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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.

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A dairy farmer at a turning point

Hershberger farm

Bobby Hershberger's farm in Paint Valley west of Millersburg, OH.

By Bruce Stambaugh

A brief glance at Bobby Hershberger’s hands, and you know his profession. Crinkled, calloused, chapped, all the marks of a born-again dairy farmer.

Not yet 50, his thick fingers belie the rest of his body. His steely eyes still sparkle, even on a gray day in Ohio’s Amish country. His rutty smile foretells his honesty, integrity, and dedication to farm, family and faith.

Modest as the day is long, Hershberger loves dairy farming. He must. He has spent his entire life milking cows, plowing ground, seeding fields, mowing hay, picking corn, feeding livestock, caring for family, serving church and community.

On good days he only works eight hours or so. On really good days, he works twice that amount. Such is the life of a dedicated dairyman.

With his equally dedicated wife, Beth, at his side, Hershberger has made it all these years, even milking just 30 Holsteins, not exactly a mega farm. The Hershberger’s also operate Pine Loft Bed and Breakfast out of their home high on a hill that overlooks Hershberger’s home farm in Monroe Township’s Paint Valley west of Millersburg, the county seat in Holmes County.

“Tilling 110 acres and milking just 30 cows, there are Amish who have bigger farms,” he said humbly. The combination of his demeanor and his gentleness tells even a visitor that there is no malice in this man.

There are 40 years of thought, vision and compassion, however. Hershberger began milking cows with his entire family. He then went 50/50 with his father, and for the last 22 years, he has been on his own. And that has worn him down.

In his lifetime of milking, Hershberger has seen a gradual but significant transition in the dairy industry. When Hershberger started helping on the family farm, farming was slower paced. Cooperation out-muscled competition, and income was much more stable, thanks in part to government milk subsidies.

But much of that has changed. In the last decade or so, the change has become more an economic stampede of sorts. To put it simply, it’s either get run over by the big guys, or step out of the way.

As hard of a decision as it was, the Hershberger’s have chosen the latter. This summer they will sell their herd, effectively ending an agricultural aspect that has kept the couple close to home 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Holsteins, after all, don’t take vacations, so neither do their owners. As the couple looked ahead and weighed their options, the decision to stop milking became pretty clear. Day in and day out, milking cows is as grueling as it is satisfying.

“The decision really came down to this,” Bobby explained. “Either we had to expand or get out.” They loved their life on the farm. But they also knew that there was more to life than milking cows twice a day until you physically couldn’t do it any more.

“Farming is a challenge,” Bobby said. “The work is never the same from day to day because something always comes up.”

“I have enjoyed being able to work from home,” he reflected, “but when you milk, you are always at home.” Hershberger said after all these years he and his wife are simply tired.

Last year was an especially horrible year for farmers, according to Hershberger. In a way, that made their decision to stop milking much easier. Bobby saw staying in the dairy business as a sinking hole.

“With prices down, you work seven days a week and end up having nothing to show for it,” he said dejectedly.

Hershberger said that the only way to continue as a dairy farmer was to expand operations. To do that, he would have to purchase or rent more land, which would require him to buy bigger, better, and more expensive farm equipment and buildings, and hire farmhands. All of that meant borrowing more money, and that just wasn’t something he and Beth wanted to do at this stage in their lives.

Hershberger wanted to be clear that this was a personal decision. He doesn’t begrudge anyone. Dedicated farmer that he is, he wants the industry to succeed. But he sees the small farmer like himself being squeezed by the system more and more.

Hershberger is a practical man. “Being a dairy farmer has gone from a way of life to a way of making a living for big business,” he said.

With that, the strong, humble man’s voice tailed off, almost in a quiet relief of the decision he had made to stop milking cows. Hershberger said he would continue to farm the fields.

“But I will have to find a part-time job someplace to make up for the lost income,” he said realistically. “I feel at peace about my decision though.”

Bobby Hershberger

Bobby Hershberger on his way home from the barn.

This story originally appeared in the Farm and Dairy tab of the Holmes County Bargain Hunter.

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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)

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