Living where you work

home, Amish country
Our home for 37 years.

By Bruce Stambaugh

I’ve always liked living where I worked. For all of our adult lives, my wife and I have resided in the communities where we plied our skills as public school educators.

We did so intentionally, knowing there were distinct advantages. Experiencing the everyday life of those with whom we taught and guided served as a blessing far beyond anything we could have imagined.

To walk where our students and fellow school staff members walked gave us insight into the core values and principles that drove their lives. We wouldn’t have missed it for the world.

Amish buggy
Along the way.
After we had married in March 1971, Neva and I lived in Killbuck, Ohio where I taught at the elementary school for nine years. I got to see my students first-hand before, during, and after school. I found great reward in knowing their lifestyles, family circumstances, and living situations.

A year after I became a principal in the East Holmes Local School District, we moved to our present home built on an Amish farm. That was 37 years ago. What a joy it has been.

Families invited us into their homes for meals, hymn sings, weddings, and just to visit. We participated in the life circles of the mostly Amish and Mennonite communities. That enabled us to understand and appreciate their ways and values more fully.

When you live in the same location for nearly four decades, incredible benefits find you. Just the other day I visited with a former student from one of the many respectful families we got to know and interact with over the years.

Our conversation in his office thrilled me. Here was a young man who grew up with Amish linage, earned his graduate degree at an Ivy League school no less, and now is serving his home community in multiple leadership roles.

Over the years we have joyfully watched such students mature, finish eighth grade or high school or college, and all contribute in meaningful ways to our culture and society. It’s especially momentous when we encounter one another on life’s journey.

Amish farmstead
A typical Amish farmstead.
I regularly see many former students. They cash my checks at the bank. They serve me my dinner at a local restaurant. They build and sell me furniture that lasts a lifetime. Even my attorney is a former student of mine. The list is endless.

Others I only see or correspond with occasionally, even randomly. There’s no greater joy for a teacher than when a former student recognizes you in the aisle of a large grocery story and rushes up and unabashedly embraces you with a long, loving hug.

Then there are the times when I bump into the orneriest student ever, and he nearly shakes your hand right off of your arm in recognition that he made it. It’s like winning the lottery, only much, much better. After all, the kid knew the way to the principal’s office blindfolded. Now he has a dream job and a lovely wife.

The memories the students share in these encounters make me smile. I usually have no recollection of the incident or how positively it had impacted them. And yet, whatever was done or said then helped them in their young lives. Being told that warms my old heart.

East or West, I am so glad to have lived where I worked. My life wouldn’t be nearly as full without these precious relationships. All I can say is thank you to those of you who have filled my cup to overflowing.

I am grateful to have known you then and now.

dogwood in bloom
Fond memories bloom eternal.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2016

Communication and relationships create vignettes of thankfulness

farm lane, farm field
Long lane.

By Bruce Stambaugh

I learned long ago if you want to celebrate you have to relate and communicate.

The designated time to do all three in the Unites States is upon us. Thanksgiving Day is a time to reflect on moments and people for which you are thankful, and to affectionately share that gratitude.

When a situation goes awry, or a snafu in a bond develops, it’s important that we communicate our feelings to maintain positive relationships. It just might help untangle the problem and any hurt feelings.

This Thanksgiving season I thought it appropriate to share some personal experiences I had this year that required communication to keep relationships strong. I call them vignettes of thankfulness.

“I’ll see you in six months,” the doctor told my friend Leroy. A few months earlier, Leroy had been diagnosed with a type of incurable cancer.

Amish farmstead
Amish homestead.
Leroy had decided to accept his fate, and forgo any treatments, which would only extend his life a couple of months. Instead, he relied on doctor approved vitamin supplements and his faith to carry him forward.

I could hear Leroy’s voice quiver when he called me with a medical update. He was ever so grateful for this good news of extended life. I teared up too. I was honored to have received Leroy’s good news call.

The call about a cement wall of all things had a similar ending. While I was away, a township resident had had a concrete wall poured for his new house. The problem was it was on the township right of way. As a township trustee, I was charged with getting the problem corrected.

I hated to tell Bert, a man I knew well, to move the wall. But move it he did, both efficiently and creatively.

crane, moving a cement wall
Relocating the wall.
My friend Bert used his foresight and imagination to recycle the wall. A craftsman sawed it into two pieces. A giant crane hoisted them into a new location, where they became a retaining wall. Bert seemed even more pleased than me.

