Reflecting on an unhealthy year

January sunrise by Bruce Stambaugh
By Bruce Stambaugh

This hasn’t been the healthiest year of my life. It began in January with bronchitis that turned into pneumonia and has ended with recuperation from a second surgery.

In between, of course, came the confirmation of prostate cancer. I had to endure uncomfortable tests to determine both its presence and infiltration into my body. Fortunately, the cancer was caught early, and removed without major complications.

Helping hands by Bruce Stambaugh
My good wife braved the cold winter elements to fill the bird feeders while I was sick.

I chose the robotic or da Vinci surgery to get rid of the cancer as opposed to the regular radical surgery. The da Vinci was proven to be less intrusive, cause less pain, have less blood loss, be more exact in saving the bundle of nerves that control men’s precious plumbing, and have a quicker recovery.

I was more than glad I went that route. Of course, like anyone else facing surgery, especially surgery for cancer, I ran the full gamut of emotions that ranged from anger to fear to doubt to denial. Still, I wanted that cancer out of my body. My good doctor expertly did just that.
Bluebird by Bruce Stambaugh
After the surgery, I knew I had to behave and follow the instructions religiously. With the aid of my wonderful wife, I did my best to get my life as close to being back to normal as possible.

My recovery was progressing along nicely until I had an unexpected sidetrack, which led to my second surgery. Repairing a hernia certainly isn’t life threatening, but it did set me back considerably in my initial rehabilitation from my May surgery.

Kids and balloons by Bruce Stambaugh
My grandchildren did their best to keep me smiling.

The second surgery was also successful, and once again my recovery has gone well. I still have some lifting limitations that I tried unsuccessfully to get the doctor to extend for six years.

All that being said, I tried to keep my focus on others. Clearly, many, many people in this socially connected world of ours have had or do have it much worse off than me. The last thing I wanted was to feel sorry for myself. But I did. I’m a man. What would you expect?

Mom's birthday by Bruce Stambaugh
My mother celebrated her 90th birthday in June.

My wife made sure my self-pity didn’t last long. Thankful to be alive and alert, I worked around my physical limitations as best I could by trying to focus on the circumstances of others. There are lots of hurting people out there who have it much worse than me. Friends, relatives and even friends of friends are going through unthinkable miseries.

But think of them I must. To be down and out, sick or disabled through some accident or illness is bad enough. To be that way during the approaching holidays makes it all the harder. I try to visit and pray and do whatever I can to help. They did that for me. It’s the least I can do for them.

Three survivors by Bruce Stambaugh
Three prostate cancer survivors, Kim Kellogg, Randy Murray and me.

I greatly appreciated the kindnesses shown to me. I feel obliged to return the favor wherever and whenever I can.

Chances to help unexpectedly present themselves. The key to being helpful is recognizing when those opportunities arise, and responding accordingly.

Being a survivor, I hope I never forget that that’s exactly what I need to do. Respond where and when I can, even if it’s just listening and holding a hand. Having company in times of personal distress is a mighty gift that needs no unwrapping.

This has been an unhealthy year for me. But I’m here. I made it, grateful to be alive and determined to help those in need, even if it is nothing more than offering a smile.
Foggy sunrise by Bruce Stambaugh

Hunting deer and finding memories

Cows and trees by Bruce Stambaugh
By Bruce Stambaugh

Deer season is at hand. It couldn’t come soon enough for avid deer slayers. Thousands around the state will be out in force trying their best to cull the herds of white-tails that roam all across Ohio.

I won’t be one of them. I’m not against hunting, mind you. I would just rather shoot deer with my camera instead of a gun. Besides, my family and I have bagged our share of Bambies the expensive way, with our vehicles.

As a young boy, I went hunting often with my outdoor sportsman father. Squirrel hunting was my favorite. I especially enjoyed a rolling farm far from our suburban home.
Creek at sunrise by Bruce Stambaugh
I loved the slow, quiet walk among the pastured hardwoods. An amenable creek, really the headwaters of a major river in eastern Ohio, meandered through the giant beeches, oaks, maples, walnuts and wild cherries.

