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

Saturday, December 25, 2021

An Amish Christmas Program at East Yoder

A few days ago I had the privilege of being invited to a Christmas program at an Amish school.  It wasn't my first, but it was my first one at East Yoder School.  My young friend Melinda invited me to attend. 

There are over 100 Amish schools in our area, but East Yoder is larger than most; there are two classrooms instead of the usual one.  Each classroom has a curtain down the middle, and two teachers staff it.  In this case, three of the teachers split up the eight grades evenly between them, and the fourth teacher has a smaller group of “special education” students.

One of the classrooms had been emptied of desks and set up with benches for the program.  (See my post on bench wagons.)  There was an elevated stage with a curtain at one end of the room.  The room was lit by gaslights in the ceiling and windows all around.  (The Amish are very good at making use of natural sunlight!)

The men sat on one side of the room and the women on the other.  I would estimate that there were ten or twelve benches on each side, with room for about seven or eight people on each bench.  I think there were about 100 people in attendance that morning, so we snuck over to one of the empty men’s benches for a better view!  There would be another program that evening, which typically would be “standing room only,” so Melinda’s grandparents and I came to the 9:30 a.m. presentation instead.  I’m pretty sure I was the only “Englisher” there, although I did see a conservative Mennonite or two. 

As always, the front bench on either side was reserved for the small children, so that they could have a good view.  The schoolchildren “waited in the wings” in the hallway with their teachers (two men and two women) for their first cue.  

There were about 45 or 50 children in the program, standing in four rows for the group songs.  The program consisted of large group songs and also presentations by individual grades and groups.  Two of the items were short humorous plays, and the kids who performed in them did a stellar job!  There were also songs and poems, and a live nativity scene.  One Christmas hymn, “It Came Upon the Midnight Clear,” was sung by everyone in attendance.  Another one, in German, was sung by everyone but me!

As always at these programs (in my experience anyway), the children were well-rehearsed, had been taught to project their voices, and did very well.  I got to talk to some old and new friends there, and we went out to eat at a nearby diner afterwards.  All in all, a good morning that really put me in the Christmas spirit!

More info and memories from an Amish Christmas past here...

Tuesday, October 26, 2021

My First Amish Funeral


So, a few days ago, I went to my first Amish funeral (and visitation).  And it wasn’t just any funeral—it was the funeral of my beloved “Mrs. R.”  I wrote about her death here  Today I’ll write about Amish funerals, using hers as an example.  I’m going to have my friend Ruth proofread this before I post it, to be sure I’m giving a good representation of Amish funerals in general.  (Thanks, Ruth!)

Mrs. R. died on a Sunday, and the visitation took place at the “shop building” at her residence.  (Many Amish farms have a big open shop building for buggy storage, home businesses, big projects, and often for hosting church.)  As I entered, there was some coffee and homemade cookies, a guest book, and a framed memorial about her late husband, as well as one for her infant daughter Mary who died many years ago.  Mrs. R. was married for 29 years, lost her husband at about 52, and was a widow for 31 years.  Wow…

I then viewed her body.  She looked good—better than she did the last time I saw her.  Ruth told me that mostly a black dress is worn for burial, but years ago, Mrs. R. had made a white dress which she wished to be buried in.  Along with her white prayer cap, she looked ready to meet her maker. <3

After that, her large family sat on a couple rows of benches facing each other.  Other benches were set up behind on one side, for anyone who wanted to stay for a while.  Mrs. R. had six surviving daughters and six sons, along with 60 grandchildren, so there were a couple dozen relatives there when I walked along the line, shaking hands (and hugging) members of the family. I’ve made a number of dear friends in this clan!

The funeral was two days later, at the shop building of the farm next door, at 9:30 a.m.  I sat with my friend Ruth, who kindly walked me through the whole morning’s events...  Benches were set up in a U shape, about 10 benches deep on each side, with the ministers at the top of the U shape.  It was said that there were 400-500 people present.  I sat with the women of the home church district.  Mrs. R. had quite a few “English” relatives, including four of her sons, so there was a liberal sprinkling of “Englishers” there.  A busload of her husband’s relatives from Lancaster County were present.  The coffin was closed during the service and sat up front.

