Celebrating the universal work ethic

Old Order Mennonite farms dot the landscape in western Rockingham Co., Virginia.

Americans will enjoy yet another three-day weekend in the U.S. with Labor Day picnics and outdoor events of all kinds. However, this year’s activities likely will best be tempered with proper physical distancing and perhaps a dab of humility, given all the national chaos.

Labor Day became a national holiday when President Grover Cleveland signed a bill into law in 1894. It designated the first Monday of September as a day to honor all those who work. Several states had done so previously after labor strikes and deadly battles between workers and authorities. The ugly details, unfortunately, compare equally to today’s ongoing strife in the U.S.

Growing up in a blue-collar town in northeast Ohio, Labor Day served two purposes for the young. It was yet another three-day holiday weekend, and it marked the end of summer. A half-century or more ago, summer vacation from school ran Memorial Day to Labor Day.

As a youngster, I don’t recall being curious about why there was a Labor Day. As an adult, I now know that it was a hard-fought effort on the part of laborers for fair pay, decent work hours, and safe conditions.

Amish children routinely help adults with chores, especially on farms.

Even in a pandemic, we can easily forget or ignore the efforts of others to make our lives more comfortable and enjoyable. In that regard, Labor Day might be the most under-appreciated U.S. holiday.

During the Industrial Revolution, machines created jobs, and people willingly and unwillingly filled them. Men, and too often children as young as six-years-old, worked long, grueling hours, sometimes half a day with no overtime pay.

The children, of course, were paid far less than the adults for the same amount of work time. Such treatment helped bring about our current child labor laws.

It only seems logical to have a holiday that celebrates work. A strong work ethic is valued in cultures worldwide. Too often, however, folks don’t see it that way. They imagine that they somehow have a grip on the virtue of work, while at the same time chastising others as lazy or preferring government handouts.

Harvesting coffee beans in Honduras is a family affair.
Multiple trips to Honduras helped me see through that divisive thinking. Hispanics like to work as well and as hard as any other culture. They also did so earning less than a dollar an hour for a day’s work in maquilas, or sweatshops, making brand name clothing for citizens of the western world to wear.

We are fortunate in this country to have had workers who banded together in the 19th and early 20th centuries to demand fair pay and safe working conditions. Today, however, say the word “union,” and it might be the end of a budding conversation.

The truth of the matter is that were it not for unions and strikers, we might not be enjoying an extra day off of work this weekend. Given our fast-paced, 24/7 online universe, many workers might rightly wonder, “what day off of work?”

Our grandson mowing our lawn.
I much appreciate the influence of my parents, grandparents, and their peers in modeling the importance of having a strong work ethic. It helped my siblings and me in gaining an education, training, and extended careers.

Energetic peers surrounded my wife and me for all of our adult lives in Ohio’s Amish country, where work ethic continues to be revered. It’s equally so in the Appalachian and Old Order Mennonite cultures in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley, where we now live.

This Labor Day, like every Labor Day, we will smile upon the generations of bold laborers who made it possible for us to work and play along life’s way.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2020

Making the colors of summer last year-round

The colors of summer are as pretty as they are delicious and nutritious.

Just as I began to write about the colors of summer, a friend posted on social media about her visit to a local farmers market. In one digital photo, she succinctly summarized what I intended to say.

A cornucopia of vibrant colors from gardening harvests filled her photo. The variety of tomatoes alone captured nearly every hue of an artist’s paint pallet.

Ruby reds, luscious purples, warm yellows, and lime greens took center stage of their kitchen table. The light yellow of summer squash and the ribbed texture of a muskmelon represented the earthen tones.

A perfect emerald cucumber, the variegated rind of a watermelon, and a cluster of fresh basil leaves provided a generous sampling of the locally grown greens. The haul from your gardens, nearby produce stands, and farmers’ markets likely create similar still-life artistry.

Our house is no different, despite not having a garden. My wife does pamper a half dozen potted herb plants sitting on the white enamel top of an inherited old table on our patio.

Our daughter supplies us with all the plump, juicy, and tasty tomatoes that we can use from her garden. Her blackberry plants have produced an abundance of delicious tartness, too.

