“The more we kept coming back home for visits, the more he would enjoy it here, and the more I would really appreciate what I left behind.” -- Donna Caruso
Several years in sunny Central Florida weren’t quite enough to cut the deep-rooted connection this Kingston native holds to Northeastern Pennsylvania. Not even easy proximity to Disney World, or a Sunshine State sweetheart were enough to keep Donna Caruso away.
Well, the sweetheart maybe. He’s Chris Caruso, Donna’s husband. He’s an Orlando native, a former long-distance runner and custom swimming pool designer. But, for him, all it took was a few brief visits and a taste of our famous pizza, and he was ready to call NEPA home.
Soon, the adorable pair ditched the oppressive heat (but not their southern drawls). Recently, they opened Eleventh Element, a relaxation spa in Kingston. And that’s where this story takes place.
How long have you lived in NEPA?
Donna: Umm… about 29 years altogether
Chris: I’ve been here about a year and a half, maybe.
Donna: He’s still just a baby (laughs).
What did you miss most about NEPA?
Donna: My friends and my family and definitely the seasons. I just love them. I don’t mind so much the cold weather. And spring and fall here are just beautiful. So, when I grew up here in Kingston, maybe like y’all, we didn’t have air conditioning in our house. So, you know, you had a fan, and you kept the windows open. And in Florida, there’s not a building that doesn’t have air conditioning blasting. And I would get sick a lot. And I just hated it. And, of course, I didn’t like the heat. You might be able to get used to the heat, but you never really get relief from it.
Chris: And imagine, after 37 years of that, it just wears on you. You can’t even really dress nice when you go out. You’re just sweating.
What brought you back to NEPA?
Donna: Him (nods toward Chris) and our idea of us wanting to do something new. We quit the family business. And we just wanted to branch out. We wanted a change of scenery. And we wanted to start something on our own – something that was meaningful. Not only something that could benefit us, but we wanted to help other people in the process.
Chris, you must have seen something here on your many visits. What was it that made you want to move to NEPA?
Chris: Where we live now up in Bear Creek is absolutely gorgeous. It’s like a different world up there. But the one thing that I always really loved about this place is… there’s such a strong sense of community here. You don’t get that in Central Florida. And that’s a major draw for me. We actually spend time with our neighbors. I didn’t do that in Florida. I lived next to somebody for 10 years, and I talked to him twice. The sense of family here and the sense of community is just something that I was never used to. That’s probably the biggest thing.
What’s your favorite thing to do in NEPA?
Donna: (Sarcastically) We don’t do much. We’re here all the time (laughs)… No. You know, we really enjoy hiking a lot. We couldn’t really do much of it down in Florida. I think hiking, and probably viewing the wildlife. There’s a place up by us… the Bear Creek Preserve. It’s gorgeous. We go there a lot. And, of course, Ricketts Glen. Yeah. That’s the best thing… and concerts. We love going to concerts.
Chris: Hiking and photography. That’s what I’m really getting into. Photography is very new for me, but NEPA is so beautiful, especially once you get up out of the valley. It’s so pretty. There’s so much natural beauty here. And people probably take it for granted. I guess you just kind of get blind to it, you know? But, once you take a second and stop and open your eyes, you realize it’s so beautiful here. You just have to drive about five minutes. That’s all you have to do. Even up at our house in Bear Creek in the summertime, you can see the Milky Way with the naked eye. That’s incredible!
Were you surprised by any changes in NEPA when you came back?
Donna: I’ve noticed that there has been a tremendous amount of growth here in housing, in businesses and restaurants. The casino wasn’t here when I was last here. That’s huge! Even the arena wasn’t here either. So, I could see that we’re getting a lot of bigger city-type venues and things to do here, but we still have that small city feel.
What’s next for you?
Donna: Oh, that’s a tough one, because we’re so new in this business yet. We’re only a couple months old. So, the plan is to really grow this into a destination for people. We want them to know that they can come here, not just for relaxation, but because there are many real health benefits to coming here. And so, we want to just continue to get the word out, and to continue helping people. We want people to feel well after coming here, and to leave with the sense that they were appreciated here.
Chris: Wow. I think that about sums it up. Yeah. That’s a good answer.
Where do you see NEPA heading in the future?
Donna: I see NEPA getting a lot more connected. And, by that, I mean we’re getting more creative, right? We’re getting more open to ways of promoting ourselves. And we’re growing in many ways. We have several big cities that are really not that far from us. And those people are coming here. And they’re coming whether it’s to get a cabin in the Poconos for the weekend, or to attend a concert at the arena, or to check out the casino. And, I think NEPA is finally starting to understand how to deal with that, and how to recognize it and accept it. I’ve said it before, it’s starting to feel like a bigger city, but we still have that closeness of a small town.
Chris: I think it’s much of the younger generation in places of influence now that are starting to open people’s eyes. Look at the Wilkes-Barre Chamber and Leadership Wilkes-Barre. That’s a young group of people there, and they’re turning things around.
Donna: It was an easy transition back, because it was familiar. We talked about how we could have gone anywhere we wanted to try to start new, and we realized that we were already a few steps ahead by coming here. We had a few connections here. We knew the area. We knew the landscape, so we weren’t totally lost in some new city. We knew the towns and what was available. That connection never goes away. Never. Not for me.
Chris: I think it goes back to what I said before about how beautiful the area is. It’s very peaceful for me. And I really enjoy the people here. I really do. It’s just so different from what I’m used to.
Bonus Question (for Chris): Tell me about your first time trying NEPA pizza.
Chris: Oh boy… So my very first experience with NEPA pizza was Pizza Perfect – square fried pizza, just cheese and onions. She actually yelled at me because I was trying to put other stuff on it. She’s like, “No, no, no… you just get cheese and onion.”
Donna: But your other favorite is Arcaro & Genell.
Chris: Oh Arcaro & Genell yeah, but that’s more of a cannoli story (laughs).