The first sermon was by a minister of the home district and lasted about 20 minutes.  I caught enough of it to know that the ten commandments were one of the themes.  Then a visiting minister from Kansas (Mrs. R. was born in Kansas) gave a sermon of about 20 minutes.  After that, the bishop of the home district gave a sermon of about an hour.  Nearly all of this was in “Dutch,” so I didn’t catch much, but I felt like I needed to be there anyway.

At about 11:00, the pace changed.  Firstly, there was a prayer, with nearly everyone kneeling. Then the obituary was read aloud (in English).  Then the other minister of the home district read aloud a chapter of scripture (in the Old German language).  After that, while some of the men sang from the Old German Ausbund (hymnbook), each row of mourners took a turn filing past the coffin, with the relatives coming up last by family groups.  As son Sam and daughter-in-law Mary stood by the coffin, their faces looking so grief-stricken, the tears started to flow for me and many others present…  All at once there was sniffling to be heard all over the congregation.

After that, the funeral ended.  Because the family was so large, quite a number of those present lined up in buggies behind the coffin wagon, or in cars (including mine) for the trip to the cemetery for the graveside service.  Arriving at the cemetery, I felt it was okay to take a couple photos, from a respectful distance, with the approval of my ever-present friend Ruth.  (These were cropped from photos taken from a greater distance.)

At the graveside, the coffin was lowered into the ground, into an open wooden casket, by the pallbearers, and then the lid of the casket was put in place.  After that, there were some words from the home district bishop, and then, as some of the men stood by and sang, the pallbearers picked up shovels and began to cover the casket with dirt.  Others from the family, mostly young men, took turns with the shovels, until the soil was up to ground level.  Then the pieces of sod, which had been laid to one side, were placed over the grave.

While we were at the graveside, the others ate lunch, back at the home farm.  Then when we returned, we had our meal.  This took place in the family shop building where the visitation had been.

I hope this description helps you visualize an Amish funeral.  It was a new experience for me, but a good and necessary one.  Farewell and Godspeed, Mrs. R…  I hope to see you again on the other side.

Thursday, October 21, 2021

Saying Goodbye to Mrs. R.

Yesterday I said goodbye to my beloved Mrs. R.

In the last few months, an ulcerated leg, which she was able to recover from last year, flared up on the other leg—and this time, nothing could be done, and hospice was called in.  Her body was just too tired to win this battle—and so a few weeks ago, I knew my moments with her were numbered.  I broke my own rules and took this photo about two weeks before she died, when she could no longer sit in her wheelchair.  As I sang to her, she still sometimes opened her eyes—and always smiled at me, as she had so many times before.

I first met Mrs. R. four years ago—I wrote about it here.  She had a stroke shortly after I met her, and—wanting to do something to enrich her life—I began stopping by nearly every week, hymnal in hand.  Mary, her main caregiver and daughter-in-law, would make me some coffee, and often Sam and Mary and I would sit around their kitchen table and talk.  But mostly I came to sing…

Although her stroke had left her unable to talk very much, Mrs. R. would smile and smile at me as I sang, and her sterling silver blue eyes would sparkle.  Sometimes she would be able to sing along with me—“Some glad morning, when this life is over, I’ll fly away…” 

We always ended with “Jesus Loves Me,” and any family members who happened to be in the house would join in and sing it with us. 

Sam’s wife Mary (and four daughters of Mrs. R. who sometimes took turns caring for her in their respective homes) thanked me regularly for coming over, and told me how much my visits meant to their mother.  But it was I who was being blessed!  The more I sang to Mrs. R., the more I loved her—and the more time I spent with her, the more she became like the sweet elderly mother I never had. 

A few days before she died, I came to sing.  By this time, Mrs. R. had become mostly unresponsive, but I sang anyway...  Several times she opened her eyes and I saw the old smile.  As always, I ended with “Jesus Loves Me”—and her eyes opened, and for a few lines, she was able to join me one last time as I sang it!...  That was the last time I saw her alive.

So, as I write this, yesterday was her funeral.  I’d never been to an Amish funeral, and that’s what I started out to write about in this post...  But I think I’ll save the description of my first Amish funeral for another day, and let this post be about a sweet lady I came to care about greatly, and her large extended family, who became like family to me.

