Unwanted attention: Amish and the media

Wheat and corn by Bruce Stambaugh
Picturesque rural scenes like this one attract millions of people every year to Ohio's Amish country.

By Bruce Stambaugh

The Amish in the Holmes County, Ohio area have been in the news in recent months, and the news hasn’t always been good. The bizarre hair-cutting incidents, murders, financial fraud and accidental shootings all had the bright lights of media coverage shining on the normally peaceful and private Amish folks.

By faith and by lifestyle, the Amish wanted none of the attention. Yet, Amish are humans, and subject the same extremes and circumstances as any other individual, family or group of people. When something disturbing and uncanny happens among the world’s largest Amish population, the media swoop in to tell the world about it.

Certainly, the media has its right and responsibility to report stories it deems important. When it comes to radical events concerning the Amish, like the renegade group led by Sam Mullet of Bergholz, Ohio, it seems the world can’t get enough information.

Indeed, that desire to know is understandable, especially when it involves the normally reserved Amish. Violence in a usually peaceful and peace-loving community is an anomaly, and definitely incongruous with the Amish lifestyle.
Spring plowing by Bruce Stambaugh
The problem is, of course, that the Amish really want nothing to do with publicity, whether positive or negative. Humility is a main premise to their way of life. They believe that no member should be the center of attention, whether for doing good or doing ill. The Amish culture is centered on community, not individuality.

It is when the extraordinary in the community occurs, like the recent hostile beard cutting incidences, that that norm is broken. The unusual acts are extensively reported, and the world responds with questions and fascination. Again, the Amish prefer not to be featured as a general rule. But they also want the world to know that these extreme human behaviors are exceptions, not the rule, in the regular work-a-day-world.
Open buggy by Bruce Stambaugh
Just their choice of slower living lifestyles alone actually brings about media attention to Amish country. Many film and TV documentaries have been recorded and broadcast depicting the Amish and their less hectic lifestyle. Unfortunately, many of these productions often misinterpret or misrepresent the Amish and their values. When that unusual lifestyle is interrupted by extreme circumstances, the reporters from around the world flock in to get the scoop.

The Amish deplore any violence, whether it is done to them or others. In the case of the accidental killing of a 15-year old girl riding in a buggy, the shooter himself was Amish. Within days, the two families reconciled privately, saddened by the unfortunate and unexplainable one in a million chance that took a young life. The families forgave, and worked at getting on with life as best they could. That precious act of communing drew no media attention, which was just fine with all involved.

The Amish understand society’s need to know. They just don’t want to have their beliefs violated in gathering the sordid facts. If they do agree to a rare journalistic interview, Amish do not want their faces shown on television or in the newspaper.

Volleyball by Bruce Stambaugh
Amish youth meet regularly for hymn sings, bible study and good old-fashioned fun, like a volleyball tournament. No trophies are awarded, and there are no losers.

That bit of advice certainly should be followed by anyone visiting Amish country. Knowing that Amish prefer not to be photographed, it is best to take pictures of them from the back and from afar. In other words, take a picture of a field being plowed with the horses and farmer going away from the camera.
Serving by Bruce Stambaugh
Out of respect for their beliefs, facial pictures of Amish adults should be avoided.

When in a large crowd with mostly Amish folks like at one of the area’s numerous benefit auctions, be sensitive to the setting. Photographs of individuals would be discouraged.

The global media infrequently descends upon Amish country to report unusual stories. When they do, the Amish prefer to steer clear of any of the attention. They understand that the story needs to be told. They just don’t want to be a part of it.

This article appears in the current edition of Ohio’s Amish Country.

Over the river and through the woods to a basketball game

Youth basketball by Bruce Stambaugh
Youth basketball in Harrisonburg, VA.

By Bruce Stambaugh

It’s time for March Madness again. As much as my wife and I enjoy watching the college games on television, we had other basketball priorities. That’s the way it is with grandparents.

Our seven-year-old grandson’s basketball season was winding down, and we hadn’t seen him play yet. We used that as an excuse, as if we needed one, to drive the 350 miles south and east to Virginia’s lovely Shenandoah Valley to see him play. Across the Ohio River and through forested West Virginia mountain passes we went to cheer him on.

mountainpassbybrucestambaugh
One of the mountain passess in West Virginia we cross each time we travel from Ohio to Harrisonburg, VA.

Unfortunately, Evan was ill when we arrived. His 103-plus fever kept him home from school for a couple of days. But sports nut that he is, Evan’s fever subsided and he was ready to roll by game time Saturday morning.

We all piled into our daughter’s van and headed a few miles down the road to an elementary school where the basketball games are held. Other parents and grandparents filled the meager bleachers, too, as you might expect.

Huddle up by Bruce Stambaugh
The coach gives instructions to the young players.

I was impressed with how the operation was run. After all, seven is a young age to be playing a contact sport. After the usual warm-ups were completed, the coaches gathered the players for instructions.

The main referee, a lanky teenager, also helped the players. He talked to them before each jump ball and as the game progressed. In fact, once the whistle had blown, he often demonstratively showed the players the correct way to guard or shoot.

Helping referee by Bruce Stambaugh
The young referee took time to instruct the young players, too.
Of course, as soon as play resumed, it was like nothing had been said. The kids were pretty young to grasp the full aspects of the game. They were mostly out to have fun, and win, even though no score was kept.

Another plus was that the baskets had been lowered to make it easier for the boys to shoot. In addition, they used a smaller sized ball, one that was much easier for their small hands to handle.

