Tag Archives: fellowship

Saying both thank you and goodbye

trees in blossom, spring in Ohio

Goodbye blooms.

By Bruce Stambaugh

In a couple of days, the moving truck will arrive. Men I’ve never met will pack our selected belongings into the straight bed of a box truck. A couple of days later, they’ll reverse the process, and we’ll begin life anew in our new home in Virginia.

I have looked forward to this event. I have dreaded this event. I am excited to be close to our daughter and her family. I’m sad that we’ll be six hours away from our son and other family members along with a lengthy list of lifetime friends.

That’s the dichotomy of uprooting yourself after spending all of your quality years in one geographic location. A time to dance and a time to refrain from dancing as the scripture goes.

We recognized that this major decision came with both good and bad consequences. We will spend time with our grandchildren, watch them grow from adolescence into young adults, the good Lord willing.

We’ll also help out our daughter and her husband with their hectic work and household agenda. The grandkids’ and their parent’s schedules aren’t mutually exclusive of course.

We recognize, too, the friends, neighbors, and family we leave behind, the relationships that will forever change by not being able to commune together regularly. We will dearly miss that.

We have lots of folks to thank for their faithful support for us as we worked in the local public schools and the various community service endeavors in which we participated. We know we gained far more than we were able to give.

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Church, school, fire department and rescue squad, township, thrift store, friendships, neighborhood and family activities and gatherings all pieced together the crazy quilt that formed our active lives. We can never repay them all for the kindness, patience, acceptance, and including us in their lives.

We anticipate this transplanting will take some time for our roots to take hold in our new community endeavors. Virginia friends and new acquaintances have already begun to make us feel welcomed, and we haven’t even moved yet. That’s southern hospitality for you.

I’ll continue to write and share what I encounter as we settle in, explore our new surroundings, meet new folks, and experience all that is in store for us. My words just may develop a southern accent.

Friends and family have given us an extended send-off. These last few days have been bittersweet. We have been showered with hugs and kisses, tears and celebratory well-wishes. The fellowship we have experienced added spice to the already delicious meals we’ve shared with dear friends and relatives. Close neighbors even held a carry-in and gave us an unexpected monetary gift as goodbye presents.

Even the vegetation around our house blossomed a flowery finale for us. The flowering trees, shrubs, and plants bloomed the best and brightest that they have in our 38 years of living here. As the daffodils faded, the dogwoods and lilacs burst with vibrancy. Their fragrances were intoxicating. It was as if they had conspired to ensure us a very colorful goodbye.

The backyard birds joined the party, too. The Red-headed Woodpecker, White-crowned and White-throated Sparrows, the Pileated Woodpeckers, and even the resident Bald Eagles took turns bidding us an avian adieu.

Thanks to each one of you for all of your help along the way, and for your blessings as we begin this next phase of our lives. I’ll say goodbye, but not farewell. That has too much of a final ring to it.

I’ll see ya’ll later.

blooming dogwoods

Colorful sendoff.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2017

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This sugar shack produces more than maple syrup

Sugar shack by Bruce Stambaugh

The sugar shack sits adjacent to the woods on Gary Miller’s farm west of Millersburg, Ohio.


By Bruce Stambaugh

I had often heard about the sugar shack. A group of guys I knew, mostly from our church, had formed an informal co-op. The goal was to make and offer maple syrup, with the donated proceeds going to a scholarship program for students in rural Honduras.

My journalistic nosiness finally got the best of me, and I ventured out one chilly day when the sap was running strong. My intent was to write a story for a local weekly newspaper. What I discovered went far beyond what any feature story could represent. Here were a few good men who through sheer determination made this sweet enterprise work. They worked cooperatively out of a common desire to succeed, not out of individual or corporate profit. Indeed, there were no profits. The money collected through donations went to the scholarship program.

Stoking the fire by Bruce Stambaugh

Tim Roth, left, and Paul Conrad stoke the fire of the sugaring evaporator system.

This endeavor was borne of commitment, desire, effort, camaraderie, purpose, joy, ingenuity, and sacrifice, all with rewarding results. And to think that it all started with the landowner, Gary Miller, standing in the rain dreaming of making maple syrup. Miller never envisioned how far his idea would go.

