My Thoughts About One of My Favorite Places--Northeastern Indiana's Amish Country

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Amish Schools, Part Two: How They Came About

In the first half of the 1900s, most Amish kids went to public school.  These days, almost all of them are in Amish parochial schools.  So, what happened?  In a word, “consolidation.” 

Before 1950, schools tended to be small, rural, and controlled by the local parents.  Some Amish fathers even served on public school boards.  But as small schools were consolidated into large districts in the 1950s, the Amish became more and more hesitant about sending their children off on buses to faraway, centralized schools. 

So, they began buying up the no-longer-needed country one-room schoolhouses, and they opened their own schools.  This kept their children near home and their parents in charge of their education.  Students normally walk to school, or take a pony cart, or most often, they ride a bicycle.  Each church district or two has their own school, with a three-member board to hire the teachers, maintain the property, approve the curriculum, and take care of the finances.

Since the Amish child’s education ends with eighth grade, being sent on a bus to a distant consolidated high school is not an issue.  (I’ll talk more about that in another post.)

These days, the supply of abandoned one-room schoolhouses is long gone, so the Amish build their own buildings, such as the one pictured here.  Most have one room, divided in half with a curtain, and staffed by two teachers and possibly a teacher’s assistant.  A few have a third classroom, possibly for “special education” students. A few have four teachers.  There are generally about 40 students; any more than that, and a school district is split in two.

Most have playground equipment, a ball diamond, or a basketball hoop, and the children can be seen playing softball at noon recess.  There also might be bike racks, a hitching post, and a small outbuilding for horses or ponies.  I’ve read many things about Amish schools having “outhouses,” but that’s not true, at least not around here!  There are indoor restrooms, one for boys and one for girls.  Many have a downstairs area for storage and/or social events.

A few Amish children in our area still attend public schools, mixed in with “English” children, but that is getting more rare as the years go by.

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Yoder Popcorn

Just south of Shipshewana, Indiana, there’s a place where anyone who’s a popcorn fan might want to spend some time. 

I’ve been a microwave popcorn person for years now—and Yoder’s is the best I’ve found—but visiting their retail store makes me want to branch out!  They stock unpopped popcorn in lots of varieties, popping oils, all kinds of salts and seasonings, popcorn bowls, various types of popcorn poppers, bags of premium caramel corn, microwave popcorn in several varieties, gift baskets, and all kinds of novelties for the popcorn lover.

Rufus Yoder started growing popcorn on his family farm in 1936.  He shared his surplus with friends and family, and soon he had such a reputation for quality and taste that a business was formed.  When Rufus retired, his children continued to market Yoder Popcorn.  Today  Rufus’ grand-niece Sharon and family operate the 1,700-acre farm and the popcorn shop.  

When arriving at the shop, visitors are given a free bag of popcorn.  The last time I was there, it was their famous “Tiny Tender” brand.  I never knew there were varieties of popcorn, other than yellow vs. white—but they have loads of choices, in various kernel sizes and colors.  Yoder grows and stocks varieties such as “Large Red,” “Sunburst,” and “Baby Blue.”  On the largest end of the spectrum there is “Monster Mushroom,” and on the smallest end, “Tiny Tender” and “Ladyfinger.”  

Each type of popcorn is described in detail, both in the store and on their website.  For example, “Ladyfinger” has this website description:  “Lady Finger is the smallest kernel available.  It is yellow in color and is completely hull-less!!  Very small when popped.”  The store displays a handy chart, shown below:

The popcorn is grown locally, much of it on their own land, and it is all non-GMO.  Like most local businesses, they are closed on Sundays.

Yoder Popcorn’s motto is, “Popcorn the way you remember it—from the heart of Indiana Amish Country.”  It is available from their retail store and also at other local food shops.  They also have a website with both information about their business and the option of online ordering.  Their address is 7680 W 200S, Topeka, IN.

Update:  Some time in early 2020, Yoder Popcorn will be moving to a big new location at the corner of Routes 5 and 20 in Shipshewana, kitty-corner from 5 & 20 Restaurant.

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Mrs R.

Okay, so this post is more personal than most.  I’m not even sure how much I’ll share.