Holsteins grazed the natural grasses that grew beneath the impressive stand of tall trees. It made for easy walking and great visibility. My father and I could be distantly separated and still stay in eyesight of one another.

I shot rabbits and pheasants, too. But those were found more in open, overgrown fields, thickets and fencerows than in the woods. It was among the graceful trees where I felt most comfortable. Even in a gentle breeze, their creaking limbs spoke to me. I could dream and hunt simultaneously.
Fungus on stump by Bruce Stambaugh
Dad never invited me along to deer hunt. He probably sensed my romanticizing or lollygagging while on the prowl. Lord knows there’s no room for either when driving for deer. Dad was too antsy to occupy a deer stand.

I always said that the deer were safe as long as Dad was after them. In all the years he hunted, I think he only ever shot two, and one was a fluke. Dad told that story like a Dickens novel.

He was in southeast Ohio where the hills are high and the valleys steep, and the landscape was thickly populated with mixed, second growth hardwoods. Occasional meadows broke the tree monopoly.

Young buck by Bruce Stambaugh
A young buck in the woods.
Dad had been tracking a deer for a while and finally spotted a big buck across the valley, loping up the opposite hillside. Dad took aim with his trusty 20-gauge and fired just as the buck leaped over a fence.

Dad said he saw the deer drop. He hustled down the hill, crossed a small stream and lumbered up the other slope. When he reached the fencerow at the spot where he had shot, Dad leaned over the vine-infested barrier and got a shock. There was a dead deer all right; only it was a doe, not the buck.

Of course Dad took a lot of ribbing from his hunting buddies. But he always insisted that he had shot at a buck. All he could figure was that the doe was lying out of view beyond the fence. His slug must have missed the buck and hit the doe.
Fall farm by Bruce Stambaugh
Dad loved to tell the “I shot at a buck and hit a doe” story time and again. I had no reason to doubt his word whatsoever. I saw the joy that it brought him as he laughed through the details that never changed.

I don’t have to go hunting to enjoy deer season. I’m satisfied to recall my father’s true tall tale. It makes me as happy as if I had shot a 12-point buck myself. Or was it a doe in disguise?

Amish show their thanks through service to community

Amish harvest by Bruce Stambaugh
During harvest, the Amish literally pitch in to help one another.

By Bruce Stambaugh

Once the floodwaters of the historic July 1969 flood had receded, the residents of Killbuck, Ohio were in shock. Homes and businesses were either destroyed or severely damaged by the record high water levels. Townspeople were ready to give up, the cleanup looked so daunting.

Then something amazing and unexpected happened. Scores of Amish and Mennonites arrived from the eastern section of the county, home to the world’s largest Amish population, to help. No one had asked them to come. They just showed up.

The volunteers waded in and did the absolute hardest, dirtiest jobs, clearing out mud and muck with no complaints. They did it all out of a basic foundation of thankfulness.

Helping in times of need affords the Amish a method of connecting with the community. It is their personal and active way of expressing their appreciation for community and country, and the cherished ability to worship freely.

Church buggies by Bruce Stambaugh
Gathering the buggies before church at an Amish home in Holmes Co., Ohio.

Amish do not normally participate in organized governmental positions. They do not take oaths, which such positions often require. Consequently, when opportunities to assist others arise, the Amish respond.

The Amish do not always wait for disaster to strike either. They are proactive in helping the less fortunate.

Donating blood is one of those opportunities. It’s not unusual for a local blood drive to collect 100 or more units every 56 days.

The Amish also show their thankfulness by helping with numerous annual benefit auctions that are held locally. A short list would include The Rainbow of Hope auction, The Ohio Mennonite Relief Sale, the Holmes County Home and the Holmes County Training Center.

Hitching rail by Bruce Stambaugh
The hitching rail at the Mt. Hope, Ohio, Auction is lined with horses and buggies on sale day.

