People visit the world’s largest Amish population for many reasons. Nostalgia for the way things used to be, the friendly, plain folks, the delicious, affordable food, and the neat, quilt-patch farm fields often top the list.
On June 14, 15, and 16, two more reasons will emerge. Visitors can enjoy free homemade strawberry pie and ice cream made on the spot at Homestead Furniture in Mt. Hope, Ohio.
The expansive furniture store, which specializes in customizing hardwood and upholstered furniture, will hold its 12th annual Strawberry Summer Fest on those three days. On average, the store serves up 350 pies and 150 gallons of machine-cranked ice cream over the three-day gathering, which draws hundreds of people from several states.
The Strawberry Summer Fest is held each year to help welcome in summer. According to Homestead Furniture’s sales manager Todd Reese, the store chose strawberry pie and ice cream as symbols of the season to share with customers old and new.
Besides the free food, Homestead Furniture will also hold a drawing for gift cards to the store. Prizes total $1,750. Of course, Homestead Furniture will offer special sales prices on all of its hardwood, upholstered, and leather furniture, excluding custom orders. Their only other sale is in October.
In fact, the Mt. Hope merchant’s annual Sundown Sale will be held on Friday, June 15. Most businesses in town, from the hardware store to the fabric store, will be open until 8 p.m. The merchants also have a special drawing.
Homestead Furniture will be open from 8:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. on June 14 and 15, and 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. on June 16. The store is located at 8233 SR 241, just north of Mt. Hope.
Mt. Hope is located 35 miles southwest of Canton, 50 miles south of Akron, and 75 miles south of Cleveland in the heart of Ohio’s Amish country.
The employees at Homestead Furniture in Mt. Hope, Ohio don’t just build incredible furniture. They know how to have fun together, too.
Their latest entertaining venture threw in a little competition. A pine car derby was held recently in the manufacturing building across the road from the retail store. Of course, they invited their families and had plenty of good food.
The congenial group enjoys the camaraderie of one another, along with some good, fun competition. When warehouse manager Dave Hostetler suggested a pine car derby, the race was on.
The contest was announced, and rules were distributed to whoever wanted to participate. In all, 22 employees bought a pine car kit and built their racer to the required specifications.
Each race car had to weigh no more than five ounces. The maximum length was seven inches and the rear width of the car was two and three-fourths inches. Contestants were encouraged to be creative with their car designs. Given the creativity of the staff at Homestead Furniture, that turned out to be a given.
The cars varied in style and color. One entrant, Noah Shetler, even entered two pink cars in honor of his wife’s battle with breast cancer. One car was numbered 08 for 2008 when his wife was diagnosed. Number 11 was for 2011 when his wife was declared cancer free after several rounds of chemotherapy treatments. One of the more original racer designs was a racer built in the shape of an outhouse.
Ada Marie Troyer dedicated her car, and her eventual winnings, to her niece who was recovering from critical injuries sustained in an automobile accident. Her car was named Best of Show.
Hostetler built the track 31 feet long, five feet high at the start. It was a two-slot track with a steep slope that the cars raced down to the finish line. Two cars raced per heat, with the winner going to the winner’s bracket, and the loser to the loser’s bracket. Once a racer lost twice, they were eliminated from the competition.
While the race went on, family members enjoyed homemade snacks that each family brought. Owners Ernest and Barbara Hershberger provided the hot dogs and beverages.
With the audience gathered around the black and yellow painted racetrack, judge Daniel Troyer watched over the finish line to declare the winner of each heat. In several races, only the nose of a race car determined the winner.
In the end, none of the other racers could match the sleek racer built by LaVern Hershberger. In fact, his car never lost a race.
Asked what his secret to winning was, LaVern said he baked his car prior to the race. Baking it reduced the moisture content, thus reducing the weight, he said. This allowed him to place weights where they were critical to making the car run smoothly.
LaVern also said he waited until the last minute to lubricate the car’s tires with powdered graphite. He declined, however, to say how long he baked his car, citing proprietary secrets.
LaVern won $100. Shetler finished second, winning $75, which he donated to Sisterhood of Hope, a support group for breast cancer victims. Krissy Yoder finished third and won $50.
Ada Marie Troyer donated her $33 winnings to her niece to help cover medical expenses.
It was a fun evening overall, mingling teamwork with fellowship, always a winning combination.
Homestead Furniture is located in the heart of the world’s largest Amish population at 8233 State Route 241, Mt. Hope.
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.”
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.
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.
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.