The Van Wert County Courthouse

Friday, Jan. 28, 2022

Van Wert County goes Amish

Reality television came to Van Wert in 2014 when a show called “Vanilla Ice Goes Amish” featured a project at one of our county’s homes. For those who aren’t fans of early 1990s pop music, Vanilla Ice was a white rapper who made it big by swiping a bass-line from a Queen song and creating a hip-hop ode to himself. Unable to find subsequent subject matter as compelling as himself, he never had a second hit. Turns out, he’s more enjoyable as an Amish sidekick than he ever was a rap artist. But then, I wasn’t a fan.

You know who never saw an airing of that show? The Amish. They were apparently more interested in our real estate while they were here with Mr. Ice anyway. In the past few years, despite record high prices for farmland, Amish families have purchased three farms in the southwest part of our county and set up old-timey shop. For those who live in the vicinity of Willshire and Wren, you’ve likely already swerved once or twice to miss a surprise buggy heading down the side of the road in the only part of the county with the semblance of hills.

By Van Wert County Commissioner Todd Wolfrum
By Van Wert County Commissioner Todd Wolfrum

More buggies are on the way. According to a 2012 story in the Washington Times, the Amish population in America is expected to quadruple over the next 40 years, from 250,000 to over a million. The large family concept that built this country still exists in the Amish communities where families have six or seven kids on average, one of which is invariably named Zebediah. Ohio is home to the largest number of Amish – 60,000. Pennsylvania and Indiana are close behind.

Considering the non-Amish rural population in the Midwest is on the decline and there is a large Amish community right across the Indiana line, apparently quadrupling, we can expect further Amish immigration in the near future. Especially as our farmland seems to be tilting back toward reality. Famous for keeping to themselves, an influx of Amish will nevertheless recreate some old school issues we haven’t had to deal with since the rail cars first started rolling through.

The horse and buggies might give you a warm feeling when you see them, might make you remember that things used to be simple. Simple isn’t necessarily the highest good, however. There is probably nothing less complicated than a pile of crap on asphalt. Anyone who has been to a parade knows that horses don’t keep a regular schedule for their leavings. Whenever it happens, it happens. That’s fine out on the pasture, but on the roads, the leavings can cause cosmetic harm to cars and physical harm to motorcyclists.

We’re looking at how the nearby counties in Indiana deal with the issue. There are some who have proposed diaper laws for horses. Another option is buggy license plates, the fees collected used to help maintain clean roadways or create side paths along the roads. We’re not there yet, but if more Amish arrive, we’ll have to look at such eventualities.

And I wouldn’t say that the Amish are “fans” of electricity and indoor plumbing. They are so not enamored with such luxuries that they tend to rip the wiring and pipes out of the homes that they buy. This is all well and good, but through this intentional devaluation of property, they are then able to apply for lower property taxes.

It is their property, so it’s hard to argue that they can’t do with it what they want. And the law is that the tax value of the home is the actual value regardless of intentional acts to diminish overall worth – you only pay on what you actually own whether or not you have taken a ball bat to it. But there may need to be some verification process for this over time just for the sake of fairness to property owners who are forced to put in $15,000 plumbing systems upon purchasing old properties to comply with EPA mandates. Amish are exempt from this because they don’t use plumbing systems – they use holes in the ground.

Amish are just about the least likely people to suddenly change course on the issue of plumbing or anything else, however. Some misunderstand the Amish aversion to electricity and modern comforts, thinking that there must be something in their religion that says electricity is of the devil. This leads to further pondering — how can Amish justify riding in vans to the worksite or borrowing cell phones to make calls?

My understanding of it is that they want to maintain a certain lifestyle that predates electricity and that the gadgets of the modern world lead to envy and dissension in the community. There is no aversion to electricity, per se; it’s an aversion to televisions and appliances and cars that replace a sense of community with a sense of pride and ownership and distances the owner from the family. Anyone with a teenager equipped with a cell phone will have trouble countering this argument. It’s about humility, and is there anything more humbling than having to, every day, ask somebody for a ride?

But what makes the Amish distinctively Amish is an unwillingness to participate in the larger world. So don’t expect them to begin joining in the community as they arrive — they stay to themselves, if possible. They are exempt from paying Social Security taxes and think insurance is immoral. Their education system goes to about the eighth grade because that’s the extent of education needed to live in their community. They do pay income taxes but generally shun subsidies — and shun each other for acts inconsistent with Amishism.

At the end of their education, young Amish are allowed a period of what’s called rumspringa. That’s when you might see them at Willshire Days or the Wren Wiffleball Tournament, whooping it up. This is a period of sowing oats in the modern world before a final decision to commit to the Amish world. There must be something to it – after experiencing what America has to offer for a year or two, 90 percent of Amish choose to go back to their communities. We would certainly take that rate of retention in the county.

POSTED: 02/07/15 at 6:32 am. FILED UNDER: Opinions