By Bruce Stambaugh
Erik Wesner, 33, went from selling books to the Amish to writing one about them. It was an unexpected but enjoyable trek for the Raleigh, North Carolina native.
“I kind of stumbled into it beginning in Arthur, Illinois,” Wesner said.
Wesner went door-to-door selling books for nine years. His job took him to many communities around the country where Amish had settled.
“The kind of books I was selling were appropriate for them,” Wesner said. He explained that they included sets of family Bible study books.
Whether he spent five minutes or 20 minutes with each household, he liked what he saw and heard. He was impressed with the inquisitiveness of the Amish, their resourcefulness and friendliness.
Wesner graduated from the University of North Carolina with a double major of English and economics. It was that knowledge that caused him to take notice of something else that he found common among the Amish.
“Everywhere I went in the Amish communities,” Wesner explained, “I saw successful businesses.” He said he was intrigued with that pattern, especially since most of the entrepreneurs were self-taught and didn’t have either high school or college degrees.
“While visiting in Amish-owned businesses, I saw customers who had driven three hours from Indianapolis and Chicago to make purchases,” he said. “I figured that was a sign of quality and honesty.”
Wesner couldn’t help but notice the continued success of these businesses in each Amish community he visited, even given the down economy.
“From Iowa to Illinois to Lancaster, Pennsylvania to Holmes County, Ohio, I found many success stories to share,” he said. That instilled in him a desire to learn about how they were able to not just survive but thrive when other businesses were not.
That intrigue lead to his book, Success Made Simple, an extensive review of Amish-owned businesses and what makes them consistently tick and click. His book is based on many interviews with Amish business folks across the country.
Wesner said though the book didn’t make the best-seller list, he gained something even more rewarding.
“Through all of this, I have made many friends among the Amish,” he said. That is what brought him back to Holmes County recently. He was visiting some New Order Amish in the Shreve, Ohio area.
In addition to his book, Wesner started a blog called “Amish America” right after the Nickel Mines incident in Lancaster County, Pensylvania in 2006. A gunman shot several Amish schoolgirls. The story made headlines worldwide.
“I didn’t like some of the things I saw and heard following that tragic situation,” Wesner said. Since he enjoys writing, he began the blog at http://amishamerica.com/.
The blog features stories and photographs of various Amish communities. He said he writes about and shows examples of everyday Amish life without trying to glorify it.
“I really enjoy the immediacy of the blog,” Wesner said, referring to the immediate posting of comments by some of his many followers. “I find that very rewarding.”
Wesner said there have been unexpected benefits to his blog.
“I mentioned an Amish business on my blog,” he said, “and the owner thanked me. She had customers who said they heard about her business by reading the blog.”
Wesner said he is working on a second book about the Amish. He said it would focus on the lesser-known things about the Amish lifestyle.
When he is not visiting Amish communities during the summer months, Wesner spends eight months out of the year teaching English in his parents’ home country of Poland. He said his students are mostly adult professionals who need to learn English for their jobs.
“I guess I feel a sense of obligation,” Wesner said about living in Poland. “My grandmother still lives there, and I didn’t want her to feel alone.”
That kind of dedication to family would resonate well with the Amish culture, too.