The half-box of organic fruits and vegetables we get each Monday from our Community Supporting Agriculture program assures that we maintain a healthy, flavorful diet. We also frequent several local produce businesses, mostly operated by the Shenandoah Valley’s Old Order Mennonites.

It that regard, we are reminded of our Ohio home, where we knew many of the Amish and Mennonite vendors personally. Somehow that seemed to make their homegrown offerings all the tastier.

My energetic wife ensures that we celebrate the summer’s colorful bounty all year long. Canning and freezing are in her farmer genes.

When it comes to preserving the downhome goodness of food, we have noticed a difference between living in Ohio versus residing in Virginia. Instead of in spurts, everything seems to come ripe at once in the valley.

One day we are canning peaches and the next day tomatoes. Those jars have barely stopped popping their lids when the sweet corn comes ready, tender, tasty, and delicious. The varieties here are as delicious as our Ohio favorite, Incredible.

We’ve also learned a few new tricks living in a new culture in a new state. We husk the sweet corn, clean it, and cut the kernels straight from the cobs. Neva fills the plastic containers, and when we want fresh corn at Thanksgiving, that’s when it gets cooked and not before.

Apples are next on the list. The sweet tartness of the ginger golds more than satisfy our family’s taste buds. Neva freezes enough for the grandkids, who usually finish off their supply long before Nana can do another batch.

Of course, canning and freezing are a lot of hard work. Sterilizing the jars and lids, cleaning the fruit and veggies, and peeling when required, all take time and effort. Then there is enduring the sauna-like heat at the height of the canning process in our tiny galley kitchen.

The vent fan works overtime, expelling the heat and steam to help cool the temporary cannery. But in the long run, it’s all well-worth every drop of sweat.

Come the cold, dark, dull months of winter, and we will have summer at mealtimes in our household. Those yellows, reds, and greens of the harvest will brighten any dark day and table, and make all of the perspiring worth the effort.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2020

Sunset at Mountain View School


Colorful sunsets have been far and few between this spring in the Shenandoah Valley. We have had strings of days when we hardly see the sun. It’s been that cloudy, and often chilly.

The few times the evening sky did offer hope, I headed out. I wasn’t disappointed on June 6. I felt fortunate to capture this shot long after the sun had hidden behind the Allegheny Mountains that mark the boundary between Virginia and West Virginia.

The texturing and laying of the clouds seemed to mimic that of the folded mountains below. The north face of the private two-room school reflected the heavens above.

“Sunset at Mountain View School” is my Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2020

Full Moon Setting


May’s Flower Full Moon was the last of the three supermoons of 2020. I wanted to photograph the full moon rising over the Massanutten Mountain Range that runs through the heart of Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley. However, my plans changed due to the weather. Spring has been unusually cloudy here this year. With a predicted clear sky on May 7, I was determined to capture shots of the full moon setting over the Allegheny Mountains that serve as the border between Virginia and West Virginia in Rockingham Co.

I had a clear view of the moon from Mole Hill, an ancient volcano, and noted area landmark west of Harrisonburg. Dawn’s early light highlighted Old Order Mennonite farms that dot the landscape all the way to the Allegheny foothills. The rusty silo, the brick farmhouse, the rolling, fertile fields, and the sweeping mountain slopes all take your eye right to the setting moon.

“Full Moon Setting” is my Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2020

Recess at Mountain View School

2019-11-01 09.32.00

This Old Order Mennonite private school is aptly named. I happened to catch the students out at recess on a recent morning.

“Recess at Mountain View School” is my Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2019

Putting lifelong learning into practice

Old Order Mennonites, Shenandoah Valley
Sunday morning at Pleasant View Old Order Mennonite Church.

By Bruce Stambaugh

Exploring has always been in my blood. Curiosity has coursed through my veins all of my life.

The move from Ohio to Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley merely whetted my appetite to become familiar with my new surroundings. A myriad of opportunities abound, either spontaneously or scheduled, to explore this beautiful, historic setting.

