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Being a native of the Holmes and Wayne County area, it can be easy to overlook the simple ways of the Amish lifestyle. While I have always had a soft spot for the countryside and the beauty of the Amish culture, I have a basic understanding of Amish culture. It's always interesting to meet with people who have never seen an Amish buggy traveling down the road or don't understand how the Amish survive without our culture's basic necessities such as electricity.
The Brigham Young University of Idaho's Symphony Band spent a few weeks traveling from state-to-state performing and taking in different cultures. Among their stops, was the Walnut Creek area of Holmes County, where they hoped to glean a little insight into the Amish Culture.
"The group was driving from Charleston, W.V., to Champion, Ohio. We knew we would be driving through Amish country that day, so we decided to stop and learn more about their way of life," said Don Sparhawk, of University Events at BYU-Idaho.
"We do a tour every two years. We were very interested (in the Amish) and we have never been here before," said Diane Soelberg, director of BYU-Idaho's band. "We were intrigued by the beauty of the countryside."
Connie Miller, of Amish Heartland Tours, met with the group at Walnut Creek Cheese. I was pleased to be asked to tag along, not only as a reporter but a sightseer myself. As a local, I had never seen the need to partake in an Amish tour, but I was pleasantly surprised to learn some things myself and share some of my own knowledge with those who were unfamiliar with the culture.
The first stop on the tour was to an Amish school in Sugarcreek called Bell Valley School. Miller had told me, this school was a newer order school and even taught classes for special needs children. James Beachy is the schools principle and a teacher. Bell Valley school teaches students subjects such as; music, business, social skills and typing.
Once we arrived at the school, BYU students headed downstairs where Amish students sang a few church songs a cappella (without instrumental accompaniment.)
You could just feel the emotion in the room, as BYU students sat in astonishment at how well the young Amish children sounded on their own. In return, BYU students prepared a number of their own to sing to the students a cappella as well.
A question and answer session followed the performance, and BYU students had the opportunity to ask Mr. Beachy and the Amish students questions about school and Amish life in general. BYU band members learned the Amish do not use instruments and while they may sing every day, they do not have music lessons every day.
The Amish children were asked, "what's your favorite thing to do in school," in which most playfully replied with softball and volleyball games . "I was afraid of that," Beachy joked over their responses.
BYU students also asked some of the students what they would like to be once they are out of school. Some students replied with nurse or carpenter, while others plan to return to the family farm.
After a quick tour of the school house, we loaded up and headed to our next destination, a dairy farm in Walnut Creek. Along the way, Miller pointed out other school houses, Amish farms and homes and gave a brief history of the area.
BYU students continued to ask questions about the Amish lifestyle and asked about things they saw along the way. It was very interesting to see the countryside through the eyes of a tourist and better understand how to answer their questions when it came to Amish culture.
The next tour stop was Rolling Ridge Meadows, an 143 acre organic dairy farm, owned by Jerry and Gloria Miller. Rolling Ridge Meadows is certified organic, home to 40-45 pasture raised cows, and grows hay and corn.
Unfortunately the weather was less than cooperative and forced us to gather in the shop while Miller talked about his farm. Although students were unable to tour the farm, they were entertained by a couple of playful goats. The two youngest Miller daughters brought bottles of milk with them for the students to feed the excited animals.
Gathered around the family, BYU students sang their a cappella song once again followed by a story from Jerry Miller, about their eldest son who had passed away from a farming accident. The moment was so up lifting and moving there was hardly a dry eye in the crowd.
Once again BYU students had the opportunity to ask the Amish family questions about Amish life. The most entertaining question of the afternoon came from a young lady who asked Gloria "how do your bonnets stay on your heads," to which she replied "double stick tape."
As the students begin to breakaway and look at the different buggies Jerry had lined up in his shop, others gathered around the family to ask more questions. Students even shared conversations with the young children, asking them how they liked growing up on a farm and partaking in the workload.
As the day came to end, it was great to see the students having a good time and being truly interested in the Amish culture. The BYU-Idaho Symphony Band is from Rexburg, Idaho and is comprised of 44 members. During their tour, the band made stops in Indiana, Pennsylvania , Kentucky, Ohio and West Virginia; with performances in Chicago, Illinois; Fort Wayne, Indiana; Cleveland, Ohio; Louisville, Kentucky and more.