That’s what friends are for

By Bruce Stambaugh

The sky was clear blue, the morning’s puffy cumulous clouds having moved on. The north wind discouraged any humidity, and helped keep the temperatures tolerable.

Earlier my Amish neighbor had tethered the hay he had mown the evening before, fluffing it up for the breeze to blow away any remnant moisture. The barn swallows that had circled his horse drawn machine still skimmed the ocean of cut hay for insects.

I imagined the next day my neighbor, his family and his circle of friends would follow their given routine of making hay. I have marveled at their consistency each and every harvest of hay, oats and wheat. Their combined labor is as affable as it is proficient.

But isn’t that what friends are for? Like the classic Dionne Warwick/Stevie Wonder song belted out, “For good times, for bad times, I’ll be on your side forever more, that’s what friends are for.”

That pretty well sums it up. Friends want the best for you no matter what. They sympathize with you, empathize with you, are honest with you and you them. That friendly formula leads to trust, understanding and compassion.

As humans, we all need that. We are social beings, and unless you are Ted Kaczynski or Lizzie Borden, friends mean the world to you.

Sitting on the porch alone, I had to think about my circle of friends. I was humbled and honored to recall how many times others had come to my rescue or reassured me or celebrated with me or mourned with me or just took time for a visit.

These may seem like ordinary occurrences. But to me, they are extraordinary events, given that they all involved friends.

Food seems to be an important ingredient in friendship. We have enjoyed many a meal around a table with friends, meaning family, neighbors and acquaintances. No matter how tasty the entrées, the fellowship is always the dessert.

A home in Lakeside, OH by Bruce Stambaugh
A home in Lakeside, Ohio. - Bruce Stambaugh

Years ago when we moved from the home we built in the western part of the county to our current home in the east end, friends clamored to help us. Thanks to them, the difficult task was made simple.

Each time we visit our beloved Lakeside, Ohio we are greeted with hugs and kisses from people we may only see there. They are our vacation friends, but from the reactions you would never know it.

When I pushed my grandsons on side-by-side swings so high they bounced out of their seats, they giggled and laughed like little girls. The bright sun wasn’t the only thing warming me that morning.

Reading the blog by the parents of a special newborn child helped me better understand their critical situation. I marveled at how calm and objective their writings were, especially given their uncertain situation.

A birder friend called to tell me about a very rare bird in the neighborhood. Without his kind gesture, I would have missed the Vermilion Flycatcher.

Butterfy on cornflower by Bruce Stambaugh
A butterfly enjoyed the wildflowers in our backyard. - Bruce Stambaugh

Which reminds me that friends are not confined to human beings either. Pets, sunsets, thousands of blinking fireflies rising from the flowering alfalfa and ripening oats, robins chirping their contentment with the day all qualify as friends by my definition.

All these people and creatures and natural events have abundantly blessed me. Isn’t that what friends are for?

Holmes County sunset by Bruce Stambaugh
A recent sunset taken from our back porch. - Bruce Stambaugh

Summer solstice sunrise and sunset

Summer solstice sunrise by Bruce Stambaugh
This picture of the summer solstice sunrise was taken at 5:13 a.m. on June 21, 2010. - Bruce Stambaugh

I have absolutely no idea why it took me so long to post these pictures of the sunrise and sunset of the summer solstice, which occurred on June 21, 2010. Nevertheless, here they are, finally.

These pictures were taken at our home in Ohio’s Amish country, four miles southwest of Mt. Hope in Saltcreek Twp. – Bruce Stambaugh

Summer solstice sunset by Bruce Stambaugh
The last look at the sun at 8:24 p.m. on June 21, 2010 as it sank behind my neighbor's barn. - Bruce Stambaugh

A love for agriculture come full circle

By Bruce Stambaugh

It’s no accident that Leah Miller’s life has come full circle. Agriculture runs deep in her genes, personal life and in her professional career.

She grew up on a farm, and now her life is all about farming, both at home and on the job, whichever particular job it is she happens to be doing. In between, her career took a productive, if not circuitous route before Miller, 61, planted her agricultural roots.

Leah Miller by Bruce Stambaugh
In a rare moment, Leah Miller was in her Small Farm Institute Office in Coshocton County, Ohio.

Born in Conneaut, Ohio near her parent’s home farm at Pierpont, Miller followed some pretty big family footprints. Her father and her father’s father were both agricultural teachers, in addition to running separate farms in Ashtabula County.