The view from Pleasant View Old Order Mennonite Church.
Many of my junkets have been self-started. A lazy afternoon’s drive around the rolling, scenic countryside brings new people and places into my life. The Shenandoah Valley region is rich in history, a personal favorite subject. I needed more.

I joined scores of other retirees who were also eager to still learn a few things in life. James Madison University, located in Harrisonburg, offers a Lifelong Learning Institute to that end.

I just completed my second class, an overview of Mennonites in the valley.
Phil Kniss, the pastor of Park View Mennonite Church in Harrisonburg, taught the class. He is an astute student of Mennonite history, so I knew I’d learn a lot.

The first session served as a historical survey of Mennonites, tracing their beginnings to the 16th century Reformation. Because of their steadfast beliefs, many Mennonites endured persecution to the point of martyrdom.

Consequently, many moved from their European homelands to the New World, where they hoped for a new chance to live peaceably. Unfortunately, conflicts followed them right into the 18th century as they settled in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley. They tried to live in peace farming the fertile soil, but war found them again.

Armed with that information, class field trips sent us into the lives and history of the many sects of Mennonites in the valley. A small choir enthralled us with their magnificent singing at the local Mennonite high school that is celebrating its 100th year.

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At the Old Order Mennonite elementary school, I flashed back to former Ohio days of living among the Amish with their own private schools. The horse and buggy Old Order Mennonites are spiritual cousins to the Amish.

At the unassuming Old Order Mennonite church, a devoted preacher succinctly explained the scriptural basis for their simple way of living. Like all other Old Order men, he was clean-shaven but spoke Pennsylvania Dutch, an anomaly among his people.

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At the buggy shop, we laughed and learned through the wisdom of the father-son combo that so efficiently ran the business so necessary to the Old Order way of life. The elder’s humor kept us on our toes.

In an Old Order Mennonite home, we gave thanks and feasted on a scrumptious home-cooked meal. The sparkle in our host’s eyes twinkled her delight in our contentment.

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At Bank Mennonite Church, we learned of an orchestrated church split with genuine intent to agreeably disagree on specific theological applications while continuing a parallel spiritual path. Congregates dressed and lived like Conservative Mennonites in Holmes County, Ohio with a notable exception. Again, the men had no beards.

At the final class at Crossroads Heritage Center, we explored a type of living museum. Guides explained pioneer life as we wound through original, relocated old houses and various other buildings.

It was a fitting location for the last class. From high on a hill, the valley played out below us. The city bustled beneath the hot morning sunshine. Yet, the farmland’s still earthy springtime fragrances enveloped us.

From that vantage point, I imagined the struggles, the heartache, the determination and the desire to live their lives in community together through productivity, and finding peace and satisfaction in weaving their daily lives together.

Strangely and marvelously, I felt right at home.

View of the valley from the garden at Crossroads.

© Bruce Stambaugh

Almost Home

Old Order Mennonite buggy, Virginia, Shenandoah Valley
Almost Home.

Out for an early evening drive, my wife and I came upon this Old Order Mennonite buggy near the summit of Mole Hill Rd., west of Harrisonburg, Virginia. Having lived in Holmes County, the heart of Ohio’s Amish country, for most of our adult lives, we were used to following buggies up and down the rolling hills and winding roads.

Now that we live in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley, we occasionally have the same experience since we live near Dayton, the center of life for the thriving Old Order Mennonite community. Like the Amish, they, too, stay rooted to the land by using the horse and buggy as their chief means of local transportation and by their rural, agrarian lifestyles. Also, like the Amish, they hire drivers to take them on longer trips.

Shortly after I snapped this photo, the buggy turned left, hurried up a long lane to home. The short scene was a happy reminder of the life we lived in Holmes Co., Ohio, and an affirmation of the new life we have begun in the Commonwealth of Virginia.

“Almost Home” is my Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2018

Dusk at Pleasant View

Old Order Mennonite church, sunset in the Shenandoah Valley
Dusk at Pleasant View.

Photography helps keep my mind sharp. It motivates me to see the beauty that is all around me, to photograph scenes that I couldn’t even imagine existed.

