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Rotz Meats to close after holidays

November 11, 2002|by RICHARD BELISLE

waynesboro@herald-mail.com

MC CONNELLSBURG, PA - A Fulton County landmark will fade into history next year when Rotz Meats, a family-owned hog butchering business known far beyond this rural central Pennsylvania county, shuts its doors.

The farm and retail store was started by Harold and Beulah Rotz in 1947. It was an offshoot from the days when hog farmer Harold Rotz butchered a few animals and cured a few hams for friends and neighbors, said his daughter, Marion Walker.

Harold Rotz died in 1988. Beulah worked in the store until a few months before she died in 2001 at age 95.

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"She always sat at the table and trimmed meat. It was what she loved to do," Walker said.

Walker, 75, and her husband, Charles, 73, went into the business along with her brother, Richard. Eventually the Walkers' children worked in the business until they left to follow their own careers.

Richard Rotz became the music director at Mercersburg Academy in Mercersburg, Pa. Walker's son, Stephen, went to work in the computer industry.

"They left to do what they wanted to do and that's good," Walker said.

Her daughter, Carolyn Kerlin, still works part-time in the store. She handles the mail-order business and ships out about 500 hams a year.

"The UPS truck stops by here every day," Kerlin said.

Walker's husband stopped raising the family's own hogs two years ago. He also raised the crops to feed the hogs. The Rotzes now buy their hogs from other farmers.

Charles Walker still cuts the hickory wood used in the ham, bacon and sausage smoking operations, his wife said.

The hog killing, done in an antiseptic room near an exterior rear ramp and door, began to wind down in recent years, Walker said.

"At one time we butchered about 1,100 hogs a year," she said.

The Rotzes, using a time-honored secret family recipe, cure about 3,000 country hams a year. The process takes about three months from killing floor to finished product.

Separate rooms in the back of the store show how the process is done, from trimming the hams to rubbing them with salt that begins what Walker calls the dry curing process because the moisture is drawn out of the meat. The last step after smoking is the drying room where hams hang in 90-degree temperatures for 11 days.

A Rotz cured ham has a shelf life of years.

"Not many places do this anymore," Walker said. "Our (government) inspectors say we're the last one in Pennsylvania."

The store sells fresh pork, pudding, ponhaus, lard by the tub and cracklings, a crisp by-product of the lard making process that people eat like potato chips, Walker said.

At first, the family tried to sell the business, but there were no takers, Walker said. It was then decided to simply close the doors at the end of the coming holiday season.

The business will continue to operate as long as there are country hams to sell, probably into early spring, Walker said.

She said the decision to close the business stemmed from a combination of a lot of things - her brother and son moving on to new careers and dwindling interest by other family members to take over; increasing government regulations geared more to large operations; changes in eating habits brought on by busier lifestyles; prepackaged foods and eating out; and a desire by Charles and Marion to travel more, especially on motor trips out west.

"We'll miss it and we'll miss our customers," Walker said. "People come from a long way to buy at the store.

"I feel sorry for them. For many of them coming here has been an annual pilgrimage," she said.

Brothers Dean and Dave Mauer of Somerset, Pa., said they would be sorry to see the business close.

"We come down here twice a year for the hams, bacon and sausage," Dean Mauer said. "You can't find a place like this anywhere else."

Evelyn Most, 89, of Fulton County, said she's been coming to Rotz Meats ever since it opened.

"I buy meat for my freezer every winter and fresh pork in the summer," she said. "I knew the whole family. I'm going to miss them."

"Sometimes it's sad to think about it," Walker said, "and sometimes it's not."

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