A talented but modest handyman

Zack and Rachel Miller showed off the Living Acts house they helped remodel in Millersburg, Ohio.

By Bruce Stambaugh

Zack Miller, 26, never thought he would consider being called a handyman. He still doesn’t for that matter.

“If you asked anyone in my family, they would all say I would be the last person to be considered a handyman,” Zack shared modestly. Yet, when Zack described what he had done, it was pretty evident he fit the definition.

“I enjoy working with my hands,” Zack said. “I like to get things done.”

Over the past nine months, Zack got a lot done. Zack headed up the refurbishing of the house where he and his wife, Rachel, 25, live on East Jackson Street in Millersburg, Ohio. Their church, Millersburg Mennonite, purchased the house last summer. The house sits adjacent to the church’s parking lot east of the church.

The congregation bought the property last summer, and soon came up with a novel if not bold idea. The church decided to create a safe haven for young adults who wanted to deepen their own spiritual faith and find direction for their lives. The house was named Living Acts.

The Living Acts house was in need of some serious updating, according to Zack and Rachel. As the host couple for the house, leadership to remodel the home fell to them, with some able and needed assistance from their parents and the church.

“Most of my skills were in refinishing,” Zack said. He had some previous experience working on two different construction crews.

To get Living Acts house updated, Zack ventured into remodeling areas he had never done before, like electrical and plumbing. Zack had to do some plumbing in bathrooms and redo lighting fixtures.

“Zack removed and replaced a faucet and toilet,” Rachel said. “Mostly though we did a lot of stripping of wall-paper, sometimes seven layers.”

“Besides the wall-coverings, we did a lot of painting,” Zack said. “We also did dry walling, some plastering, and refinished the wood floors on the first floor, which included sanding, staining and varnishing.”

One of the first things Zack did though was to remove the extensive latticework that nearly enclosed the back porch.

“I wanted to make the house as open as possible,” he said. “That’s the idea of Living

Acts, to be open to people, inviting them in.”
Zack seemed most pleased with a cubbyhole closet he built in the finished attic of the home. He tore out part of a wall, cut off studs, and built storage shelves and installed rods for clothing.

They also removed a lot of outdated carpet, and replaced a counter top. They even replaced some kitchen cupboards. They also bought furniture and area rugs.

Altogether, the cost of the remodeling was $2,000, with most of that cost covered from the proceeds of a garage sale and a bake sale. Zack said the only two rooms in the house that weren’t worked on were their bedroom and the upstairs kitchen.

The remodeling wasn’t confined to the inside of the home either. Besides the back porch, Zack improved the landscaping, built raised flowerbeds, removed some stumps and planted berry bushes.

“Zack kept a running list of things to do in his head,” Rachel said. She and her mother, Arlene Yoder, decorated the house together.

“I have gained a lot of experience working on this project,” Zack said. “No project was as easy as I had hoped it would be.”

Zack works on the maintenance crew at Walnut Hills Retirement Community in Walnut Creek. Rachel is a registered nurse at Pomerene Hospital in Millersburg. Both graduated from Hesston College in Kansas, and Hiland High School.

They wanted the remodeling project to be completed before others joined the Living Acts house. They reached that goal.

Rachel’s twin sisters, Carrie and Annie Yoder, and Kevin Roth all moved in the first week in April, when Living Acts officially began. Each of the group has committed to being a part of Living Acts through August. An advisory committee from the church oversees the residents of the house.

“We share the household duties,” Rachel said. “We are each responsible for our own living areas, but we share in the cleaning and cooking.”

The Living Acts house is designed for up to seven people.

“But five would be an ideal number,” Rachel said with a smile.

(This article first appeared in the Holmes County Bargain Hunter, Millersburg, OH)

Birding Ohio’s Amish Country

By Bruce Stambaugh

Horses and buggies. Pastoral, broad valleys amid rolling hills frescoed with quilt-like patterns of crops. Fine, handcrafted furniture. Delicious, bountiful meals at reasonable prices.