With a few wispy clouds in the evening sky, my intended mission might be to capture a lovely sunset, only to be disappointed as the sun sinks below the horizon with unremarkable results. Nevertheless, I stick to the objective, looking for opportunities for creative shots as I traverse the countryside.

I arrived at the Pleasant View Old Order Mennonite churchyard shortly after sunset. Baren deciduous trees and a few evergreens populated the property, planted in part to shade the horses during the Sunday morning worship service. This was a weekday. I had the place to myself.

I could see the Allegheny Mountains to the west outlined by the evening’s golden light. When I came to this particular spot, I was transfixed. The trees seemed to guide my focus through the opening in their canopy far above and beyond the lovely skyline. There was no irony here whatsoever. The modest, horse-and-buggy driving Old Order Mennonites were spot on to declare this vista a pleasant view. For me, being in this moment was a spiritual experience, one of those spontaneous happenings in life that catches you by surprise and stirs your soul.

“Dusk at Pleasant View” is my Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2017

Roaming around the Virginia countryside

Rockingham Co. VA
The westward view.

By Bruce Stambaugh

When I first moved to Holmes County, Ohio a month after the devastating July 4th flood in 1969, I explored the countryside to get my bearings. As a rookie teacher, I wanted to know where my students lived, and what they were dealing with in the flood’s aftermath.

We had several other rookie teachers who were also new to the area. Our principal, Paul O’Donnell, loaded us all in his Chevy station wagon and chauffeured us around the hills and dales where our students lived.

Holmes Co. OH, Killbuck Marsh
The marsh and wooded hillsides on southwestern Holmes Co., Ohio.
Being a geography geek, I greatly enjoyed the tour. I decided that was the best way for me to get to know the Holmes County area. I bought a county map and drove the dusty back roads as often as I could. I marveled at the diversity of the area’s topography and vegetation.

In a matter of minutes, I went from marshlands up steep, winding roads to the top of hills with majestic views of the valleys below. Hillsides were often densely wooded, while croplands and pastures dominated the gently rolling landscape atop the ridges. I repeated the process when I moved to the eastern section of the county.

Whether east or west, I greatly enjoyed getting to know the countryside and its inhabitants. My wife and I are trying the same approach in our new county of residence, Rockingham, Virginia. Only we often use GPS instead of a map.

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With Rockingham twice the size of Holmes County, there’s a lot of ground to cover. We’re chipping away at it as time allows. So far, we’ve explored a lot of beautiful scenery and quaint, rural towns. It didn’t take us long to discover why they are called the Blue Ridge Mountains. Even the Allegheny Mountains cast a blue hue in the day’s waning light.

The folks we’ve met so far are as friendly and polite as advertised. No one has even mentioned my Holmes County accent.

Besides sightseeing, our exploring is purposeful, whether traveling into the City of Harrisonburg, or the rural areas of the county. Running errands, going to appointments, buying fresh produce, an afternoon with the grandkids, all get us out and about, finding our way around our new home.

horse and wagon, Rockingham Co. VA
Old Order Mennonites on an afternoon ride.
We also explore with friends and relatives who visit and want a look around, too. I enjoy those trips the most. They usually involve a stop at a local restaurant to try their fare, followed by another stop at a local ice cream shop. The problem is deciding which one.

We’ve been practical about our excursions. We live in a housing development that serves as a buffer between the city to the east and the county to the west. Consequently, most of our rural exploring to date has branched out north, south, and west of our home.

We’ve especially come to love the Dayton area, where many of the Old Order Mennonites live. Old Order Mennonites drive horse and buggies just like the Amish. And like the Amish, they are deeply rooted in the soil. Most are farmers. Some are business owners, providing services that the majority of their peers could use. Harness shops, bicycle shops, and dry goods stores are typical.

Many have branched out into businesses for customers beyond their own culture. Orchards and produce stands are prominent.

We have enjoyed our junkets around the Rockingham countryside vistas. We’re looking forward to uncovering exciting new places and making additional friends and acquaintances. In Virginia, both are easy to do.

Rockingham Co. VA, sunset
Sunset from the front porch.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2017