Miller’s mother, Celia Wright, took charge of the family farm when her husband, Eber, moved into regional planning. Ironically, that is exactly the job Miller took in Lake County after graduating from The Ohio State University in 1971. She became Holmes County’s regional planning director two years later.

There is a bit of double-irony in this scenario. The Holmes County regional planning office was in the front of Hotel Millersburg.

“My parents spent the first night of their honeymoon at Hotel Millersburg,” Miller said. “They got a late start from their wedding reception in Columbus and following U.S. 62, Millersburg was as far as they got.”

Miller served in this capacity for six years. Once she and her husband, Mic, started their family, Miller turned her efforts to community service. She served two terms on the West Holmes Local School Board. Later, she served on the board at Central Christian School. She also served a term on the Ohio Mennonite Relief Sale board of directors, and was a 4-H advisor for a dozen years.

Miller was the first director of the Holmes County Chamber of Commerce, once it expanded from beyond Millersburg proper. In the 1990s, Miller’s leadership abilities became political. She was twice elected as a Holmes County commissioner.

All the while she found solace from her demanding schedule on her 50-acre sheep farm, Blue Bird Hill, east of Millersburg. She also kept bees, as did her father.

Her love for land and the people that farmed stirred within her. In 2001, she worked with former state representative Joy Padgett to form the Small Farm Institute.

“There was a concern about erosion and farming,” Miller explained. “The emphasis was to help farmers do more grazing with their animals.” She said the sod would help reduce run-off, and at the same time provide a natural grass diet for cows, cattle and sheep.

Miller is the director of the Small Farm Institute, which is based at the United States Department of Agriculture’s hydrological station in Coshocton County. She assists small farm operations to improve income by providing helpful information on sustainable environmental practices that support strong family and rural communities. Her focus is on production, processing and distribution of product.

“We encourage people to look for value-added production to enhance profitability,” Miller said. “If they run a produce stand, they can increase their income by making jam or canning instead of selling all their fruit and vegetables fresh.”

Much of Miller’s responsibility revolves around facilitating grazing groups. She said this has been especially successful among the Amish, who tend to form their own peer groups in close proximity to help reduce the need for transportation.

“It’s been a joy to watch them expand,” she said. “They hold pasture walks where they share helpful grazing information with one another.”

As satisfying as that is for Miller, she also supports much larger events. Her skill sets also assist the annual North Central Ohio Grazing Conference for Dairy, which brings in hundreds of people, including many from other states.

Miller also advises the planning committee for the upcoming annual Family Farm Field Day. David and Emily Hershberger will host the event on their farm, located on Saltcreek Township Road 613 in Holmes County, on July 17, from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m.

As if she weren’t busy enough, Miller works part time as stakeholder coordinator in agricultural economic development for the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center in Wooster. She splits her time between there and the Small Farm Institute. Miller is the executive secretary of the Ohio Forage and Grasslands Council, too.

Miller has traveled extensively, including Australia, Mexico, France and Honduras, touring grazing and farm production operations and doing a little mission work, too. She uses these experiences to expand what she shares about improving local farming practices.

It seemed only logical then that Miller’s leadership abilities be put to use in yet another positive way for the community. Miller has successfully lead Leadership Holmes County for employees of area businesses for several years. In that fact, there is no irony.

This article was first published in the Holmes Bargain Hunter, July 5, 2010.

A change of venue for the grandkids

By Bruce Stambaugh

When our daughter told us that her husband had accepted a new job in Harrisonburg, Virginia, we were ecstatic. Although we enjoyed our visits to Texas with our family and their neighbors and friends, we found the flights from Ohio tedious.

With the move to Virginia, our grandchildren would be a quick six-hour drive away. I mean quick in the most liberal sense.

We enjoyed flying but to fly three hours to Texas without a direct flight really consumed an entire day. Add together the drive time to the airport, check-in, security navigations, waiting at the gates, and flight connections and a good day was gone.

Driving to Virginia would be a whole lot easier. To be sure, we knew the route by heart. We drove it often to visit our daughter in college in Harrisonburg. She had met our son-in-law at Eastern Mennonite University, and they had lived and worked in the city for a couple of years after their graduation and marriage. Now he works for the school.

There were multiple ways for us to get to Harrisonburg, an expanding city in Virginia’s beautiful Shenandoah Valley. As long as the weather was good, our favorite route was also the most demanding, climbing and descending eight mountain passes. It was a scenic, curvy drive.