I plan to return to this living room at her son Sam’s house regularly, because Sam and Mary have become dear friends, as have many other members of Mrs. R.’s extended family.  So in that way, she will keep on giving to me, far in excess of what small comfort I could give to her.  I will never forget her.

Monday, October 18, 2021

Rest in Peace, Mrs. R


Lydia Fry Riehl -- "Mrs. R."
Born 22 Jun 1939
Died 17 Oct 2021

May she rest in peace

Wednesday, October 13, 2021

The Pie Critic: Pumpkin Pie

My husband loves pie!  And he's one of those annoying people (mostly men) who can eat just about whatever he wants without worrying about calories.  (We hate him.)

Used to be he liked just about any pie, but since we moved to Amish Country, he's gotten quite spoiled.  When he can manage it, he loves to get his hands on some pie made by our friend Ruth—but the rest of the time, he haunts the local bakeries, and he's got some definite opinions.  

I finally asked him to put his mouth where his money is, and write a few guest opinions for me!...  So this is the first in a series, I hope...  Remember, it's all in good fun, and your opinion may differ from his, so don't get terribly upset if you disagree!

Our first pumpkin pie is from Das Dutchman Essenhaus Bakery in Middlebury, our new home town.  Gary was able to purchase this one as a half-a-full-size-pie.  It’s nice to have choices.

Gary rates this one 2.5 forks (on a scale of 5).  His reasoning?  “I thought the pie itself was kind of thin—the pie crust wasn’t all the way filled, as if they were stingy with the filling.  As for texture, I prefer the texture of pumpkin pie to have some body, but this was very fluffy or whipped—too much air in it.  The crust was “meh.”  As for the actual taste, it was very good.”

Our second contender is from Country Lane Bakery, south of Route 20 between Shipshe and Middlebury.  This is a small Amish-run bakery that we visit often.  One plus here is that he was able to purchase a small-size pie instead of the full-size, so as you can see, the quarter-slice looks smaller on the plate.  Also, they offer two types—traditional pumpkin pie and pumpkin cream pie.  This is a review of the traditional.

Gary rates this one 4 forks.  “The consistency of the filling was very good—not fluffy or whipped.  The filling had settled a bit, but still filled the crust as it should.  The taste was good, but I took away ½ a fork because I thought it could use more pumpkin spices—it was a bit bland.  The crust was not as flaky as the ideal pie, so ½ a fork subtracted for that.” 

The third pie was from Blue Gate Bakery in downtown Shipshe.  Although it’s not our favorite restaurant these days like it used to be, the bakery still is top-notch, and we sometimes go there for pie and coffee.  Expectations were high for this one, since Blue Gate is the champion for the “Fresh Fruit Pie Trifecta”—a topic for another post, next summer!

Gary rates this one 3.5 forks.  He says, “Appearance is good; crust is topped off with filling.  The texture of the filling, however, is too fluffy or foamy and not heavy as I prefer.  The taste is bland—not enough pumpkin spices.  The crust is traditional and very good.”

Last up?  A pie from Rise N Roll Bakery, on Route 20 between Shipshe and Middlebury.  (I’ve written about this place before, here.)

Gary gave this one 4.5 forks.  The report:  “The crust on this one was topped off with filling; you could tell it settled as it cooled, but that’s a given.  The crust was traditional (very good).  The texture was good—solid, not fluffy.  The taste was nice—just the right amount of pumpkin spices—not bland like some.”

So the votes are in, and Rise N Roll is our winner when it comes to pumpkin pie! 

Gary says that, like a crabby professor, he doesn’t give anyone an A…  That’s because a 5-fork pumpkin pie would have to be as good as his mother’s pumpkin pie, and that will never happen!  <3

Wednesday, June 30, 2021

The Story of Two Towns and a Feud


This plaque sits at an intersection in downtown Shipshewana, at the corner of Main and Morton Streets.  But how many of us have ever stopped to read it?  It tells the story of how Shipshewana was founded as the result of a Hatfields-and-McCoys-type feud, and the love story that ended it.

We start with two pioneers:  Hezekiah Davis and Abraham Summey.  Both dreamed of building a town along what is now State Road 5, which runs north and south through present-day Shipshewana.  And both had the money and the land to make it happen.

