Make any day a good day

osage orange tree
West of Winesburg.

By Bruce Stambaugh

I had driven this route many times in the past. Usually, it started in the early morning twilight and ended in the glare of the afternoon sun, if I didn’t have a meeting after school.

I served as principal at two of the nicest elementary schools anyone could hope for or conjure. I loved my job at Mt. Hope and Winesburg schools.

An emotional funk had overtaken me, and I needed a spiritual pick me up. Those former school days mentally surfaced, so I called the man who had replaced me 17 years ago. Dan was more than happy to show me around the schools where I once whistled my way down the halls. It had been years since I last graced them.

With our impending move to Virginia set for next spring, I knew I needed to start reconnecting with folks and places that had played such important roles in my life, professionally and personally. The schools were on that list.

That’s how I came to retrace the roads I took for 21 years every school day. I knew every turn, hill, and valley.

Amish buggy, autumn
Along the road.
I made Mt. Hope my first stop. Dan greeted me at the front door after I pushed the security buzzer, a necessary addition since the Nickel Mines shooting 10 years ago in Lancaster Co., Pennsylvania.

Dan escorted me around the building that I knew so well. Physically, not much had changed. The staff and pupils, however, had. I soon found familiarity and links to the past.

Dan asked the students in each class how many of their parents had gone to Mt. Hope School. I was astonished at how many hands flew up. We went pupil by pupil to see if I could remember their folks.

To my amazement, and theirs as well, I remembered their parents and grandparents, where they lived, and even a few first names. When the school is full of Yoders and Millers, that’s not an easy task.

My reunions with Jerry the librarian, Jim the teacher, and Nettie the cook brought smiles to my face, stirred my soul and filled me with compassion for their career commitments to nurturing children.

My age hit me square in the face when I met the custodian of both schools, Brandon, a former student. He was too busy to talk much, but his handshake spoke volumes. The school sparkled as brightly as his eyes.

Holmes Co. OH
A view around every turn.
More memories resurfaced while driving the five miles between Mt. Hope and Winesburg. There still is no bar or golf course in between. The road was still bumpy, the views still pristine. Corn shocks stood in the same fields they had all those years ago.

At Winesburg, I found the school just as clean and hospitable as Mt. Hope. I was glad to see many of the same staff members I had worked with and hired before I retired. We hugged and shared heartfelt recollections.

The storyline with the students also repeated. The eagerness of the youngsters to name their parents buoyed me. Some I identified by family name just from their physical features. When a student said who her mother was, I said, “Oh, yes. I remember. Carie with one “r.” I’ll never forget the beam on that young face.

This uplifting experience had been a morning to remember for me. All this human interaction freed me from my gloominess. It gave me hope that any day, no matter how trying, can be a good day.

I just had to take the initiative. The children and friends did the rest.

sunrise, Ohio's Amish Country
A new dawn.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2016

Where everybody knows your name

poorly addressed letter
The way it began.

By Bruce Stambaugh

There are some definite benefits to living the rural life. The perks will make your life rich, but you won’t necessarily become wealthy.

I recently had a week’s worth of devotions published in a church periodical, Rejoice!. I received an honorarium for my efforts, but that wasn’t the real motivator. I just enjoyed sharing personal and pertinent stories.

What happened after the devotions published became the real reward. A few folks who know me expressed their appreciation for my daily commentaries. An elderly man from Bern, Indiana even sent a nice handwritten note.

He thanked me for my writing and then spent the rest of the letter telling me about his car dealership, now in its fifth generation. That was fun. But it was amazing I received the letter at all.

mail carrier, U.S. mail
The mail cometh.

The kind man simply mailed the envelope with only my full name and Millersburg, Ohio written on the front. No street address. No zip code. And I got it.

The truth is, I wasn’t surprised at all that the letter arrived in our mailbox. It’s not that I’m famous. The fact that my wife and I happen to be the only Stambaughs in the county had to help. However, this was the United States Postal Service, a federal government institution that has had its share of lumps and negative publicity.

That reputation of bigness doesn’t necessarily hold true in Holmes County, Ohio. This isn’t the first time we’ve received a skimpily addressed letter.

Once we had a card from a friend with our name, town and zip on the envelope accompanied by a note scribbled on the envelope that said, “The same road as the restaurant.” When you don’t know the road number, improvise. It worked.

It gets better. Years ago when we lived in the southwest section of the county my ornery older brother sent a letter addressed with only the first names of my wife and me and 44637. That’s the zip code for Killbuck, Ohio. Once again, we got it. My brother couldn’t believe it.

rural life, Ohio's Amish country
Rural defined.

It was a perk of personally knowing the postmaster. A lot of people in the area could say that. In fact, when we moved east to our current location our mail was forwarded far beyond the required time. It stopped the day Bob House retired as Killbuck postmaster.