“We don’t often get second chances in life,” he said. I heartily agreed. I expressed my thankfulness for Bert’s willingness to correct the mistake and giving the wall a new life. The error did not become a wall that would interfere with our good relationship.

My wife and I thoroughly enjoyed our extended time in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley helping out our daughter as she coached her university’s women’s volleyball team. To those who know my wife, it was no surprise Neva worked night and day completing every day, necessary chores in our daughter’s household.

granddaughter, homework
Homework help.
While I was available, I helped our kindergartener granddaughter with her homework by listening to her pronounce letters and count numbers in both English and Spanish. For me, those were precious moments.

With our travels, Neva and I made a hard decision. We needed to sell the cute cottage my folks had built 40 years ago on a fishing lake in southeast Ohio. We asked around, but no one in the family indicated an interest in taking over the cottage.

After showing the property to some prospective buyers, our son called to say he had changed his mind. He wanted to purchase the cabin.

Neva and I were thrilled. It was the first item on our downsizing list, and our son would be the new owner. I’m pretty certain I saw my folks smiling down from heaven the day the property transferred.

Thanksgiving is a time to celebrate, communicate and relate the moments and emotions for which we are grateful. These are a few of mine. What are yours?

cottage, family cottage
Our cottage.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2015

Friends of friends become your friends, too

friends, birthday celebration
Friends Ruth, Don and Ken before Gail arrived for the surprise. © Bruce Stambaugh 2015

By Bruce Stambaugh

I contemplated the circuitous route of just how I happened to be sitting beneath a party canopy in this Ontario, Canada couple’s backyard. It’s a long but enjoyable story.

It all started when my wife was 14-years-old. Of course, Neva wasn’t my wife then. We married young, but not that young.

Neva accompanied her youth group to a church conference in Kitchener, Ontario, Canada in 1964. With hundreds of teenagers from around the U.S. and Canada attending, with the teens assigned to sleep in homes of local folks.

That’s where Neva met Ruth. Ruth’s family hosted Neva. Neva and Ruth connected right away, and they kept in touch. Seven years later, Ruth and her husband, Ken, attended our wedding in northeast Ohio.

They returned to Ontario. We set up shop here. We all began our careers and started families. We visited Ken and Ruth once when our daughter was just two. Now her youngest child is five. Time melts away, doesn’t it?

With the internet, texting, email, and online chatting science fiction, correspondence via regular mail diminished over time. Life got in the way of our long distance friendship.

About 20 years ago, that unexpectedly changed. Neva saw an advertisement for a tour. She called the toll-free number and guess who answered? Ruth.

friends meeting
Meeting place. © Bruce Stambaugh 2015
Their personal connection was restored. Ken and Ruth have visited us here in Holmes Co., and we’ve returned to their place in Kitchener. We even vacationed together once. Sometimes we meet in between.

When Ruth learned that Neva and I had become snowbirds to Florida’s Amelia Island, she mentioned that their across the street neighbors also wintered there. That’s where our life circle began to expand.

Ruth exchanged contact numbers with their neighbors and us, and the result was pure magic. In February 2014, we arranged to meet Don and Gail at a coffee shop in Fernandina Beach, the island’s only town.

Before the first sip of coffee, the four of us were yacking away as if we had been lifetime friends. Gail was born in England and still has that lovely disarming accent that is as genuine and gentle as she is. Don was from Bermuda and carries that notorious island swagger with him still, even though he’s been a Canadian now for years.

We chattered like teenagers at a soda shop. It didn’t take long to discover that both Don and I had been volunteer firefighters. As if that wasn’t enough to cement our friendship, photography and nature were also common hobbies.

Having been to Bermuda a couple of times ourselves, we knew many of the locales they mentioned. Don shared stories from his childhood until the present.

true friends
Gail and Neva. © Bruce Stambaugh 2015
Gail and Neva got along famously, too. While Don and I were off shooting too many photos, our wives were happy just to shop, browse thrift stores, or sit and share. They clicked like childhood friends.

A carpenter by trade, Don was intrigued to learn that the wood industry was king in our county. Over the next month, we would take day trips together, go out to eat, or just play dominoes. That pattern repeated last winter.

That brings me back to sitting under the canopy. We surprised both Don and Gail by crashing her surprise birthday party.

