16 months ago Lorne Smith talked with me about planning a TourMagination tour in partnership with the Pennsylvania German Folklore Society of Ontario to Ohio and Indiana. The majority of the tour participants live in southern Ontario, with a few flying in from Alberta and the US to join the tour.
The group gathered at the Homewood Suites, St. Jacobs on Monday morning. Lorne Smith pointed out that the Mennonite pioneers who immigrated to Upper Canada from Pennsylvania crossed the Niagara River close to where we crossed at Fort Erie. The drive along Lake Erie from Buffalo, New York to Erie, Pennsylvania was beautiful with the foliage in the vineyards providing excellent scenery.
We arrived in Holmes County, Ohio late afternoon, early enough for tour members to visit the shops in Walnut Creek. You can see by the photos that we were blessed with good weather and the fall colors provided spectacular scenery from the balconies of our rooms at the Carlisle Inn, Walnut Creek.
On Tuesday James and Bernadine Mast served as our guides as we toured Holmes County. James reminded us that the Amish community is growing. The baptized membership is over 310,000 world-wide with the highest number living in Ohio, then Pennsylvania and next Indiana. 60% of the population of Holmes County is Amish. We stopped and photographed Jonas Stutzman’s homestead (1808), the first Amish homestead in the county.
A highlight of the countryside tour was the conversation with Bishop David Klein. His family lives on a century farm that is still being farmed by the Klein family. He said the farm has been kind to them. They are a certified organic farm.
David is also an author, often writing about nature and life on the farm. He credits his school teacher for his love of nature. He told us life’s greatest possessions are family, faith and community. Many of the group bought his book, “Great Possessions: An Amish Farmer’s Journal.”
In Shipshewana, Indiana we were welcomed at the Blue Gate Garden Inn by Mel and June Riegsecker, the owners/operators. They are friends of Wilmer, having traveled with him on the Amish Heritage tour to Europe in 2014.
Today was a very meaningful day. This morning Ervin and Sarah Chupp, Amish entrepreneurs, boarded our coach and took us to visit a number of Amish businesses. At Dutch Country Packages they process organic eggs from Amish farmers, selling them to 44 states. We toured the facility learning that their equipment comes from the Netherlands. The eggs are processed never touching human hands.
Ervin and Sarah have 7 sons and 3 daughters and 32 grandchildren. We met several of their sons at Chupp Auction Center. Two of the sons were working at the 3-day horse auction. We were told that buyers come from across US, Canada and Japan. Prices for the horses range from $3,000 to $10,000. Time didn’t permit us to stop at the sale.
We also toured Jayco, manufacturer of recreational vehicles, operated by the Bontrager family. Ervin told us that 70% of Amish men work at factories, making between $60,000 and $75,000 per year. There is a labor shortage for business at this time. Even though the Amish have large families he said it is a challenge they are facing.
At Lambright Country Chimes we learned of the manufacturing of wind chimes. We were pleased they also had a retail store. At E&S Sales we visited Ervin and Sarah’s Country Market grocery store and manufacturing center. We first toured the noodle manufacturing facility then the warehouse. We were impressed that they ship regularly to stores in Canada including Linwood, Ontario. We enjoyed free time to shop in this beautiful store.
Our last stop was the Raber family furniture manufacturing company which primarily makes tables. It is a 3 generation family business.
We enjoyed free time this afternoon to visit Shipshewana. Some visited Yoder’s Dry Goods store, others Menno Hof Mennonite Information Center. Some took the opportunity to relax at the Blue Gate Garden Inn. We look forward to the Southern Gospel Music concert tonight. The Booth Brothers are performing at the Shipshewana Event Center.
We return home tomorrow with many wonderful memories. We have made new friends and have developed a deeper appreciation for the life and faith of the Amish people.
– Wilmer Martin