Supporting such causes is borne of a two-fold purpose for the Amish. They recognize the importance to help those who have particular needs, and they also accept that they could possibly be in that situation themselves. They are grateful for whatever happens.

To briefly identify the purpose of the aforementioned benefits helps to understand the depth and breadth of the Amish aid. Funds from the Rainbow of Hope auction assist children with major medical bills. The Relief Sale raises funds for worldwide projects under the direction of Mennonite Central Committee.

MDS house by Bruce Stambaugh
A home damaged by Hurrican Katrina in Boothville, LA was repaired under the direction of Mennonite Disaster Service.

Amish even travel far from their geographic area to put their faith into action. After Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, scores of Amish assisted in the Gulf States cleanup and reconstruction. So many helped, in fact, that Mennonite Disaster Service set up an Amish only camp where the volunteers could live according to their normal lives without the influence of distractions like television and the Internet.

Locally, the auctions for the county home and the Training Center raise operating funds. The county home has some Amish residents, and Amish make up a good percentage of the population at the Training Center, which works with developmentally challenged students and adults.

Another way of contributing to the common good for some Amish is to join the local volunteer fire department. Several area departments have Amish on their rosters as firefighters and emergency medical technicians.

True to their desire for modesty, the Amish want no recognition or publicity for their kind efforts. Their satisfaction comes from the simple act and ability to help others.

Amish help by Bruce Stambaugh
Amish quickly helped their neighbors have a severe thunderstorm hit near Charm, Ohio in July.

Of course, the iconic images of Amish helping at a barn raising are conjured up as the ideal way to help their neighbor. But their generous participation in the community and world at large clearly shows that the Amish think and act out of thankfulness far beyond their own immediate area.

To be sure, most Amish families embrace Thanksgiving as a day of joyous celebration of community, bountifulness and life itself. Even then many Amish approach the day piously, fasting in the morning prior to the feast that includes all the traditional trimmings.

The Amish mark Thanksgiving Day as a pinnacle to a lifestyle of serving. Fittingly, they would be too modest to acknowledge that fact.

Amish farm fall by Bruce Stambaugh
A typical Amish farm in the fall in Holmes County, Ohio.

This article appears in the November 2011 edition of Ohio’s Amish Country magazine.

Thanking the people who matter

Thanksgiving by Bruce Stambaugh
Around the Thanksgiving table.

By Bruce Stambaugh

The school superintendent called him his million-dollar man. To illustrate his point, the school leader even had mock million dollar bills printed with the person’s face front and center.

The scenario played out at the beginning of this school year in the school district where I had grown up. Along with hundreds of others, I had been invited to attend the opening rally as a guest. As people entered the stadium where the ceremonies were held, each person was handed the play money.

During the 90-minute ceremony, the superintendent recognized many people in the district for their outstanding efforts. He also announced that the district had achieved the top academic awards in the state.

The summit, however, was this one man who had worked so tirelessly to reduce costs for the financially strapped district. The superintendent had calculated that this one individual had saved the district a million dollars through cost saving changes, including the installation of energy saving light bulbs. That’s what earned him the extra special notoriety.

Friends by Bruce Stambaugh
Friends.

I was duly impressed and honored to have witnessed this celebrative opening to another school year. Though I had not been a part of the district for years, I felt connected and inspired by what had transpired.

The proceedings were a reminder to me to thank those who have made a difference in my life. Of course, I realized I wouldn’t have to have play money printed up to do so. A simple word of thanks, a personalized note card, a hardy hug, would send the proper and immediate message.

Believe me, I have much for which to be thankful this year. This hasn’t exactly been the healthiest year of my life, and yet, here I am at Thanksgiving, alive and well, and forever grateful.
Neva and me by Bruce Stambaugh
A good place to start would be with my wife, who has been by my side through thick and thin. She has gone far beyond the second mile for me.

I have nothing but praise for the good doctor who removed the cancer from my body. My recovery continues. Overall, I feel great, and best of all I am cancer free.