For that little coup, you can blame Ken and Ruth. That’s what lifelong friends do for one another. They help create other equally robust friendships.

That’s the thing about friendship circles. They enrich your life.

friends
Friends. © Don Brown 2015

© Bruce Stambaugh 2015

Writing the dreaded annual Christmas letter, then and now

By Bruce Stambaugh

My wife and I gave up sending Christmas cards en masse several years ago. To keep up with the times, we transitioned into doing an annual Christmas letter instead.

We thought a personal synopsis more appropriate to keep friends apprized of what was happening in our family, and those of our adult children. Plus we saved the expense of the store-bought cards.

marianstambaughbybrucestambaugh
The late Marian Stambaugh.
With electronic communication now socially acceptable, most of our letters are sent via email to the chagrin of the U.S. Postal Service. Whenever I begin our annual letter, nostalgia appears like Marley’s ghost. Advent days long-passed flash before me.

I have fond memories of the Christmas cards our family received from friends and relatives, some near, some far. After she had opened the cards and read them, our kind mother would allow us kids to tape them to the inside of the wooden front door of the home where I grew up in suburban Canton, Ohio.

Some years Mom would cover the door with colorful paper wrapping, creating a festive background to the many season’s greetings we had posted. Mom taught us to apply the various sized and beautifully illustrated cards in an attractive, creative pattern.
Both hand-written and typed letters of greetings from friends and relatives who lived hundreds, even thousands of miles away were tucked into some of the cards. It was the way to communicate back then.

I think Mom had a higher purpose for the festooned door beyond being a welcoming holiday decoration. For our modest middle-class family, the patchwork of cards served as a symbol of how rich we really were, not in monetary wealth, but in valued, enduring relationships.

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Advent candles.
Typical of many post-World War II families, Dad worked, first a blue-collar job, then a white-collar one. Mom efficiently ran the household on Dad’s meager income, and nurtured her five energetic darlings.

Our family sent out a host of our own Christmas cards. Our ever-thrifty mother would purchase the greeting cards during the post-Christmas sales of the previous year.

Mom addressed the envelopes with her easy, flowing handwriting while some of us kids helped seal and stamp the cards. I sweet-talked my younger siblings into licking that horrible tasting glue on the back of the postage stamps. I hope they’ve forgotten that.

That was a long time ago. Technology and progress, always a subjective word, have changed our lives forever.

Each year I enjoy authoring the one-page summary of the year’s top family happenings, though a couple of years ago I forgot to mention our 40th wedding anniversary. My wife is the letter’s chief editor, so all was forgiven.

I try to make the annual accounting as lighthearted and informative as possible. In recent years, when the aged bodies of parents, aunts and uncles have breathed their last, the letters tended to be more subdued.

I used to simply sit down and write the highlights from memory. Afterwards, I would double-check the calendar that chronicled

christmaswreathbybrucestambaugh
Christmas wreath.
all of our appointments, meetings, anniversaries, birthdays, vacations and other notable events.

Given my previous major omission, I now scour the calendar before I begin to write. Only instead of the daily ledger with scenic pictures, I click on my laptop’s calendar icon to scroll through the year month by month.

It’s time to write our family’s annual letter. It might make people laugh. It might make them cry. But I sincerely doubt it will end up on anyone’s front door.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2013

The breakfast clubs

heartybreakfastbybrucestambaugh
This hearty breakfast was served at the Friday break held outdoors on the company’s campus.

By Bruce Stambaugh

Who doesn’t love food, fun and fellowship, even if they happen early in the day around the breakfast table?

Studies show that eating breakfast is important to maintain good health. It helps you get your day started right. I’ve discovered that’s true far beyond the nutritional benefits of healthy breakfast foods.

When it comes to breakfast, I am a fortunate person indeed. I don’t mean the quality or quantity of the early morning fare or the sacred times alone with my wife or sharing blueberry pancakes with the grandkids.

I am blessed to be a part of three entirely different, unrelated groups that all happen to meet regularly in charming Mt. Hope, Ohio for breakfast. Sharing around a common meal, including breakfast time, is special. Given the conversations, there is no dozing at these tables.

