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

Thursday, March 25, 2021

The Swartzentrubers

Last fall Gary and I drove some Amish horse-loving friends to a Dutch Harness horse auction in northern Ohio.  These are two-day events, and all the way over we were trying to think of  something to do while our friends were schmoozing at the auction.

Right before we got there, Emmon provided the spark.  He pointed out a rather rustic-looking farm and said, “Those are Swartzentruber Amish.”  I’d always wanted to snoop around a Swartzentruber community—they are among the very most conservative of all the Amish!—so Gary and I were off to the races, so to speak.

We dropped off our friends and then I got on my iPad to figure out where these reclusive Amish could mainly be found.  I went to one of the most reliable sites on the internet for info on the Amish—  Sure enough, Erik had the answer for me, and we headed north to Lodi, Ohio.

Sidetrack:  A little background, from the above-mentioned website.  The Swartzentruber Amish are more restrictive than other Old Order Amish groups in the technology they allow.  Their clothing is heavier and plainer, especially for the women.  They don’t hire cars except in emergencies.  Their church services are closer to four hours than three.  They keep an even greater distance from the English (non-Amish) than the other Amish groups.  Their education is very basic, even compared to other Amish groups. 

Ironically (or maybe not!), their youth have a reputation for wild behavior.

The Swartzentrubers have no indoor plumbing or hot water and still use outhouses.  Their farms are much rougher in appearance, with unnecessary paint and landscaping and gravel looked upon as “fancy.”  They refuse to have orange safety triangles on the back of their buggies and wagons, even at the threat of legal prosecution.  Their buggies also lack windshields and the battery-powered safety lighting that is standard in other Amish communities. 

They don’t use the pneumatic, hydraulic, or battery-powered tools common in other Amish business and farms, using only line shafts powered by a diesel engine.  Their dairy farms can sell their milk only as “B grade,” due to the lack of cooling tanks which are commonly used in other Amish areas.  Their retail businesses don’t have separate buildings, nor do they advertise beyond signs on the road.  They have lower incomes, larger families, and are less likely to seek conventional medical care.  All in all, they are what the Amish would call “low Amish”—very far removed from mainstream society.

The Swartzentrubers were formed out of a split in the Holmes County, Ohio Amish in about 1913.  This splinter group felt that the mainstream Amish weren’t strict enough about shunning those who left the Amish church.  You would think that such a group would stay small or die out, but on the contrary, they are growing.  This splinter group can now be found in thirteen states and Ontario, Canada.

Now, back to our visit:

We headed to Lodi and then started wandering the nearby roads.  Soon we saw the telltale ruts in the road that told us we had ‘struck Amish.’

Soon we saw Swartzentruber farms.  Here are a few, top of post and below:

The farms had the type of signs that had mentioned.  Here below are two: 

We passed several roadside produce stands:

Blue clothing is said to be common here, as seen on this clothesline:

We also stopped and talked to several people, but we didn’t take pictures.  But I did have some photos of Swartzentruber men that I took (from inside my car) last year at a horse auction, which shows how they typically dress:

In Lodi, I got this stealth photo of one of their buggies:

At the same auction last year, I was able to take a better photo of one of their buggies, below.  You can see the lack of a front wall, exterior lights, and other features common in other Amish communities.

I hope you enjoyed this tour of the Lodi, Ohio community of Swartzentruber Amish!


 By the way—I’ve written about two other of the more conservative Amish groups before —the “white buggyAmish” and the “yellow buggy Amish”—after I visited their communities in Mifflin County, Pennsylvania.  Take a look at those posts, too.


Thursday, March 18, 2021

Burnin' Rubber


Okay, some hoodlum “laid a patch” all the way down the road in front of this Amish farm!…  Who would do such a thing??  Ummm… that would be my husband Gary.

It all started when I gave a lift to an Amish acquaintance named Galen, for whom I’d done a genealogy pedigree chart the previous year.  (Amish genealogy is a passion of mine.)

While Galen and I were driving through the countryside to Nappanee, my phone rang.  It was my husband – so there was a roaring engine sound effect and a photo of his street rod on my dashboard display screen.

That got the two of us talking… 

You’d be surprised how many of Amishmen had a car or truck when they were young, before putting rumspringen behind them and joining church.  Some of them still maintain an interest and a knowledge of all things vehicular.  Galen said how much he’d like to see that car someday, and I told him I’d talk to my husband about bringing it over.

