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As a traveler, you know you will be spending a majority of your time traveling State Route 39 stopping at as many Amish shops as you can, but you begin to wonder what lies down that dusty, dirt road that buggy full of Amish people just turned down. Your curiosity is peeked by the idea of traveling down the winding back roads of Amish country but you're unsure of the best sightseeing spots and there is always the fear of getting lost.
Amish Heartland Tours is a great place to start your adventure of the roads less traveled. Not only will travelers see sights that not many others have witnessed, but experienced tour guides share their knowledge of the Amish with tour goers.
La Vonne De Bois found herself as a single mother and in need of a job in 1990. She began scouring the classifieds for even the simplest of jobs just for a little extra income. She finally came across these words: "Wanted driver for route-must like mornings." De Bois still remembers the ad to this day and recalls thinking to herself, "I need a job."
At 4:15 a.m. De Bois drove a local Amish man to his job at a lumberyard and then continued to pick up other Amish men and take them to their jobs, one after the other. "I learned so much about the back roads," said De Bois. "It really opened my eyes to the beauty of the countryside."
De Bois began driving the local Amish community to many things; work, the store, weddings and other special occasions. "I felt that God had placed me on this path," said De Bois.
De Bois decided she wanted to share the way she saw Amish country with others. She wanted visitors and locals alike to see the beauty of the landscape and develop a better understanding and appreciation for the culture that surrounds the area. So in 1993, De Bois purchased a van and charged 6 dollars a tour. "I stood with a sign on [State Route] 39," said De Bois and Amish Heartland Tours became a reality.
Gradually, De Bois began to add more tours during the day and soon realized she would need more vehicles to support the popularity of her tours. As tour routes became more established, De Bois decided to hire some cooks to prepare authentic Amish meals during the tour. It just so happens that two of the cooks she hired were the mothers of a couple of the men she had driven to work.
De Bois saw an opportunity to return her gratitude for the support that family provided when she needed a job, by offering them a job and opportunity as well. The family connections she had made also led the daughter of another one of the cooks to contribute to the business. The young Amish girl creates hand sewn pot holders and authentic Amish dolls for Amish Heartland Tours.
"I never dreamt I would love it like I love it," said De Bois. Currently Amish Heartland Tours has a four person staff in the office to set-up packages, coordinate tours and schedules, and of course, handle the book work, explained De Bois. De Bois herself, handles the perspective itinerary for the travelers and contacts potential tour stops to prepare them for the arrival of the tour.
The two-hour sight-seeing tour or the "Amish 101 Tour," is exactly as it sounds. Spend two hours seeing the countryside with narration from a local tour guide on the Amish Heritage. The "All About the Amish Dinner Tour" begins at Yoder's Amish Home, where you will take a walking tour of two former lived Amish homes, visit an Amish barn with animals for petting and enjoyment, a buggy ride and tour a one room Amish school house. Tour goers will then partake on a two-hour back road tour and enjoy an Amish family style meal.
"The Savor the Flavors Tour" includes stops to an Amish Bakery, Guggisberg Swiss Cheese, Chocolate Shoppe, Hotel Millersburg, Amish Country Essentials, a winery, and Walnut Creek Cheese. Taste the wonderful flavors of Amish cheese, baked goods, chocolates and candies as well as experience the art of soap making and other Amish crafts.
"We have built a great relationship with the community," said De Bois. Partnerships with Behalt Amish and Mennonite Heritage Center allow Amish Heartland tours to conduct their History and Heritage Tour. Partnerships with local Amish hot spots such as Guggisberg Cheese, Yoder's Amish Home, etc., paired with the two-hour back roads tour help give tour goers a full Amish experience.
"Tell us what you want and we'll do it," said De Bois. Packages are customizable depending on the group. De Bois once planned a tour for a bachelorette party and was able to pick them up where they wanted and create a tour that covered what they wanted to experience.
Amish Heartland Tours has five tour guides that can step-on at any time during a tour or drive and talk to tour goers on the bus. Most tour guides have either a Mennonite or Amish background and have a sound knowledge of the area.
Each tour starts off with a brief history and covers some of the most frequently asked questions of Amish life. De Bois had even prepared a 32 page narration of the information covered throughout the tour and shared the information with two Amish Bishops. "The Bishops were surprised by how well we understand them," said De Bois.
De Bois had been blessed with the opportunity to offer a main street Berlin location with the Amish Heartland Tour Information Kiosk. The new building is located between Swiss Valley Furniture and P. Graham Dunn, across from Boyd and Wurthmann.
Dennis Mullet of Boyd and Wurthmann owned the property and was approached by De Bois who shared her story of how she felt the community needed a full time information center right in the heart of Amish Country and on hand for tours. De Bois was thrilled when Mullet responded to her pitch by saying "I have been looking for someone like you" and offered her the space for her building.
De Bois feels incredibly blessed by the support she has received for this Kiosk and how well received it has been in the local community. JDM Structures offered to design and build the building at half cost and Schlabach Woodworks donated the flooring. Farmerstown Furniture is donating the large information desk and Keim Lumber has also donated all the walls to complete the project. "They see the vision of promoting tourism," said De Bois, "I am so humbled by their generosity."
The information kiosk serves as a place for tourists to receive information on the local culture and businesses. The Kiosk carries several brochures on places to visit in Amish Country, maps of Ohio, sells tickets to local plays and musicals, and sells locally made goods from Amish artisans.
Some of her popular items are rugs handmade by the Swartzentruber family of 12 children and Amish dolls and pot holders made by young Amish women looking for extra income. "I love that I can tell the story behind each item and the Amish artisan that made it," said De Bois.
The Kiosk will serve as one-stop-shop for information as well as a tour bus pick-up and drop-off for Amish Heartland Tours. The Kiosk is open Monday-Saturday from 8:30 a.m.-5 p.m. and has an online store.
One of her favorite things is meeting and shaking hands with people from all over the world. She enjoys spending hours and sometimes even a whole day getting to know people and sharing her knowledge with them.
De Bois encourages not only the tourist crowd to take part in her tours, but the local businesses as well. She feels it's important that all local shops and businesses be as knowledgeable about the area as they can so that they can pass on information and answer questions of the people visiting their shops.
Amish Heartland Tours is located at 5568 Twp. Hwy. 381, in Berlin. For more information or to schedule a tour call 330-893-3248 or visit www.amishheartlandtours.com. Be sure to find them on facebook and check out pictures and videos from various tours and stay up-to-date on the latest information.