Last week, we made our first trip to Harrisonburg in a decade. Our daughter and her family had moved from Texas, but settling in with three youngsters and a husband who works full-time isn’t the easiest thing to do.

Our excuse was to help our daughter and her husband unpack and to get organized in their Virginia home. Our motive was to see the grandkids. The ever-thoughtful Nana packed up containers of frozen sweet corn and applesauce and we headed southeast.

It was fun to travel again through familiar towns like Elkins, Harman, Franklin and Seneca Rocks, all in West Virginia. Not surprisingly, little had changed in those 10 years. But once we hit the mountains, the road seemed windier than I had remembered, even though it was clear some of the curves had been softened and widened.

I would have gladly crossed 18 mountain passes for the chance to see our two grandsons and granddaughter again. I last saw them in Texas at the end of February.

I was amazed at how much they had matured, if indeed you can say a six-year old, a four-year old and a nine-month old mature. But there were definite differences. The two boys, Evan and Davis, played together well, yet were equally content to play independently, too.

Evan surprised me with how well he could read, even though he had just finished kindergarten. Davis, too, showed his inquisitive prowess with delving questions. When we weren’t watching the World Cup on television, we played soccer on their expansive wooden deck.

Maren cuddled right up to me. She seemed more intrigued with my beard than my conversation, however. When the discussion went sour, Nana was the designated diaper changer.

Maren is crawling, curious and exercising her best operatic voice, although not always in harmony with her energetic brothers. She is one adorable little girl, and has saucers for eyes that match the same Paul Newman blueness of her brothers.

Our stay was much too short. You can be sure that now that they are only hours away, there will be many more visits to come. After all, we have the drive down pat.

Benefit auctions abound in Ohio’s Amish Country

Handcrafted table by Bruce Stambaugh
A sample of the kind of furniture offered at benefit auctions in Ohio's Amish country.

By Bruce Stambaugh

Benefit auctions abound in Ohio’s Amish country. Every year thousands of people from near and far attend these worthwhile functions.

Dave Kaufman of Kaufman Realty, Sugarcreek, serves as auctioneer at many of the benefit auctions. He’s not surprised at the popularity of the events at all. He said the formula for their success is pretty simple.

“It’s a very giving, caring community,” Kaufman said. “If it’s a good cause, the auction will get good support.”

Kaufman estimated that there are at least 35 such benefit auctions in Amish country. Some are small, local auctions, like the ones for private Amish schools. Others draw big crowds and usually raise major money for their causes.

“If there is a need,” Kaufman said, “people come to the rescue.”

One of the largest benefit auctions is the Rainbow of Hope Auction in Mt. Hope. Henry Hershberger is its president and founder. This year’s sale is July 23 and 24 at the Mt. Hope Auction barn.

The sale has been a local mainstay since 1987 when Hershberger’s young daughter was hospitalized for two months. Hershberger is Amish and along with other members contributes to the church’s medical fund. But in this case, the fund was depleted before the bills were paid.

Hershberger turned to the community for help, which responded by raising the $20,000 balance of his medical bills. Touched by the generosity, Hershberger started the auction as a way to help others who might be in a similar situation.

“Our best auction was in 2008 when we totaled $403,735,” Hershberger said. He rattled off that figure from memory.

“We try to focus on the community to make it work,” Hershberger said. “It’s something the entire community can participate in.”

Like most other benefit auctions, Rainbow of Hope Auction depends on volunteer labor and donations of items for a successful sale. With furniture the biggest moneymaker, Hershberger said that the work of the furniture committee is key.

“We have about 25 people who canvas the community, hitting every furniture manufacturer and retail store for donations,” he said. “All the items are new.”

John Deere quilt by Bruce Stambaugh
Quilts like this one are often found at the benefit auctions held each summer in Ohio's Amish country.

Hershberger said they also auction quilts, gift certificates and other home and garden items. Hershberger stressed that the Rainbow of Hope fund is not just for Amish.

“Any resident in Coshocton, Holmes, Tuscarawas and Wayne counties can apply to the committee for financial help,” he said. “We may not be able to pay all of their bills, but we can help in some way.”

Hershberger said the Rainbow of Hope fund has never run out of money either. He said the committee uses two percent for overhead.

“The other 98 percent is used for those who need it,” Hershberger said. He has served as chair of the auction for 20 years.