Several months went by, and we didn’t get around to following up on it—until a phone message from Galen reminded us that he hadn’t forgotten!  So, one evening Gary fired up the hot rod—a reproduction 1932 Ford 3-window coupe that’s been “upgraded” to a nostalgia drag racing car.We roared out there and pulled in the driveway, and there was Galen with five or ten members of his clan, sitting on the front porch or hanging around nearby.  This was a big deal to them!

Gary answered some questions and then fired it up.  He gave a nice long ride to Galen first, and we could hear them ripping down a nearby road!  That was followed by rides for some of the sons and grandsons.  (The girls were nowhere to be seen, other than Galen’s wife, who was content to watch the action from the porch.)

After we were done, we pulled back out onto the road.  Gary came to a stop, and I knew what was next—I’ve been a hot rodder’s wife for fourteen years now.  Gary did a screaming, roaring smoky burnout that then turned into what hot rodders call “laying a patch” of rubber in two ribbons down the road.

We happened to drop by a few days later and I took the picture above of the two ribbons of burnt rubber on the road.  Galen said after we left, his son paced out the tire marks on the road, and they were 120 feet long!  He also said that the cloud of smoke wafted from the road over the pastures and didn’t dissipate the rest of the evening.  But as he pointed out to Gary, “It did keep the mosquitoes away.”

Gary has taken other Amish friends for a ride in his street rod—unlike most drag cars, it has a passenger seat and lots of safety equipment, and so it’s a street-legal car.  When cultures collide, it can be a lot of fun!

 *** below, a video of Gary racing at a drag strip ***

Thursday, March 11, 2021

Katie, Part Two


So, I wrote about my young friend Katie last summer (here), and I thought I should give an update.  If you didn’t read the first blog post, read it first, and then come back to this one.

When we last talked about Katie in July 2020, she was terminally ill with cancer due to an inoperable tumor in her spine, had been ill for several months, and was not expected to live long.  She had initially been paralyzed from the neck down, but was regaining the feeling in her upper body due to the removal of a blood clot.  I sang to her every week if I could, and sometimes she was strong enough to join in on the choruses from her rented hospital bed in one corner of their large living room.

Now it’s March 2021—nine months later—and about one year since her diagnosis.  Contrary to the doctor’s predictions, Katie is still alive!  As last summer wore on, Katie got stronger and stronger in her upper body.  She also got a wonderful new power wheelchair, which allowed her a lot more mobility and freedom.  She could even power around the farm and up and down the lane.  She no longer needed her oxygen tank, and soon she could sit up better and better and even move herself from her bed to her wheelchair.  She has been making the most of the mobility she has!

So last fall, she got the chance to fulfill a dream and volunteer at the Amish schoolhouse down the road, as a teacher’s aide.  The teacher for grades 1-4 had her hands full with eight first graders, one of them with special needs.  Katie took over the first graders—at first every morning, then all day.  Soon she was even staying after school to help the teacher grade the papers.  Five days a week...  Katie was now busier than I am!  

Later in the school term, a special education classroom was set up for the special needs child and Katie became his full-time teacher. 

Her power wheelchair gets here there every morning—about a quarter mile over a hill.  She comes home at noon so her mother can take care of her physical needs, while the students have their lunch break; then she goes back for the afternoon.  I've stopped by several times, since visitors are welcome at Amish schools, and I attended their Christmas program last winter.

Things have improved at home, also.  Thanks in part to a grant from the Make A Wish Foundation, the corner of the large living room that serves as Katie’s bedroom has been expanded and remodeled by Katie’s father and oldest brother.  It now contains bookshelves for Katie’s many books, a wardrobe closet with a low mirror, a desk under a window (there are five windows)—and best of all, a handicap-accessible bathroom with a shower!  After nearly a year of having to rely on her mom, Katie can now take a long, luxurious shower.

Katie is no longer in a hospital bed—she now sleeps in the double bed from her former upstairs bedroom.  One of her younger brothers or sisters often sleeps there with her.  When I come over, I bring Velcro, my new goldendoodle puppy, and the two of them get along very well!  Velcro snuggles down in Katie’s bed and goes to sleep.  Goldendoodles are known for being very good with sick or disabled people, so it’s a perfect fit.