Hezekiah Davis owned 1,400 acres of land on the east side of what is now State Road 5, from north to south for a mile and a half.   

His rival, Abraham Summey, owned 500 acres of land across State Road 5 on the west side, from north to south for a mile.  I found a picture of Mr. Davis, but none of Mr. Summey, if that gives you an idea of who the eventual victor is going to be…

[picture of Hezekiah Davis from History of Lagrange County - 1882]

So Abraham Summey began laying out a town on a 40-acre piece of land along the west side of the road— picture it where the gas station now stands.  Neither of these men was self-effacing – Abraham called his creation “Summey Town.”

Hezekiah Davis began building “Davis Town,” across the road to the east, where most of the downtown shops are now on Harrison Street. 

But Davis didn’t want his town anywhere near Summey’s.  So he left a 150-foot-wide strip of vacant land on his side of State Road 5, and he allowed nothing to be built there—thus creating a north-south “no man’s land” between the two towns!  Picture it where the Blue Gate Restaurant now stands, running north to the grain elevators.

According to the historical information on, the rival developments “generated animosity and suspected vandalism on both sides.”  I’d like to know more about that!…

What could heal this rift?  Nothing short of a Romeo-and-Juliet love story (but with a much happier ending).

Hezekiah’s son, Eugene Davis, fell in love with Abraham’s daughter, Alice Summey, and in 1877 they were married.  According to later census records, they had ten children, nine of whom survived childhood.

After that, the tensions between the two sides eased considerably.  But there were still two rival towns….  And Davis had an ace up his sleeve.

Davis realized how important transportation was to the development of his town, so in 1888 he paid the whopping sum of $10,000 to bring the railroad through, on the Davis Town side.  “Game, set, match,” as they say in tennis!…  Davis had beaten the competition.

A town was officially incorporated that year from Davis Town land.  At the suggestion of Hezekiah’s wife Sarah, the new town was named “Shipshewana” after the late local Pottawatomie Indian chief.  (The Pottawatomies had been driven away years earlier to reservations in Kansas, but that’s another story.  You can read about it here.)  

Davis having the railroad on his side of the great divide meant the kiss of death for Summey Town…  Just a year later, the Summey Town land was annexed into the new town of Shipshewana.

After the death of Hezekiah Davis three years later in 1891, the wide strip of land between the two towns was laid out in lots and sold at auction—the official end of the feud at last, I suppose.


Thursday, June 17, 2021

Middlebury General Store


So, the other day I finally did something that I’ve been meaning to do for a while…  I popped into the new store located where the tourist-favorite Cinnamon Stick used to be—on the main street in Middlebury, also known as State Road 13, which runs from the tollway to the north, through downtown Middlebury, and on south to State Road 20 and beyond.

Middlebury General Store is the latest retail business to open in my new home town to cater to the needs of the ever-growing Amish population in and around Middlebury.  It’s similar to Shipshewana’s Country Road Fabrics, which is just north of E&S Foods (and owned by the same family, the Chupps).  Country Road is much bigger, but carries the same kind of items…  They’re both essentially an Amish department store, having most of the items needed from day to day in an Amish household.


Fabric is always a mainstay of any store that caters to the Amish, and this one is no different.  This photo also shows some of the architectural features of this old, historic building, including the original creaky wood floors.

Lots of ready-made clothes are also to be had here.  Notice the darkness of the outwear in the first picture below, compared to the brightness of the men's shirts and the little dresses!  As always with the Old Order Amish, printed fabrics are not used for clothing.

Hats are always needed, both straw for everyday and black felt for Sundays.  The Sunday hats are handled carefully and taken care of, since a new one like this costs about $125.  (They look gray in the photo, but that was just the light; they're actually black.)

Pants are usually made at home, but suspenders are not.  A common type are worn by the men in this Amish settlement; suspenders differ from place to place.

For the women, "koppa" (prayer caps or coverings) are worn in public--usually white, but on occasion, black.  The second photo below shows the bonnets which are worn over the caps, which are made to fit over the koppa perfectly.  Sometimes in more informal settings, a woven scarf is worn instead of the bonnet.  And at home, doing chores, a white kerchief is worn over the hair, instead of the koppa.