Bob went above and beyond the call of duty. Not because he had to, but because he wanted to do so. He exemplified the personal consideration and dedication of many folks we have met over our lifetime in this marvelous rural county.

Folks welcomed us into the Amish culture, too, when we relocated to the eastern end of the county. Neighbors invited us to picnics and Amish weddings.

We especially appreciated the invitations to Amish church services. Though we didn’t understand most of what was said, we got the message in the spirit of being treated with kindness and respect.

As educators in the local public schools, my wife and I were shown the highest regard of reverence for our responsibilities with the children of Amish and English alike. Families invited us for meals and visits. We felt more than welcome in both East Holmes and West Holmes.

It’s not always easy living in a county with a population that is less than that of a small city. But as you can see, there are distinct advantages to residing in a locale where everybody knows your name, including the mail carrier.

rural sunset, Holmes County Ohio
Rural sunset.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2016

Joe Wengerd set to end his education career

Joe Wengerd by Bruce Stambaugh
Joe Wengerd announced his retirement after 36 years in education.

By Bruce Stambaugh

The day after the school board accepted his resignation for retirement, Joe Wengerd’s ear was either tuned to the bus radio or had a cell phone pushed against it.

He was still handling his duties as superintendent of the East Holmes Local Schools in his calm, deliberate, concerned way. A snowstorm was approaching, and he had dismissed school two hours early.

With safety foremost on his mind, Wengerd wanted to make sure all the students arrived home safely. He also conferred with the athletic director to reschedule a basketball game.

“This wasn’t an easy decision for me,” Wengerd said about his retirement, “but it was the right one.”

Wengerd said he had thought about retirement for sometime. Finally, he concluded that it was time for a younger person to step in and take over the district’s leadership.

“I’m leaving the best job ever,” he said, “especially given this school district.”

However, one thing Wengerd said he wouldn’t miss was getting up at 4:15 in the morning to check for inclement weather. Altogether Wengerd has spent 21 years in the East Holmes Local Schools. He was superintendent for the last five years. He has a total of 36 years in education.

Wengerd began his career as a counselor at a children’s home in Logan County, Ohio. He later received his education credentials and entered the educational field. He taught elementary school in Ada prior to moving back to Holmes County.

He was principal in the West Holmes Local School District at Millersburg, Lakeville and Nashville elementary schools for eight years before returning to his home school district.

Wengerd said that one of the reasons leaving the school would not be easy was because his roots run deep in the East Holmes community. He was born here, attended Berlin Elementary and graduated from Hiland High School, and lives in the home where he grew up.

“It’s a great community to be connected to.”

Prior to serving as superintendent, Wengerd was principal at Charm, Flat Ridge and Wise elementary schools for four years and at Berlin Elementary for a dozen years. He also filled in temporarily at Hiland High School.

“Each of these were unbelievable jobs,” Wengerd said wistfully. “I didn’t want to leave any of them.

“Each leadership position became such a part of me,” Wengerd said. He also said he considered each a new challenge.

Wengerd said he was hoping for a new landscape to draw him. He won’t be alone in that sentiment. His wife, Phyllis, has also decided to retire after 31 years of teaching. She is a teacher at Chestnut Ridge Elementary.

“We will probably do some short term church service projects,” Wengerd said. “We love the national parks and will probably visit some of them, too.” He said they would also spend time with their only grandchild in Columbus.

The Wengerds have three adult children, all of whom are teachers. Daughters Kate and Maggie both teach elementary grades in Pickerington, and their son, Jesse, teaches math at Berlin.

“We didn’t make them go into teaching,” Wengerd said. But he and his wife weren’t necessarily the sole models for their children either.
“Education is the legacy of Phyllis’ family. She and her three siblings were all in education and so were their spouses.”

Wengerd received his bachelor’s degree from Bluffton University, and his Master of Education degree from the University of Dayton.

True to form, he had been thinking about retiring for sometime.

“There wasn’t a single event that lead to this decision,” Wengerd said. “I thought I would retire out of a building.”

Reflecting on being the district’s chief educational leader, Wengerd said, “I thought the superintendent’s position was a great opportunity to influence our students and give back to the community at the same time.

“I will miss working with the kids,” Wengerd said. “I liked to visit every building when I could.

“I love going out to Hiland and seeing former students that I had in Berlin as a principal. It’s fun to see them grow, mature and participate in extracurricular activities.”

Wengerd said he felt his biggest achievement as superintendent was getting the staff and students to all work in the same direction.

“In the five years I was superintendent, East Holmes received either an Excellence or Excellence with Distinction rating,” he said.

“Those results weren’t me,” he continued. “Those were the students and teachers working hard on student achievement goals.”

Wengerd said school board members were gracious in accepting his resignation.

“They told me they valued my leadership,” Wengerd said. “I greatly appreciated their comments.”

Wengerd said the board would work with the Tri-County Educational Service Center and the Ohio School Board Association in formulating a plan to search for a new superintendent.