All of the above are reasons scores of people from far and wide annually travel to Ohio’s Amish country. There is yet one more unassuming category to add to the list: birding.

With its diverse topography, greenery and abundant waterways, Ohio’s Amish country is a birder’s paradise. The area offers both a wonderful spectrum of bird species and excellent birding locales.

Ohio’s Amish country offers something for the novice, casual or serious birder. Birders can find migrating birds, native residents and the occasional rare visitor. The area affords numerous birding spots easily accessible for persons of all ages. A good pair of binoculars will help enhance any aviary quest in Amish country.

A good place to start the birding expedition and get a little exercise as well is the Holmes County Rails to Trails that cuts an easy diagonal through the county. The main starting point and parking lot is at the old railroad depot just north of West Jackson St. in Millersburg, the county seat. This 15-mile paved trail runs from Fredericksburg in Wayne County to Killbuck in southwestern Holmes County.

Following this trail provides a sampling of the birding habitats found throughout the area. However, its dominant geographic feature is the Killbuck Creek valley, a major north-south flyway for migrating birds and a wonderfully dense habitat for year-round bird residents. Woodlots, marshland, open water and cropland are in close proximity all along the trail’s length.

Birders should be aware that horse and buggies, horseback riders, bicyclists, runners and walkers use the trail, too. Birding etiquette and safety dictate setting up spotting scopes or viewing with binoculars on the side of the trail. All types of waterfowl can be found among the reeds and rushes in the marsh areas. Even a rookery of Great Blue Herons can be seen.

Not far from the north end of the Holmes County Trail is another outstanding birding area, the Killbuck Marsh Wildlife Area. An excellent observation spot is at the east end of Force Road, which is accessed from Valley Road east of Shreve.

From this vantage point, if one is patient, birders can view an array of species. American Bitterns, a wide variety of ducks, rails and even Bald Eagles may be seen. The Killbuck Marsh is a state run wildlife management area.

Two other state-owned areas in Ohio’s Amish country also offer excellent birding opportunities. The Funk Bottoms Wildlife Area is located in Wayne and Ashland counties, and Mohican State Park in southern Ashland County.

With its moist soil and shallow water habitat, the Funk Bottoms is a natural wetland area consisting of about 1,500 acres, mostly along State Route 95 near Blachleyville. The Ohio Division of Wildlife said birds that frequent the area include 23 species of migrating waterfowl, including Tundra Swans and Sandhill Cranes, and 28 species of shorebirds. A variety of raptors also winter over and are seen during migration.

Mohican State Park is a spectacular location for many activities, especially hiking and birding. With its dense forests and large open body of water, Bald Eagles and Ospreys have been spotted. The park is located just west of Loudonville between State Routes 95 and 97.

In the eastern end of Amish country sits another ideal birding spot, The Wilderness Center. It provides excitement for even the most novice birder. The Wilderness Center is located on Alabama Ave. off of U.S. 62 near Wilmot in Stark County.

With marked trails, an informative and hands-on interpretive building, it is the perfect place for families. From restored Ohio prairies to old growth forest, The Wilderness Center is host to a wide range of birds, especially songbirds.

With its checkered, rolling farm fields, spring-fed streams and treasured woodlands, many species of birds can be observed merely by driving around the back roads of Amish country. If you happen to see a farmer spreading manure in the winter, look for Horned Larks and Snow Buntings. If hay is being mowed in the summer, watch for Barn, Tree, Bank and Cliff Swallows circling for insects.

The area also boasts high numbers of Bobolinks, Eastern Bluebirds and Barn Owls. Since many avid birders live in the area, visitors can find good advice on where to bird and what might be found simply by asking.

A pair of juvenile green herons perched on a TV antenna.

This article appeared in the March 2010 edition of Ohio’s Amish Country.