“Three years ago,” Miller said, “I was standing in the rain under an umbrella boiling sap in an assortment of old used pans on my grill.” Miller lives on a small farm west of Millersburg, Ohio.

Miller shared his idea with his friends, and the sugar shack quickly became a reality. The structure itself was donated to Miller. A friend, Paul Conrad, had an old shed he told Miller he could have, and Miller’s sons moved it in seven different sections for him. Once on site, the building was reassembled, reusing the old lumber. Since then, its design and size has been tweaked and expanded.

That process set the tone for what was to come. Much of the equipment used by Miller and his friends has been refurbished as some part and purpose of the maple syrup operation.

Tree taps by Bruce Stambaugh

Paul Conrad, left, and Bobby Miller check one of the 400 taps in Gary Miller’s woods.


Indeed, when the sap is moving like it is now, so does this voluntary collection of Miller’s friends and family who assist with the project. They placed 400 taps in sugar, red and black maple trees.

“We are careful about how many taps we place in a tree,” Miller said. “We don’t want to stress them.”

Like most farming efforts, preparing for the sap harvest takes a lot of preparation, and can be an ongoing project. Recently a shed was built to store the chords of firewood needed to heat the boiling process. Of course the friends also helped split and stack the wood that fuels the fire that boils the sap on a homemade evaporator. True to form, the gregarious crew also put that together. Much of that ingenious system consists of recycled metal and other repurposed materials.

The wood stove that holds the fire that boils the sap belonged to Scott Sponsler, another friend. The stove was extended with metal from old toolboxes from a pick up truck that Miller owned. Miller had a fan rebuilt and some ductwork manufactured locally. Together they help distribute the heat generated by the wood stove. The heat evaporates the sap into syrup.

The sap enters the sugar shack from another recycled item, an old bulk tank rescued from an unused milking parlor. It is held up by a repurposed metal stand so the sap flows by gravity into a smaller holding tank inside the old wooden shed.

Gary Miller by Bruce Stambaugh

Gary Miller explained how the sap is heated by running through a maze of troughs in order for it to become maple syrup.


From there, the sap runs into a customized sheet metal maze that allows the sap to be evaporated as it circulates up and down the four parallel troughs. After entering a second connected metal maze, the sap begins to change color. It is closer to the firebox and the pre-heated sap really begins to boil. Its darker color indicates that the moisture is being bubbled away.

Miller said that the sap isn’t officially maple syrup until its consistency is at least 66.9 degrees brix, as measured by a hydrometer. Miller said with this set up, it takes 51 gallons of sap to produce a gallon of syrup.

Miller and his friends make the syrup when the sap is running. He said warmer days and cooler nights are the best conditions to make the sap run. When the sap runs, so does this gang of close friends and family members. When the sap is running, his shack and the surrounding woods are very busy places indeed.

Pouring sap by Bruce Stambaugh

Scott Sponsler poured sap from the collection bucket into a 15-gallon container, which was hauled back with several others to the sugar shack via tractor.

Before it is pumped into the elevated holding tank, the sap is gathered into 15-gallon containers from each tap bucket. The containers are carried on the back of a small tractor. In keeping with the pattern, the tractor was loaned, too.

All the free equipment and labor is only appropriate. Miller said the maple syrup that is produced is not for sale, although it does have a name, Smoke Pit Maple Syrup.

“This is not a commercial operation,” Miller emphasized.

Instead customers get to donate whatever they feel the syrup is worth. The money is used for an educational scholarship program in Honduras. Miller’s Sunday school class at Millersburg Mennonite Church is financially sponsoring the schooling of several children there.

Roy Miller, a retired Holmes County family physician, serves as the unofficial coordinator of activities. He even travels to Honduras several times a year and meets with the students, their parents and the local church leaders who oversee the scholarship program there.

With all that said, Gary Miller revealed the secret ingredient in the maple syrup production as far as he is concerned.
“It’s not about the syrup,” Miller said. “It’s about the fellowship.”

Indeed, laughter and kibitzing among the friends intermingle with the steam from the cooking sap in the cold, small shack. The steam and merriment waft together out into the cold air through the open doorways. The good-natured ribbing helps make the labor-intensive sugaring efforts all the sweeter.

In that initial visit, I was impressed with the care given to producing a quality product, and with the interpersonal interaction that makes this particular micro business the all around success that it is.