Another popular benefit auction is the Ohio Mennonite Relief Sale, which will be held August 6 and 7 this year in Kidron. Last year, the sale raised $338,653 for Mennonite Central Committee (MCC).

MCC is the relief, service and development agency of North American Mennonite and Brethren in Christ churches. Several such sales are held throughout North America annually. The Ohio Mennonite Relief Sale is typical of those auctions.

Baby quilt by Bruce Stambaugh
A baby quilt typical of the kind auctioned off. My wife, Neva, made this one for our granddaughter.

Once again, the Ohio Mennonite Relief Sale will feature a varied schedule of events. Everything from food to children’s activities to the auction items themselves will be included. Even a USA Track and Field certified Run for Relief will be held to help raise money for MCC projects worldwide.

Another big benefit auction in the area is the Ohio Haiti Sale, also held at the Mt. Hope Auction in Mt. Hope. This year’s sale, which will have special meaning given the catastrophic January earthquake in Haiti, will be held on Labor Day weekend, September 3 and 4.

A small quilt by Bruce Stambaugh
This is another example of the kinds of quilts available at charity benefit auctions.

This sale is also one of several held around the country for the benefit of those in need in Haiti. The Ohio Haiti sale was also begun in 1987. It, too, takes a coordinated effort of many volunteers and donated items to raise funds.

Food, fun and fellowship enhance the actual auctioning of items at the Haiti sale, just like all the other benefit auctions that predominate the summer months annually in Ohio’s Amish country.

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

I hate waiting, especially in hospitals

by Bruce Stambaugh

I am not an impatient person. But I hate waiting.

For me, that is not a contradiction. There is a gulf between waiting and impatience. Delays in life, often inconvenient, are inevitable. New York City cabbies, with their persistent honking, are not my model for waiting.

When my son had surgery last week, waiting became part of the routine, more than either my wife, his wife or I cared to tolerate. His surgery was scheduled for evening one day, then postponed until early afternoon the next and yet delayed again. It was frustrating. But when you are at the wrong end of the scalpel, what choice do you have?

That state pertains to concerned family, too. When you are assigned to a room appropriately labeled “Waiting 1,” that’s what you do. Time seems to stand still. You feel stuck in an institutional time warp.

The hospital tried to accommodate relatives in 21st Century style. Each family was given a four-digit tracking number for confidentiality purposes. In turn, that number was displayed on a blue and white lined electronic board in proximity of each family waiting area. It was like checking the status of a flight at an international airport.

I grew a little anxious when my son’s number didn’t even appear long after he had been taken to the operating room. Finally when it did, the message simply indicated the original time of his surgery, information that we knew was inaccurate.

The sign continued to display numbers of other patients who were at various stages of their surgeries. Impersonal but efficient “Patient in OR,” “Patient out of OR,” and “Surgery start time” scrolled by in herky-jerky fashion.

About the time his surgery should have ended, the waiting room phone rang. It had rung earlier for other families, indicating that their family member was either going into surgery or was in recovery.

Our lovely daughter-in-law took the call. Wives always trump fathers. That’s life’s pecking order as defined in Robert’s Rules of Order or Hints from Heloise or Emily Post.

“He’s just now going into surgery,” our daughter-in-law said puzzled.

We waited some more. My wife called us for an update on how the surgery had gone. I had to tell her that the surgery had just begun. She arrived in Waiting 1 a half-hour later, and joined the Team Waiting.

We surfed the web via the free Internet service. We chatted quietly and took a few phone calls. And we waited and waited.

It was supposed to be a simple, in-and-out type surgery. In our hearts, we knew no surgery was indeed “simple.” Silent prayers were offered, and yet we waited far longer than we ever imagined.

Finally, nearly four hours after his original surgery start time, the sign said, “Patient out of surgery.” But we waited for human confirmation.

Shortly before 4:30 p.m., the surgeon informed us that Nathan’s gall bladder was so badly inflamed that an incision had to be made instead of the planned laparoscopy. Nathan was fine, but he would be in the hospital three to four more days.

Our wait was over. Only now another had begun, a wait that hopefully, would be more tolerable. We all were anxious to see Nathan, to hold his hand and hear him complain. For that happy reunion, we had to wait another long 30 minutes. But I would have waited a lifetime.