This game was a lot of fun to watch. A few parents and grandparents, who shall all remain nameless, hollered out instructions to their favorite player. But just like they did the coaches, the kids seemed to ignore the advice and played on, dismissed rules and guidance in favor of trying to make a bucket anyway they could.

Playing on by Bruce Stambaugh
The youngsters emulated NBA players with their style of play.
In fact, the play of the youngsters, combined with the loose officiating, reminded me of an NBA game. Dribbling seemed to be an option, and shooting was far more common than passing the ball.

Back home, Evan practiced his skills with his younger brother, Davis, by playing an electronic game on the TV with the Wii. Davis tried his best to teach me, but I guess I was just too old to jump properly to make a basket. I seemed to be showing my age in both the virtual and real world.

Maren by Bruce Stambaugh
Our granddaughter, Maren.
Their baby sister, Maren, had tolerated Evan’s game just fine. She took along her baby doll for real entertainment. She didn’t have much interest in the Wii game either.

Maren was much too preoccupied with more important things, like playing quietly by herself until her brothers interrupted her privacy. Then another game began, which their lovely mother refereed, no whistle required.

Admittedly it was a long way to go to watch a basketball game, but well worth the time and effort. This grandfather can’t wait for youth baseball to begin.

Discovering a gem of a gem

Harbor sunset by Bruce Stambaugh
Sunset at the harbor, Fernandina Beach, FL.

By Bruce Stambaugh

It seems no matter how much planning my wife and I do for each trip we take, we find at least one unexpected gem along the way. Amelia Island, Florida was just such a place on a recent trip to the Sunshine state.

The unpretentious island initially was to be no more than a one-night layover to our final destination, Sarasota. It didn’t take long to realize what a diamond in the rough we had found. The island’s natural amenities alone deserved a closer look.

Amelia River by Bruce Stambaugh
A typical scene of live oaks and palmetto palms along the Amelia River.

On the way home, we stopped at Amelia Island for a two-day self-guided tour. Once we started to uncover the island’s riches, we could have spent two weeks there.

Steeped in history and oozing with natural beauty, Amelia Island’s chief charm seemed to be its modesty. Just inside the Florida line from Georgia, I sensed the island and its people knew what they had, but just didn’t want to flaunt it.

Main Beach by Bruce Stambaugh
Main Beach on the Atlantic Ocean, Amelia Island, FL.

On the Atlantic Ocean side, Main Beach runs the entire length of the 13.5 mile long island. In the off-season, resident and migrating birds far outnumbered the exploring humans combing the beach or local teens windsurfing.
Pippi House by Bruce Stambaugh
The Pippi Longstocking House, Old Towne, Fernandina Beach, FL.

On the inland side, historic Fernandina Beach graces the island’s picturesque waterfront. Here’s where the island’s modesty reigned. The beautiful little town was actually settled three years before St. Augustine, which bills itself as the oldest in the country.

Fernandina Beach lost its historic distinction when the Spanish conquistadores massacred the French settlers and all the island’s indigenous people, too. An open grassy square in the old town section still marks the spot.

Ironically, one of the many distinctive houses in the town stands adjacent to the infamous slaughter. The old place was used as the setting for the 1988 Pippi Longstocking movie.

Amelia Island lighthouse by Bruce Stambaugh
The Amelia Island lighthouse.

Back in town, the oldest bar in Florida was temporarily converted into an ice cream parlor for a scene in the movie. The island’s elementary children were recruited for an ice cream fight until the reality of the hot Florida weather melted the main prop. Colored mashed potatoes were instant replacements to complete the filming.

Well-preserved historic buildings make up the impressive downtown. Locally owned restaurants serve locally caught seafood, while upscale boutiques attract shoppers from near and far. Stately, well-maintained homes from bygone years line the north-south streets off of the main drag.

To say Amelia Island’s attitude is small town would be an understatement. A fender bender outside our hotel brought four cruisers.

Wild Spanish stallion by Bruce Stambaugh
Wild Spanish stallions still graze on the many isolated islands near Amelia Island.

The desire to keep things as they are reaches far beyond the town itself. An outstanding state park features a Civil War fort. Egan Creek Greenway runs down the middle of the island for birders, joggers and bikers to enjoy. A charming lighthouse, still in operation, keeps watch over it all.

Take a boat cruise and you discover even more gems about this unheralded island. Rare birds, bottle nosed porpoises, wild Spanish stallions, and salt truncated live oaks are all part of the treasure chest of Amelia Island.

Bailey House by Bruce Stambaugh
The Bailey House, one of many well-maintained historic homes in Fernandina Beach, FL.

Even in the two additional days of exploration, we couldn’t uncover all of the island’s hidden nuggets. That will make our next visit all the more exciting.

Fernandia Beach, FL by Bruce Stambaugh
Just some of the old buildings is historic downtown Fernandina Beach, FL.
Egan Creek Greenway by Bruce Stambaugh
The Egan Creek Greenway in the center of Amelia Island provides opportunities for birding, biking, jogging and walking.
Humphreys House by Bruce Stambaugh
Humphreys House, getting a new coat of paint.
Baker House by Bruce Stambaugh
Baker House, Fernandina Beach, FL.
Prescott House by Bruce Stambaugh
Prescott House, Fernandina Beach, FL.
Meddaugh House by Bruce Stambaugh
Meddaugh House, Fernandina Beach, FL.
Tabby House by Bruce Stambaugh
The Tabby House is appropriately named.
Fairbanks House by Bruce Stambaugh
Fairbanks House, Fernandina Beach, FL.
Depot by Bruce Stambaugh
The old railroad depot now serves as a welcome center near the waterfront in Fernandina Beach, FL.

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.