At the same time, I can tick off person after person that I either know personally or have heard of who have not had the same results. Their illnesses or injuries remind me to be humble in my elation yet determined in my prayers for them and their families.

Window cross by Bruce StambaughStill, as the thoughtful and expressive superintendent modeled, we must not hold back in our praise of others when they accomplish great things for themselves or for the good of the community. It truly is better to give than receive.

As we approach this national holiday of thanks with its abundance of savory food and gathered family, I plan on thanking people who have made a difference in my life. I’ll tell them how much they have meant to me and how appreciative I am for their contribution to my life.

How about you? Who have been the million dollar people in your lives?

As part of celebrating this Thanksgiving, consider offering a few words of thanks to those who have helped you along your life’s path. You don’t have to print up hundreds of fake million dollar bills to show your appreciation. But you can if you want.
Fall lane by Bruce Stambaugh

A satisfying sense of closure for Mil Agnor

Mil Agnor 1 by Bruce Stambaugh
Mil Agnor with some of the artwork she brought back from Romania.

By Bruce Stambaugh

You can see it in her eyes, in her smile and in her body language. Mil Agnor finally has closure.

Earlier this year, the 80-year-old former Millersburg, Ohio resident had her two-year term of service with the Peace Corps in Romania unexpectedly interrupted. After a routine physical exam, she was sent back to the United States for more medical work.

Agnor was diagnosed with bladder cancer, underwent surgery and treatment, and was glad to be up and around and physically well. But something was missing in her life. She had to leave her Peace Corps teaching assignment without saying goodbye to her students, cohorts and friends.

“I didn’t have a chance to say thank you and goodbye,” Agnor said. “I didn’t feel like I had closure.”

The self-assured and talented Agnor was determined to correct that situation. Once she got the medical all clear, Agnor began planning a trip back to Romania. She left Oct. 12 and returned to her new home in Stow Oct. 26 a very satisfied person.

Agnor didn’t make the trip alone. She took along 400 refrigerator magnets that she had made at a print shope in Millersburg. She handed them out to her former students, fellow staff, Peace Corps partners, parents, school and government officials, and even to people she met on the street.

“Romanian’s are very friendly,” Agnor said. “They were very appreciative.”

They should have been. The magnet was a photo of Agnor in front of the school where she taught English in Palanca, Romania. The magnets were inscribed in Romanian with heart-felt thanks from Agnor.

Below the U.S. and Romanian flags was the salutation, “For my dear friends in Palanca and Romania. My greatest thanks to you and your good health.” It was a keepsake anyone there would cherish, especially since Agnor had it made herself and personally handed it out.

That’s not all the generous and compassionate woman did. Teacher that she is, Agnor took along another small gift that created a memorable object lesson for her former students. She gave each student a Lincoln Head penny while sharing this little rhyme: “Find a penny, pick it up; all day long you’ll have good luck.”

She also seized the moment to teach the students about Abraham Lincoln, whose profile is on the coin.

“I told them all about Abe Lincoln, one of our most successful presidents,” Agnor said. “Like my students, he had a humble beginning, was honest, worked hard and loved to learn.”

Ribbon cutting by Bruce Stambaugh
As the honored guest, Mil Agnor assisted the school's principal, Dumitru Cojocaru and Palanca's mayor, Adrien Palistan, in cutting the ribbon to the new science lab.
To Agnor’s great delight, her hosts had a nice surprise for her, too. A dedication was held in her honor for the new science lab that Agnor helped create. She wrote a proposal for the lab, which was approved by Peace Corps officials in Romania and the U.S. The project, which included adding water and electricity in the unused room, totaled $9,300.

The local school raised 35 percent of the amount, 10 percent more than what was required, Agnor said. That amount included $275 collected by the students from selling jewelry and food. The balance was raised through donations to the Peace Corps.

The staff and students hustled to complete the science lab while she was visiting. A special celebration was held, requiring Agnor to stay in Palanca an extra day.