What do you notice about the display of shoes below?  In the Amish community, for baptized church members anyway, "You can have any color you want, as long as it's black."  Middlebury General Store has a large shoe room in the back.  They sell a lot of clocks here, too.  And notice the wonderful old brick interior walls that used to separate the storefronts!

There are lots and lots of other things to be had here...  A wonderful display of birdwatching books (the Amish love birds), baby things and dolls (the Amish love their kids); a selection of songbooks and other books (the Amish love to sing); and lots of sewing notions for the necessary sewing that falls to an Amish wife.

I could go on and on, but why not drop in and see for yourself?  Middlebury General Store is owned by Myron Yoder and is located at 102 W. Main Street in Middlebury, Indiana.  Phone is 574-849-6955.

Thursday, June 10, 2021

A Spring Wedding, Part Two


This is the second post about a wedding I attended recently.  (Read the first part here.)  But the day wasn’t over for me after the wedding and reception!

My invitation had indicated that, for the first time ever, I was invited to the third official seating as well as the first one—the 7:00 p.m. meal.  This was an exciting opportunity for me, because this is the young people’s seating, and it involves singing.  (The groom had rightly guessed that I would enjoy it.)

But lots of things happened before that… 

I had indicated to the family that I would be available that day to take care of emergencies, and the first one happened before the wedding even began!  The mother of the bride came and found me with a problem—the chicken barbeque team, who had been working since the previous evening, was out of Sweet Baby Ray’s!  They had gone through four gallons already, and needed two more.

The way things work is, during the 3+ hour wedding, the food team (typically 40+ people) are prepping for the three formal seatings that day, and the one informal seating (where the food team and table servers sit down and eat in the mid-afternoon).  So, they would be barbequing during the ceremony.

I was dispatched to go down to E&S Foods in Shipshewana and pick up some sauce…  An hour later, mission accomplished.

I made it back in time for the start of the ceremony… but half an hour in, a family member crept in and motioned me to follow her out.  Turns out one of the groom’s sisters needed to rush home for something she’d forgotten.  (Actually, her toddler had made off with it and she found it on the living room floor.)  So I drove her home and back and then rejoined the church service.

After the service everyone walked across an open field from a neighbor’s home to the bride’s home for the noon meal.  But as soon as I got back, someone asked if I could take my car back over and bring back an older woman who couldn’t walk very well, which I did.  She was very grateful—that open field was pretty rough terrain!

So then came the noon meal, which I talked about in Part One… 

Afterward, I decided to go home until the 7 p.m. seating.  I’d talked to all the people I knew, and I wanted to go home and play with my puppy. But before, I left, I asked if anything else was needed, and the groom sent me out to get 12 pounds of bacon.  So back to E&S I went.  I talked to a manager and got it added to the bride’s account—and I even got a discount!

The evening session was wonderful.  I assumed I’d be stashed in an inconspicuous corner, which would have been fine!  But I was seated with the young people, across from a young man I know quite well.  There were 8 tables of 25 apiece, so about 200 young people attended.

They have a special old custom for this event…  Some wedding parties follow it, and some don’t—and in this case, they partially followed it.  In its most structured form: First the couples married six months or less file into the dining area.  Then the dating couples file in.  Lastly, the single and unattached young people fall in line as random boy-and-girl couples and file in.  That last part wasn’t done here—the young men entered the dining area single file, as did the young women.  They sit at the tables in this same order, with girls on one side of the long tables and boys on the other side.  I came in last and the host seated me at the last long table, on the end, on the girls’ side. 

The table servers from the previous seatings, being mostly young people, are no longer the table servers for the evening seating, so that they are freed to join the meal and singing.  Instead, married couples related to the family did most of the table serving.

After the meal (which had a slightly different menu than the noon meal), the singing began.  The songs were found in a booklet we were given, shown below.  The booklet also listed the wedding party and had a special message for the guests.

Most of the songs were in English, and I was able to sing along.  For the one with the verses in High German (the language of their Bible and hymnal), I just listened and tried to follow along!

After about a half hour of singing, the evening ended.  Before leaving, the guests stood up one table at a time and filed by the wedding party’s table, offering congratulations and leaving gifts.  (Most of the young people give cash gifts.)