I no longer need to go over there to cheer Katie up from her sickbed—but I still visit regularly, because Katie and her entire family have become very dear to me.  Katie and I have matching hymnbooks.  We take turns picking out a song, then she sings the melody and I sing the alto part.  We sometimes talk for a long time about her life, my life, and life in general.

One day last fall, my husband and I had the whole family over to our house for Rulli’s pizza—Katie, her parents, and her nine siblings ages two to twenty!  It was a wonderful time, and ended with their family gathering around our fireplace and singing Gary and I a song about heaven, in four part harmony.  I felt like I was in heaven!

Another time this past year, Katie’s parents invited us over for supper.  It was amazing to see the long kitchen table with the twelve of them and the two of us, and how well organized everything was—before, during, and after the meal.  They had a set of everything at each end of the table, to allow for less passing around of things.  After the meal and some good talk, they broke out the songbooks and we sang lots of hymns, in four-part harmony. 

Make no mistake, Katie is still a sick girl.  She went to Indianapolis a few months ago (fall 2021) for scans, and the cancer is still in her spine, and it’s still growing (although quite a bit more slowly than the doctors expected), and it’s still incurable.  

Nevertheless, Katie has been given the gift of life for far longer than anyone had imagined, and it’s been a pretty good life in recent days…  Only God knows what her future will be, but if there’s one thing I have been reminded of by my friendship with Katie, it’s to savor life, every single day.

More on Katie's story here.

Thursday, March 4, 2021


 I haven’t written any blog posts in quite a while now.  (I promise to do better.)  I usually write them in the winter months after Christmas—but this year, that time slot was taken up by Velcro.  No, not Velcro the trademarked hook-and-loop closure—Velcro the puppy.

My husband and I have never been dog people (or pet people of any kind).  All four of our parents grew up as farm kids, and none of them would ever have thought of having “animals in the house” – so both Gary and I grew up with the same attitude.  One of our unofficial vows when we got married fourteen years ago was “No pets.”

But…  we moved from suburban Chicago to Middlebury, Indiana – My Amish Indiana, as I call it, when we retired in 2017.  Before long I wanted to make some extra “pin money” for my new shade garden, so I started to drive for a few Amish friends.  One of them was Elson and his wife Leah, who have a very nice kennel and raise poodles, Aussiedoodles, and goldendoodles.  (No, not a puppy mill!  Don’t get me started...)

So a couple years went by, and I really liked the puppies.  I would stop by their kennel at least once a week, just to cuddle the puppies.  (I called myself their Vice President of Socialization.)   I told my friends, “I still don’t like dogs!  But I like puppies.”

Sometimes a puppy came along that I especially liked.  One of those was Coop, a mostly-black goldendoodle puppy who was so affectionate that I nicknamed him “Velcro” because he really liked to cuddle!  He was the smallest of his litter and rather shy, but very friendly and sweet.

Then last Christmas week, something happened.  Coop, age 4 months by then (but still at the kennel because his sale had fallen through a few days earlier) broke his front leg playing outside.  I drove Elson and little Coop to the vet, and after the pup was sedated and the leg was set and splinted, the vet brought him back out to the car.  The vet said that Coop needed to be in a quiet place for four to six weeks, away from other dogs.  Elson had a couple new litters at that time and he was the busiest he’d ever been—so I said, “Maybe I could take Coop home until his leg gets better, if Gary doesn’t mind.”  Elson immediately took up my offer!

To my great surprise, my husband agreed to this plan, and I took Coop home that very day.  At first Gary referred to the little pup as “that darn thing”—but right around week three, I came home one night to find my husband curled up in the easy chair with Coop, and I could hear him saying, “Who’s a good dog?  You’re a good dog!”  Busted!

By the time Coop’s splint was about to come off, we were both pretty smitten with the little guy—first I was, and then Gary… and having a dog in the house was easier than we had imagined.  I used to make fun of people who “loved” their dogs and treated them like people, but now I was having to eat my words.  I was starting to think about keeping him, but what about my significant other?

But one Monday morning, as I was headed to the kennel for a vet run with Elson, my husband said, “This morning I ordered Velcro a proper dog bed.”  I tried to hide my excitement…  But the next day, he said to me, “Ask Elson how much he wants for the dog.” 

And so, Coop (now called Velcro) came home to live with a couple of sixty-somethings who thought they didn’t like dogs...  His leg is healing well, and now our house would be so different without his sweet little face!  He has brought us lots of joy, and I think he likes living with us too!