County and local officials and school personnel all acknowledged Agnor’s leadership role in helping to instigate and create the lab. Agnor said she felt honored to receive the recognition.

The biggest hit of the science lab was the smart board, which is basically a large interactive computer screen that allows teachers and students to share in researching and displaying projects. In addition, the monies raised help supply the lab with tables and chairs.

“The project had to be sustainable,” Agnor said. “We had to develop something that will be ongoing in the absence of Americans.” She said the Peace Corps would terminate its services in Romania within two years.

Agnor’s service in Romania is completed, but her dedication to helping there is not.

“I’m going to find a way to continue to work in some nonprofit approach here to help my friends in Romania,” she said. Given her commitment and determination, she will likely be successful at that as well.

Mil Agnor quilt by Bruce Stambaugh
Agnor's students gave her a hand print quilt they made. She was also given the summer wedding vest that she is wearing as a thank you gift.

In honor of the day, my late father, and the visionary founders who penned our freedoms

Richard H. Stambaugh by Bruce Stambaugh
My father, Richard H. Stambaugh, achieved a long-time goal when he was able to visit the World War II Memorial in Washington, D.C. on September 12, 2009 thanks to Honor Flight. As part of a photographic review of the 21st century's first decade, this picture appeared on the front page of the NewYorkTimes.com on December 24, 2009, three days after Dad died.

The original article was first published on Nov. 11, 2011. I am republishing a revised version today in honor of Veteran’s Day in the U.S. and for all those who work globally for peace.

By Bruce Stambaugh

The very first sermon I heard preached in a Mennonite church 40 years ago was on nonresistance. That was precisely what I was looking for spiritually, and I embraced it. My father, a World War II veteran, was skeptical, but eventually accepted my decision.

Now years later, I was to accompany my 89-year-old father on a special excursion called Honor Flight for World War II vets. Dad was dying of cancer, and he had long wanted to make this trip to Washington, D.C. Regardless of physical condition, each of the 117 vets on the plane was required to have a guardian for the all-day round-trip. Given his physical situation, Dad needed extra care.

Given my nonresistance stance on war, I was reluctant to go. I likely would be the only conscientious objector on the packed plane. But this trip wasn’t about me. It was about my father fulfilling one of his dreams. To help him accomplish that, regardless of my personal convictions, I needed to go with him.

Bruce Craig and Dick by Bruce Stambaugh
My older brother, Craig, and I with our father, Dick, prior to leaving Akron-Canton Airport. Craig served as guardian for two other vets on the day-long trip

As anticipated, the vets received their patriotic just due. Upon arriving at Reagan National Airport in Washington, D.C., fire trucks sprayed arches of water across our arriving jetliner. This ritual was usually reserved for dignitaries. As we exited the plane and entered the terminal, a concert band played patriotic music. Red, white and blue balloons were everywhere, and hundreds of volunteers vigorously greeted us.
Handshake by Bruce Stambaugh
Another veteran was the first to welcome Dad to the World War II Memorial in Washington, D.C.

At the circular, mostly granite World War II memorial, strangers came up to the vets and shook their hands and thanked them for their service. I emotionally took it all in, focusing my attention on caring for my elderly father.

The entourage visited several other war monuments in the U.S. capital that day, too. Back at the airport, we had left in the morning, the vets received a similar patriotic welcome home. Dad said this experience ranked right behind his 67- year marriage.

With that comment, I was exceedingly glad that I had had the chance to experience that day with my father. I felt honored to have been able to accompany him on his most significant day and glad he had gotten to go. Dad died three months later.

Despite all the hoopla of that day or perhaps because of it, the futility of war became all the more obvious to me and had actually reinforced my nonresistance stance. To a person, the vets with whom I spoke said they hated what they had had to do. I

Welcome home by Bruce Stambaugh
Hundreds of well-wishers greeted the vets upon their return to Ohio.
also remembered the words of Jesus, when he said to turn the other cheek and to go the second mile and beyond for your enemy.