It was clear to me that two pure products are produced at the sugar shack. High quality maple syrup created for a great cause is the tasty finished product. Genuine, committed friendship that knows no bounds and has no earthly measure is the dividend.
Persons interested in obtaining some of the Smoke Pit Maple Syrup should contact Gary Miller at 330-763-0364.

Hydrometer by Bruce Stambaugh

Gary Miller demonstrated how he checks the sugar content of the maple syrup using a hydrometer.


This story appears in the current edition of Farming Magazine.

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Boiling sap produces more than just maple syrup

Sugar shack by Bruce Stambaugh

Gary Miller's sugar shack is nestled against the woods where the maple sap is obtained.

By Bruce Stambaugh

When Gary Miller of rural Millersburg, Ohio got the idea to make his own maple syrup a couple of years ago, he never envisioned where that thought would take him.

“Two years ago,” Miller said, “I was standing in the rain under an umbrella boiling sap in an assortment of old used pans on my grill.”

This year, thanks to the ingenuity and dedication of some close friends and family members, Miller has his very own sugar shack. And when the sap is running, his shack and the surrounding woods are very busy places indeed.

The shack itself was donated to Miller. A friend, Paul Conrad, had an old shed he told Miller he could have, and Miller’s sons moved it in seven different sections for him. Once on site, the building was reassembled, reusing the old lumber.

That process set the tone for what was to come. Much of the equipment used by Miller and his friends has been refurbished as some part and purpose of the maple syrup operation.

Checking taps by Bruce Stambaugh

When the sap is running, the taps get checked frequently.

Indeed, when the sap is moving, so are a half dozen or so of Miller’s friends who help with the project. They placed 400 taps in sugar, red and black maple trees, according to Miller.

“We are careful about how many taps we place in a tree,” Miller said. “We don’t want to stress them.”

They also helped split the wood that fuels the fire that boils the sap on a homemade evaporator. Of course, the gregarious crew also put that together. Much of that ingenious system consists of recycled metal and other materials.

The wood stove that holds the fire that boils the sap belonged to Scott Sponsler, another friend. The stove was extended with metal from old toolboxes from a pickup truck that Miller owned.

Miller had a fan rebuilt and some ductwork manufactured locally. Together they help distribute the heat generated by the wood stove. The heat evaporates the sap into syrup.

The sap enters the sugar shack from another recycled item, an old bulk tank rescued from an unused milking parlor. It is held up by a repurposed metal stand so the sap flows by gravity into a smaller, reconstructed holding tank inside the old wooden shed.

Sap maze by Bruce Stambaugh

Gary Miller explained how his sap boiling operations works.

From there, the sap runs into a customized sheet metal maze that allows the sap to be evaporated as it circulates up and down the four parallel troughs. After entering a second connected metal maze, the sap begins to change color. It is closer to the firebox and the preheated sap really starts to boil. Its darker color indicates that the moisture is being bubbled away.

Miller said that the sap isn’t officially maple syrup until its consistency is at least 66.9 degrees Brix, as measured by a hydrometer. Miller said with his setup, it takes 51 gallons of sap to produce a gallon of syrup.

Hydrometer by Bruce Stambaugh

Gary Miller showed how he uses a hydrometer to measure the maple syrup's moisture content.

Miller and his friends make the syrup when the sap is running. He said warmer days and cooler nights are the best conditions to make the sap run.

Before it is pumped into the elevated holding tank, the sap is gathered into 15-gallon containers from each tap bucket. The containers are carried on the back of a small tractor. Of course, the tractor was loaned, too.

Pouring sap by Bruce Stambaugh

Scott Sponsler poured sap from one of the tap buckets into a 15-gallon container before heading back to the sugar shack.

All the free equipment and labor is only appropriate. Miller said the maple syrup that is produced is not for sale, although it does have a name, Smoke Pit Maple Syrup.

“This is not a commercial operation,” Miller emphasized.

Instead customers get to donate whatever they feel the syrup is worth. The money is used for an educational scholarship program in Honduras. Miller’s Sunday school class at Millersburg Mennonite Church is financially sponsoring the schooling of several children there.

With all that said, Miller shared another important ingredient in the maple syrup production as far as he is concerned.