Almost immediately, an army of volunteers materialized and began dis-assembling the wedding reception venue.  Tables were cleared in a manner of minutes and the food team began washing and drying the dishes, table by table, with military precision.  Then benches and tables began to disappear, followed by nearly everything else in the room and surrounding tents.  Benches were loaded into the bench wagons, dishes were carefully repacked into their wooden crates, and within an hour, thanks to the multitude of help, you’d never know a full day of celebration had just taken place there.

I do hope, dear reader, that you enjoyed hearing more about Amish weddings.  In the Amish culture, marriage is for life, and we would hope and pray that every couple will have a lifetime of happy memories of this special day.

Thursday, June 3, 2021

A Spring Wedding, Part One

I recently went to another Amish wedding.  It seems like every time I learn something new, and this was no exception.  

The groom was the kid brother of one of my closest friends here.  As you might guess by the invitation (below), this young man is a horse trainer (in addition to his day job at Grand Design RVs).  The bride also worked in an RV-related factory, although typically the bride quits her job in time to do final preparations for the wedding.

 I arrived early and followed the signs for “car parking.”  Nearby by, in the field between the farm where the wedding would take place and the bride’s home (where the meals would take place) was a pasture filling up quickly with buggies on one side, and horses on the other side.

There were rented tents everywhere.  Some of the activities take place in the shop buildings (in this case both the wedding and the reception meal), but plenty of tents are needed for staging areas, cooking, and sometimes for the opening of the gifts.  Bench wagons from several church districts might be needed, along with rented “wedding wagons” containing extra stoves, ovens, freezers, and refrigerators.  Dishes and flatware are rented and have arrived a few days earlier in sturdy wooden boxes.  It was a beehive of activity; nearly 1,000 meals will typically be served during the course of the day!

I ended up making a run to the grocery store before the service began, but I’ll talk about that in Part Two…

So a bit before 9 a.m., the invited guests began filing into the shop building being used for the wedding.  There’s a form as to how this is done.  Sometimes, at weddings, I end up being seated with the few “English” guests, but the last couple times I’ve been seated with the Amish aunts and grandmas in the second row, which I really like.  As people filed in, they passed by the couple and their four witnesses (like our groomsmen and bridesmaids) who were seated on a bench in the back.  When the service began, they moved to seats of honor in the very front.

The guests were seated in the usual “U” shape, with the men on one side, the women on the other side, the young people at the bottom of the U, and whichever minister was speaking at the open end at the top of the U.  There were empty rows of benches at the bottom of the U, for the cooks and table waiters to come in for the last hour, so they wouldn’t miss the actual wedding ceremony, which takes place at the very end.  As usual, I didn’t take any pictures from inside the building, since photography is against the Amish religion.

After the ceremony, we all filed out into the open air to socialize a bit and make the walk across the field to the bride’s home, where the reception meal would be served shortly.  I saw my friend “Katie” (the young woman with cancer about whom I’ve written twice before), so I stopped to chat with her for a few minutes.

The noon meal took place in their shop building (typically used for buggies, storage, or a home business).  12 very long tables were set up, with 24 seated guests at each table.  Each table had its own pair of table waiters (one male, one female).  Being asked to serve as a table waiter is considered an honor.  The table waiters all wore matching shirts or dresses.

The meal, of course, was wonderful.  The bridal party sat at a special table at one end.  The families sat at a table nearby.  The rest of the guests sat at the 12 very long tables, men on one end and women at the other.  Luckily for my husband and I, an Amish couple we knew “adopted” each of us and each of us was able to sit with one of them.  Sometimes there is a separate table for “English” guests, but there were so few at this wedding) and most were conservative Mennonites by their looks), that we were mixed in with the rest of the guests.  Typically in this type of situation, the guests sitting nearby will speak mostly English as a courtesy, which I greatly appreciate!

After the meal, there was another flurry of activity as the guests congratulated the couple and filed outside.  Immediately, the table waiters and other helpers swept up the dirty dishes, cleaned them on the spot (table by table), and reset the tables.  There would be three more meals served that day!

Normally the a.m. guests either stay as long as they like after lunch, the adults socializing, the young people playing volleyball, and the younger kids just running around having fun.  But I had work to do, which I’ll talk about in Part Two.

 Read Part Two here...

More about Amish weddings here and here and here.