For a day I had had one foot on the foundation of God and country, and the other on the teachings of Jesus. The trip with my father was an inspirational reminder of the commitment I had made as a young man to a different way of making peace in a hostile world.

Mailcall by Bruce Stambaugh
Each vet on the Honor Flight received letters to read during mail call on the flight home.

Because of this experience, I had bonded with my father in his time of need, and I greatly respected what my father and the other veterans on the flight had done. And yet, I knew I could not have done what they had, not because of cowardice, but out of conviction.

I had participated in the Honor Flight out of love and respect for my earthly father. I had held fast to my peace convictions out of love and devotion to my father in heaven. In that paradox, I had found no conflict whatsoever.

Bob Dole, WW II Memorial
When Dad spied Senator Bob Dole, who forged the way for the World War II Memorial, he rose out of his wheelchair and shuffled and squeezed his way beside the senator.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2017

This first article appeared in Rejoice!, the daily devotional for Mennonite Church USA.

Greg Miller is a nice guy

By Bruce Stambaugh

Greg Miller is a nice guy. Anyone who even remotely knows Greg would easily agree with that statement.

Greg Miller by Bruce Stambaugh
Greg Miller

Though raised just a mile south of where my wife and I have lived for 32 years near Berlin, Ohio, I really never got to know him until recently. Greg had long grown up and started his own adult life before we moved here. His mother continues to live in the same house, and still meticulously adorns her property annually with a wide assortment of lovely flowers.

Others have known Greg much longer and better than I have. But just from the few conversations that I have had with him, I can attest that Greg is the kind of guy everyone would welcome as a friend.

I had heard of Greg well before I got to know him. He was one of three birders about whom Mark Obmascik wrote his 2004 book “The Big Year.” When Hollywood turned the book into a big screen movie of the same name, Greg was ecstatic, and rightly so. Not everyone has a book written or a movie made about a life accomplishment.

By his own description, Greg is a computer programming geek by trade and an avid and expert birder by desire. Greg transformed that hobby into nearly an obsession when he spent much of 1998 doing a Big Year. A Big Year is when a birder observes or hears as many North American bird species as possible.
Banner at Lakeside Ohio by Bruce Stambaugh
That year Greg surpassed the coveted 700 mark, as did two other men. The story of the extreme efforts of those three birders inspired both the book and the recently released movie.

Greg gave a touching keynote address at the Midwest Birding Symposium in Lakeside, Ohio in mid-September. He spoke to an audience of nearly 1,000 for an hour using no notes, speaking directly from his heart. Greg had the crowd spellbound relating his personal, touching story.

I was greatly moved when early in his talk Greg cited the influence of his kind parents, especially his father, in generating his interest in birding. Greg said he couldn’t remember seeing his first bird or getting his first pair of binoculars. Birding was simply a part of his heritage, thanks to the quiet, patient guidance of his late father, who himself was a man of integrity.

Kevin Cook and Greg Miller by Bruce Stambaugh
Kevin Cook and Greg Miller at the Midwest Birding Symposium held at Lakeside, Ohio in September.

Greg told the crowd how his father taught him to see the bird, and then lift his binoculars to his eyes to observe the bird’s details and to verify the species. Years later, Greg showed movie star Jack Black, who played Greg in the movie, the same birding technique.

Greg served as the birding consultant for the movie. He spent three weeks on-site with the crew. Greg couldn’t get over that the cast and crew were as enamored with him as he was in awe of them.

Greg is not perfect. He would be the first to tell you that. Greg has encountered and endured some of life’s pitfalls, like the rest of us humans. Now, however, he is basking in the glow of notoriety, racing to speaking engagements all across the country as if he were chasing after the rarest of birds.

Good for him. Through it all, Greg has remained Greg. He has not lost the sense of whom he is nor how he got to be where he is. That alone speaks volumes of just how nice a guy Greg Miller really is.

Julie Zickefoose by Bruce Stambaugh
Author and illustrator Julie Zickefoose greeted some of her admirers at the Midwest Birding Symposium at Lakeside, Ohio in September.