“It’s not about the syrup,” Miller said. “It’s about the fellowship.”

Indeed, laughter and kibitzing among the friends intermingle with the steam from the cooking sap in the cold, small shack. The steam and merriment waft together out into the cold air through the open doorways. The good-natured ribbing helps make the labor-intensive sugaring efforts all the sweeter.

Persons interested in obtaining some of the Smoke Pit Maple Syrup should contact Miller at 330-763-0364.

Maple syrup by Bruce Stambaugh

Various sized jars of Smoke Pit Maple Syrup lined a shelf in the sugar shack.

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A private woman has a very public life

Lucille Hastings by Bruce Stambaugh

Books have always played an integral part of Lucille Hastings' life.

By Bruce Stambaugh

For someone who relishes her privacy, Lucille Hastings of Big Prairie, Ohio has led a very public life.

Perhaps that seemingly contradictory situation is because of her love for life long learning. Hastings has had this instinctive drive to share what she learns. In short, contributing personally and professionally to the community at large has been a way of life.

That shouldn’t come as a surprise for someone who has her major life concepts down pat. Her life has revolved around her personal faith and church fellowship, service to others, which includes family, friends and the larger community.

Having lived on a farm for most of her life, she heartily reveres the land as a true gift from God. To accomplish and enjoy all that, she also believes in healthy personal lifestyles.

“I do water aerobics three times a week,” she said. “I need to watch my weight.”

Once she began her own well-researched and devised low carbohydrate diet a dozen years ago, Hastings lost 100 pounds. She has continued to be very careful about what she eats.

“Physical and emotional health are very important,” she related. Hastings said that as much for herself as for the benefit of others.

Hastings is fastidious about everything she does. But some things in life have been out of her control.

Hastings retired in 1992 from West Holmes Local Schools after serving 34 years as the library/media director in charge of the district’s libraries. Since then, she has continued as a part-time educational library/media consultant to the district.

“I retired because Jim retired,” she said, referring to her late husband. He died in 2000. “I miss Jim,” she said wistfully, “but I worked through it.” They had been married for 43 years.

She still lives on the Hastings family farm, which is rented out to an area farmer. The farm’s old barn was burned several years ago when a string of arson fires hit Holmes and surrounding counties.

Lover of the land that she is, Hastings said she marvels at how the agriculture around her has changed over the years. She has a great appreciation for her neighbors.

“The Amish have gradually moved into our area because the land was cheaper,” she said. “They are simply wonderful neighbors.”

With her background in library, it should come as no surprise that she considers herself a very organized person. She attributes that trait to enabling her to be of service to the larger community.

“Services like libraries, schools and churches happen because people make them happen,” Hastings said. “They just don’t happen by themselves.” Given her life long service to the surrounding community, Hastings clearly has done her best to improve those services for the community at large.

Here is a sampling of the many positions in which Hastings has served. She was president of the State Library Board of Ohio. She served on the Holmes County Library board for 16 years, 10 of which she was president. She was chairperson of the Ohio Reading Circle board for 16 years. That volunteer position allowed her to donate $350,000 worth of Reading Circle books to the county and local school libraries.

Hastings is a member of the Ohio Director of Agriculture’s 12-person advisory committee for administration of Ohio’s $25 million Clean Air/Clean Water Fund for Farmland Preservation.

She was the first woman president of the Holmes County Farm Bureau, and she is the only woman Sunday school teacher at her church. She has taught Sunday school for 60 years, and she is chairperson of the Mission Ministry at Ripley Church of Christ. She was a member of the Holmes County board of elections for eight years.

Hastings good works haven’t gone unnoticed. She has been dooly recognized for her many efforts. She received the Martha Holden Jennings Outstanding Teacher Award in 1974. She was inducted into the Ohio Women’s Hall of Fame in 2007. That same year Hastings received the Outstanding Alumni Award from Kent State University, where she received her Master of Arts Degree.

Hastings has two sons. Joel lives in Dallas, Texas, and Sidney resides in St. Louis, Missouri.

“I feel like I have been blessed,” she said. “I have had some unique opportunities.” And because she made the most of those chances, the community has reaped the benefits.

That’s what happens when life long learning is generously and graciously shared.

This article appeared in the Holmes Bargain Hunter, August 30, 2010.

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