For several years now, I have been privileged to commune at breakfast every Friday morning at a local business where I serve as a consultant. At least that’s my definition of how and why I keep showing up for Friday morning “break” as the regular employees refer to the gathering. And what a time it is, too.

breakfastbybrucestambaugh
My wife always comes up with some delicious dish for breakfast break at Homestead Furniture in Mt. Hope, Ohio. Her latest creation was a tasty fruit crisp.
On a rotating basis, each member of the company’s team, plus me, takes turns bringing breakfast for the 15 or so staff members. The menu is entirely up to the person responsible for hosting the break. The cuisine ranges from sausage gravy on biscuits to homemade sweet rolls to French toast casseroles. Fresh fruit and juice are often provided, too.

helpingherselfbybrucestambaugh
An employee helps herself to some fresh fruit.
Anxious anticipation always seems to precede my turns. They’re not afraid that I’ll forget or even of what I bring because my lovely wife always whips up some tasty breakfast treat. To be honest, I think that’s the only reason they keep me on the list.

You get your own food cafeteria style and come to the giant table surrounded by chairs and benches. Then the fun begins all around, with internal jokes and good natured kidding.

The second group is a gang from church that meets monthly in the town’s restaurant. Dubbed “55 Plus,” the attendees belong to the senior citizen bracket, unless our young pastors make an appearance.

Though I can’t always participate, I love to hear their experiential stories. That age group has a lot to teach us young bucks if we’ll just listen. From time to time, an informative speaker does the sharing.

The other group is the newest and most serious of the three. The straightforward sharing has priority over any food, which is more often than not simply toast and oatmeal. The troop started as a support group for three of us, all prostate cancer survivors. We share the latest concerning our conditions and healing, both physical and emotional.

A fourth prostate cancer cohort joined the group, and then recently, we added two more to the Blue Men’s group, which is what we have labeled ourselves. The title reflects the fact that blue is the color for prostate cancer. One of the newbies is also a prostate cancer survivor. The other is fighting a courageous battle against a more formidable, horrible kind of cancer.

The extraordinary club includes business owners, pastor, engineer, writer and banker. Cancer indiscriminately invades many careers. I admire my friends’ frankness and honesty, their devotion to staying positive and living a servant lifestyle, no matter their profession or personal prognosis.

Friends and food make for fine fellowship. Together they sweetly season even toast and oatmeal with faith and hope.

cancersupportgroupbybrucestambaugh
My prostate cancer support group added a new member who has a different, rather aggressive kind of cancer.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2013

Robbers can’t steal the most valuable treasures

amishcountrybybrucestambaugh
I drove by this Amish produce farm on the way to and from the pharmacy.

By Bruce Stambaugh

I happened into the local pharmacy mid-morning to purchase a few items I needed. It turned out to be much more than a routine shopping trip into town.

The clerk at the checkout counter was a former student in one of the buildings where I had been principal. Normally, upbeat and cheery, I mentioned that she seemed a bit down about something. The young woman replied that the store had been robbed of drugs the previous evening, and that she was still a little jittery from the experience.

I expressed my regrets and sadness to her. I told her that my own parents and my wife’s parents had each had been robbed. In the aftermath, they felt violated, insecure and wary. The young woman said she felt the same.

Just then another employee arrived and joined the conversation. She, too, had a school connection. She was an employee, and I had her son as a student.

feelingsafebybrucestambaugh
The scene reflects the lifestyle in Amish country. Though crimes do occur from time to time, the perpetrators are usually caught and convicted.

The women told me that law enforcement officials had arrived quickly, and through the help of witnesses and their police dog, the alleged perpetrator had been caught.

Still, I could see the fear in their eyes and hear the quiver in their voices. At that point, another customer arrived at the checkout counter. Yes, she, too, was another former student.

Grandma and grandson.
Grandma and grandson.
I recognized her and her freckles, but had to ask her name. I told Heidi she hadn’t changed, and she said I hadn’t either. I told her to get her glasses checked, and we all laughed.

Given the circumstances and the setting, it was fun just to share a bit of laughter. The kibitzing we did back and forth helped them forget the robbery.

We are fortunate to live in a community where criminal acts are the exception and not the rule. Like my friends at the drug store, we are all connected one way or another.

I think this familiarity with one another develops a certain resiliency with folks. My neighbor’s business was broken into. Another neighbor had a valuable deer stolen. Local banks have been robbed, and on and on it goes. Fortunately, these various incidences happened over a long period of time.