Some time last summer I was visiting an Amish farm where my husband was discussing the building of a pole barn with the man of the house, who happened to be a carpenter.  Meanwhile, his wife and I and my Amish friend Ruth were chatting at the kitchen table—the usual thing.

Before long, an elderly Amish lady hobbled in (she had a bad knee) and joined us; she was the carpenter’s mother, and she lived in the dawdi haus adjoining the main house.  (I wrote about the dawdi haus tradition previously.)  To protect her privacy, I’ll call her “Mrs. R.”

Mrs. R. was about 80, and something about her just struck me.  Maybe it was her sweet voice and demeanor; maybe it was the fact that she reminded me of my late grandmother; maybe it was the still, small voice of God, telling me to pay attention.  She was a widow—her husband had died many years ago at age 53, leaving her with twelve children—nine still at home.  All were now grown, and most had joined the Amish church.

I went home that day and couldn’t get Mrs. R. out of my mind.  In fact, I was awake most of the night, to my husband’s bewilderment.  I felt like I was to play some part in her life—but I couldn’t figure out what it might be.  She was well taken care of by her son and her extended family, and wasn’t “needy” in any way.

A few weeks later, she took a turn for the worse.  Her bad knee failed her completely, and during the course of dealing with that, she had a stroke. 

I went to see her with my friend Ruth, and Mrs. R. was much changed.  Her family sadly said that she wasn’t even responsive, most of the time—but we sat down anyway, if only to chat with the family. 

But when Mrs. R. realized I was there, she woke up and lifted her head, her eyes lit up, and a big smile came over her face.  For some strange reason, my presence cheered her up!

So I began to visit her regularly.  But what could I offer?  She had plenty of company—I could see that from her guest book.

After my second or third visit, I was singing a hymn as I drove home, and it hit me:  I could bring my hymnal and sing to her!  No one else was doing that!  The Amish church hymns are long and complex and sung in German, but Amish young people sing English hymns—some of the same ones that English churches use.  So I put my old Presbyterian hymnal in the back of the car.

Sure enough, Mrs. R. loved being sung to.  Her daughter-in-law told me that she had always loved music, and it was hard for her being housebound in recent times and missing church.  As I sang hymn after hymn to Mrs. R., her face would light up.  Some of them she recognized from her youthful days long ago.

It’s the dead of winter as I write this, and I’m still visiting Mrs. R. every week or two, and I’m still bringing my hymnbook.  She’s getting better now, and she can talk a little, although not as well as before—and she is building up her strength.  When she is strong enough, she wants to have a knee replacement so she can walk again.  Since I’ve had two knee replacements recently, I am trying to help her get mentally ready for that challenge by sharing my experiences. And, I sing...

I don’t know how this story will end.  I only know that she has been more of a blessing to me than I can say, and I hope she gets that new knee so we can take a walk together someday.

More about Mrs. R. and me can be found here.

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Old Hoosier Meats

The other day Gary and I stopped by Old Hoosier Meats in downtown Middlebury (our new home town).  This time, I paused to ask the owners, Randy and Michelle Grewe, to tell me about their business.

Turns out that the building was originally the Middlebury high school gymnasium!  That was in the 1920s and 1930s, when the high school was in that area of town.  After that it was used for meat freezer storage services, and then, later in the 1940s, it became a retail butcher shop.  It still has an old-school atmosphere.  All kinds of meats, cheeses, and other foods are available here.

 Their specialty is smoked meats.  Smoked offerings include ham, bacon, pork chops, pulled pork, turkey, ribs, beef brisket, wings, jerky, summer sausage, and more.  Sam told us that on the weekend of Super Bowl Sunday, their smoker is maxed out, and they sell 400 pounds of wings and 100 slabs of ribs.

Old Hoosier Meats is open from 9 a.m. to 5 or 6 p.m. on Mondays through Thursdays, and on Saturdays from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m.  They are closed on Sundays and Mondays.

A sidelight:
There are several photos in the store of Sam Grewe, Randy and Michelle’s son.  Sam had cancer in his right leg when he was just thirteen, and the leg had to be amputated.  But he turned tragedy into triumph, becoming a champion Paralympics athlete.  He’s nineteen now, and he has already won the world Paralympics high jump competition twice, and he was the silver medalist in last year’s Rio de Janiero Paralympic games.  What an inspiring hometown hero!