Glenn Wengerd and Winesburg, Ohio: A natural fit

Glenn Wengerd by Bruce Stambaugh
Glenn Wengerd showed off one of the many cars he has restored.

By Bruce Stambaugh

Glenn Wengerd, 61, is about as unassuming as a person can be. Dapper, sophisticated, egotistical are words that would never describe him.

That is just fine with the Winesburg native. Wengerd is as down home, easy going and likeable of an individual as you will ever meet. Of course, Wengerd would be too humble to say such things about himself. But that is typical Glenn Wengerd, too.

Wengerd is a life-long resident of Winesburg, a quaint unincorporated town tucked in the northeast corner of Holmes County. Although Winesburg has had its characters over the years and at one time had seven bars, it is no comparison to Sherwood Anderson’s famous novel “Winesburg, Ohio.”

Having spent his entire life in the picturesque village, which now has no saloons, Wengerd has known many of those characters over the years. He calls them “old-timers.”

Wengerd remembers riding his tricycle up and down the sidewalks of Winesburg as a toddler, and being teased by some of the town fathers.

“The old-timers would stop me by putting the hook of their canes into my bike’s spokes,” he recalled with a chuckle. Later the “old-timers” would visit him in his restoration shop just to sit and chat while he worked.

But Wengerd doesn’t linger or even live in the past. He helps preserve it. As a

Glenn Wengerd by Bruce Stambaugh
Glenn Wengerd displayed his latest restoration project, a stove for a local museum.

profession, he restores antique cars and other assorted old items. Putting the finishing touches on an old potbellied stove for the German Culture Museum in Walnut Creek was his latest sidebar.

He restores antique toys and bicycles as a hobby. Wengerd even dedicated a rather large room in his 1897 residence on Main Street to house all his entertaining restorations. He holds open houses occasionally, including this coming September during the Winesburg Reunion, which happens every five years.

It is here where Wengerd really shines. He devotes untold hours helping the little town preserve itself for current and future generations to enjoy and appreciate. He has served as either President or Vice President of the Winesburg Historical Society for 25 years.

“The funny thing about that,” Wengerd said, “was that I agreed to join if I wasn’t an officer.” The group waited until the second year to name him their leader.

Prior to his deep involvement with the historical society, Wengerd served as president of the park board during the early development of the town’s recreational park. Today he gets a quiet contentment out of seeing people enjoy the shade of the trees he helped plant.

Wengerd’s roots go deep into the history of Winesburg. He owns the property his grandfather bought in 1949. His restoration shop was the chicken barn and carriage house.

Glenn Wengerd by Bruce Stambaugh
Glenn Wengerd stood by the plaque at his front door that showed all the owners of his 1897 home in Winesburg, Ohio.

As a child, Wengerd marked up the walls of his grandparents’ home with his tricycle tires. Now he lives in that same beautiful home, and according to Wengerd, he regrets being so reckless with his trike.

“We are trying to spruce up the house in preparation for the reunion,” he said, “and those marks are very hard to remove after all these years.”

The home’s exterior is also getting a fresh coat of paint, using the original color scheme as much as possible. To do that, he hired Nelson Roller, a local handyman who moved to Winesburg from West Virginia because he told his wife that “it felt like home.”

When Roller discovered his last name on the plaque that lists the past owners of Wengerd’s house, he inquired within. He went to the right person. The Rollers were among Winesburg’s first settlers. Nelson is likely a descendent.

Wengerd’s restoration efforts, however, go far beyond his own business and home. He has lead the effort through the Winesburg Historical Society to restore and relocate an old log cabin, Peter’s School and replicate the town’s original bandstand. All are set in a small park across from the town’s fire station.

Glenn Wengerd by Bruce Stambaugh
Glenn Wengerd restores toys and bicycles, which he has on display in his home.

Restoring the 1861 German Methodist Church building is the next project on the horizon. Wengerd said the historical society would like to see this undertaking completed in conjunction with the 150th anniversary of the U.S. Civil War in 2011.

Dedicated as he is, Wengerd certainly doesn’t see his time, hard work or the interruptions as a bother. Just the contrary is true.

“It is a privilege to know, cultivate and hand down some of the local history,” he said. “Just recently people from Oregon and Maryland tracked me down about finding their roots here.”

Of course, Wengerd entertained their questions and invited them back for the reunion. That’s just the way Wengerd is, and Winesburg reaps the benefits.

This story first appeared in the Holmes Bargain Hunter on June 21, 2010.