There are times when the thoughtless desperation of others interrupts our normal life. And yet, a new day dawns and we go on with our everyday business, trusting, hoping, and praying that all will go well.

newfriendsbybrucestambaugh
Smiles are generally the rule in any Holmes Co. business.

When you live in a community where many people know one another through friendship, work, church, school, neighbors or are related, you tend to feel safe. You also feel connected.

A friend of mine, long since gone, once hosted her grandchildren who lived in a metropolitan area in another state. When it got dark, one of the grandchildren asked if she was going to close the drapes since people passing along the busy highway could see in.

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Grandson
Her reply to the simple question was a life lesson for her grandchild.

“We leave the curtains open,” the grandmother said, “so that people can see us. That way they will know we are all right.”

There are times when others will take advantage of us for such thinking. But if that happens, friends, neighbors, coworkers, relatives and former students will help us in our time of need.

Sometimes that help simply comes in the form of a little spontaneous laughter that helps keep us connected to one another. In the case of my friends at the pharmacy, the smiles and the laughs in the face of fear were treasures no robber could steal.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2013

The best thing about vacations

Leaving the harbor by Bruce Stambaugh
Fishermen leave the harbor at Fernandina Beach, FL.

By Bruce Stambaugh

Vacation is one of my favorite words. Perhaps it’s because it’s one of those duplicitous words in the English language that can be used as either a noun or a verb.

I love to go on vacation. We will vacation at the beach. Either way, the end result is still the same. Vacation is vacation.

My wife and I are fortunate to be at a point in our lives where we can get away, if only for a few days, without much hassle. When friends invited us to share a house with them in sunny Florida for a week, we cleared our schedules and confirmed our reservations.

When you live in northern Ohio and it’s wintertime, there’s only one direction to go on vacation, and that is south. Clearly, I’m not a snow skier. At my age, I prefer the warmth to cold, and so do my old bones.

Siesta sunset by Bruce Stambaugh
Sunset at Siesta Key Beach, Sarasota, FL.

It’s more than climate that draws us away from our familiar digs, Holmes Co., Ohio, where up to four million visit annually. Most visitors to our area, however, choose spring, summer and especially fall to roam the bucolic Holmes County hills.

Our curiosity and desire for adventure draw us away from our own congenial vistas as much as anything. We love to explore new places as well as revisit familiar ones.

Our gracious Florida hosts planned plenty of interesting activities for us during our weeklong stay. Fortunately, we enjoy many similar activities as our friends. Like us, they prefer to pace themselves. It was vacation after all. No reason to rush.

I could bore you with a verbal slideshow of our trip. I’ll just say we had a great time, whether we were on the most beautiful beach in the country, which we were, or enjoying an enlightening and informative historical tour, which we did.

Florida House by Bruce Stambaugh
The Florida House, Fernandina Beach, FL, is the oldest operating hotel in Florida.

Instead, I want to tell you about some of the people we encountered along the way. It happens wherever we go. I am fascinated and appreciate the kindness of pure strangers we encounter on our travels. Meeting new people is one of the vacation perks.

Sure, there are a few goofballs almost everywhere. But for the most part, we have found people to be absolutely engaging, matching the gorgeous scenery that surrounds them.

It is hard to single out any one person in Mt. Airy, North Carolina. Everyone we met seemed like a familiar character from Mayberry.

Captain Dave by Bruce Stambaugh
Captain Pajama Dave piloted our Beach Creek tour at Fernandina Beach, FL.
The young and enthusiastic park ranger near Mt. Mitchell on the Blue Ridge Parkway was most helpful. He directed us to Asheville when we found the road unexpectedly closed.

The kind lady at the Venice Rookery who encouraged us to return at dusk to watch the hundreds of nesting egrets, herons and ibises settle in for the night was a pure gem. Even a non-birder would marvel at that experience.

Another amazing individual was our tour boat captain at Fernandina Beach, Florida. Captain Dave was as cordial and passionate about his lovely habitat as the history of the area was interesting. His trademark bright red Elmo pajama pants fit his personality and his passion for nature’s handiwork that he so eloquently pointed out.

Juniper by Bruce Stambaugh
The precocious Juniper.

Finally, there was 2-year-old Juniper, the petite and perky daughter of some friends in Charlotte. We had never met her. Yet by evening’s end, she wanted “Pruce” to read her one more book.

To paraphrase Dr. Seuss, Oh the places we’ve been and the people we’ve met. Together they make vacation a charmed word in our household.