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We were greeted with a sign that read Coeds go home. It hit us between the eyes that we were in a different place,” Joanne Ladley says as she recounts her first experience arriving on the newly co-educational Washington & Jefferson campus in 1970. That year, the college admitted its first female students, hired its first female faculty members, and appointed a woman to be the Associate Dean of Student Personnel. “It was a real life changer for me. So much was new when I got there: new president, new curriculum, two hundred years of men and now women. Everything was changing at W&J at that point,” she says.
But the uneasy spaces between imminent change and powerful tradition never unnerved Joanne. In fact, they served as motivation to shine. She’d sum up her life’s journey with these words, and Kitchen Kettle Village’s tagline: Tradition with a Twist. Both her story and the history of Kitchen Kettle Village begin with simple truths about patience, acceptance, hard work, and a heritage of authenticity.
Growing up the daughter of Bob and Pat Burnley, co-owners of the “Simply World Famous” Kitchen Kettle Village, Joanne was never ashamed of who she was or where she came from—a small, tight-knit community in a town called Intercourse, Pennsylvania. The Amish weren’t a novelty; they were neighbors, friends, and schoolmates. Her parents started the jelly business in 1954, canning inside their 2-car garage, with a range, thirty kettles, and a half dozen recipes. They invited others to come into their kitchen and share in the process. Today, the Kling House Restaurant is where Joanne and her siblings grew up. It was also the place where Joanne’s mother, Pat, first learned how to cook from her mother.
“My parents worked all the time. It was just a way of life for us. That’s shaped me a lot. It’s been difficult for me to get away from that—working as a way of life. My schedule is flexible; I come and I go, but I still work six days a week,” Joanne says. Told very early on that as the boss’ kid, she would have to work harder than anyone else to be at the same place, she took that literally and applied her homegrown work ethic to college (where she graduated cum laude with a degree in German), to her family, and to her friendships. But Joanne’s mother knew her better. “She would say, ‘Kitchen Kettle was never enough for you, Joanne. You always had to have something else going on.’ And I did,” Joanne says with a lighthearted smile.
After graduating from college and moving to Seattle with her husband, Joanne returned to Pennsylvania and to Kitchen Kettle Village. Joanne was asked to sing at a college friend’s wedding and her mother asked church choir director Dorothy Rose Smith to help her prepare. Joanne eventually joined Smith’s all-volunteer opera company. “I have sung all over the world because of her. I was Juliet in Romeo and Juliet, Rosina in The Barber of Seville, and Marguerite in Faust,” Joanne recounts with joy. She tells about an instance as the understudy. It was 1979 inside the Fulton Theatre. She’d gone to every rehearsal and the first weekend of the show she thought she heard a scratch in Rosina’s throat. “Early in the show is the big aria and she hardly got through it,” Joanne says. “They ripped off her dress, put it on me, threw on the wig, and I went up the ladder. We didn’t look at all alike and so there was no questioning that a different person walked out the steps. And there was this gasp in the audience. I’ll never forget Figaro was at the bottom of the steps and he threw me a kiss before the entrance… and it was on with the show!” she exclaims. “The orchestra, the staging, the sets at the Fulton. It was really quite a gift—a privilege.”
Joanne admits she’s had plenty of opportunities to succeed and, in turn, used those to continue to serve others and the community. As a businesswoman, she is proud to have helped create the Ethics in Business Award for the Samaritan Center and facilitate the creation of, and chaired, the United Way’s Women’s Council. Joanne is also one of the first Lancastrians on the Penn Medicine Board, and she looks to the future of ensuring the hospitality industry is recognized in the Lancaster County economy as an officer at Discover Lancaster.
Today, Kitchen Kettle continues to preserve the tradition of hospitality by inviting others into their kitchen to share the simple life and taste the goodness of a jar of rhubarb jam or a pound of chocolate fudge. The recipe for Kitchen Kettle Village’s success, welcoming hundreds of thousands of visitors per year, is rewarding because it’s not a show—it’s authentic. “We’re real. If you see someone in an Amish dress, they are Amish. We’re not doing costumes; we’re not doing productions,” Joanne says. No matter what roles she has played or places she has traveled, her path has always led her back to the people, place, and family that are the heart of Lancaster County.