurant at 870 North Hunter Highway in Drums was destroyed by a huge fire. Owners Kevin and Helen McDonald operated Damenti’s for 36 years after they purchased the modest restaurant from Jimmy and Jule Damenti in 1978. The McDonalds expanded the restaurant to include fine dining and expanded living space to raise their family and a beautiful garden on the grounds. Their brand of fine dining was renowned in the region.

Over the years Kevin and Helen introduced imaginative ways to promote their business including ice-sculpting exhibits that were free for the public to enjoy. The first was an ice castle built by Kevin and his ice sculpting and carving friends in honor of his daughter Lauren, who was a young child at the time.

The yearly Damenti ice events were anticipated and enjoyed by thousands and when winters were cold all was good. The occasional warmer winter did not contribute to the success of the outdoor ice events and Kevin brought his art and skill inside to a warehouse in Forty Fort one year for the public to enjoy.

Always an imaginative businessman, Kevin McDonald built a bocce court in his yard and eventually the Sand Bar, which he sought to draw people to enjoy Mountaintop’s beautiful summer weather in an outside bar and casual eating environment. In the winter the Sand Bar became the “Ice Bar” and patrons were invited to enjoy a libation outside. A nice fur coat would be appropriate attire for an Ice Bar visit.

Kevin created partnerships with non-profit groups to sponsor events for both of their benefits. The Mountaintop Eagle frequently promoted Relay for Life and other causes with Damenti’s sharing in the profit from patronization at the events.

Damenti’s was Kevin and Helen McDonald’s life long labor of love and its success was a measure of its customer’s loyalty for exquisite cuisine and impeccable service. Fine dining in Mountaintop was the mantra of Damenti’s for more than 30 years.

I have had many conversations with Kevin McDonald in the past few years, as he purchased a lot in the Ice Lakes development and participated in Rice Township affairs. He loved running his restaurant and whatever route he goes in the future he can look back and remember that he ran a business that set the bar for all others in the region.

Easter Egg Hunts With the end of March this week

we must turn toward a spring renewal and what better way to do that is to think about Easter. Rice Township will hold their annual Easter Egg Hunt on Saturday April 5. Holly Guidish, who is a Brownie Girl Scout Troop Leader, volunteered to organize the hunt with her troop. The event will be a public service project for the scouts and will fill a need at Rice, where the decertified Rice Volunteer Fire Company organized previous hunts.

Rice Supervisors voted to authorize $800 for the hunt, which is about half of what the previous board spent. Wright and Fairview Townships each spend about $200 and Dorrance spends less than $400 so the Rice hunt is the place to go for maximum prize options.

I am old school and think the hunt should be more about fun than fancy prizes, but then if the cost of candy has gone through the roof than that’s the way it is. Rice has a recreation fund, which is financed by taxes paid by developers who sell lots in approved subdivisions so they have some resources. The Rice recreation fund is about $15,000 at this writing so upgrades to the townships parks are possible.

Rice is operating at a peaceful level so far this year under the leadership of Marcia Thomas and Mark Taney.