A glimpse into the Amish lifestyle

Don & Dianne Kramer stopped by the Sigourney Public Library and the Wilson Memorial Library in Keota on November 8 to give a presentation on the Amish lifestyle. They've now been to 70 different libraries across the state giving their presentation.

Don and Dianne Kramer, former teachers from northeast Iowa, made their way through the Sigourney and Keota area libraries to share their interest and knowledge of Amish culture. A group of people that most don’t know much about, due to the little interaction between each other’s worlds, the Kramer’s wanted to answer questions and let people know about the employment of simplicity in the life of the Amish.

                “We’ve always lived around them and we’ve enjoyed visiting with them, but what really got us going was tutoring at Divine Word College, where people come from around the country with the goal of becoming a missionary for the Catholic Church,” Dianne said. “They asked us if we knew anything about Iowa subculture, and we said we knew some things about the Amish. We put together a short program and then our library in Dyersville found out about it and they wanted us to expand upon it. We had a good reception when we did our more in-depth presentation there and soon after we became part of the program “Library Talks” which is made up of numerous libraries across the state.”

                One of the most important things to know about the Amish are the limitations within each church community. Examples include not using public electricity, not being able to attend high school or college (education goes until eighth grade), nobody can run for public office and nobody can divorce as marriage is forever and eternal. Together, these are just some of the elements of the Ordnung or the set of rules set and carried on by various Amish peoples.

                The Amish tend to stand out from the rest of the world when they merge with the Englishers as the women wear white prayer caps and wear solid color dresses, while the men are usually seen wearing wide brim hats, suspenders, and tend to have untrimmed beards. While they speak English when their world’s merge and write English for letters and business purposes, the Amish people are known as functionally trilingual. Their own language of Pennsylvania Dutch, which can mostly be derived from German, is spoken within the community and German is primarily spoken in church. English is also the common language taught from first through eighth grade, and is the primary language spoken at school.

                Different groups of Amish live within Iowa, including five different orders whom can be found within Kalona alone. The different orders include Old Order, New Order, Beachy Amish and two Orders of Mennonites. Another identifying factor is seeing the Amish travel via carriage, pulled by horse which often limits their range of travel.

                The Kramer’s were able to do some searching on the web to find out some basic information regarding the Amish, then took it a step further by visiting the nearby communities around them to see and hear things first-hand.

                “We were very well received within their communities,” Don said. “One of our main sources is a Deacon and he thought it was a good idea to spread their culture into the outside world. He knows that by spreading the word, it helps with tolerance.”

                Though most of the Amish stay within their communities, a change their minds when given the chance to see what the rest of the world holds. Between the ages of early teen years to early adult years, the “Youngies” go through a time known as Rumspringa. This is regarded as an exciting time for them when they’re given the chance to experiment with things in life, some things their parents would normally condone but let their children decide for themselves. Common activities include singing hymns, playing volleyball or hockey, having parties, buying cell phones, going to movies and having parties. After they go through this phase, the Youngies are given the chance to stay within the church or leave the Amish community altogether. Throughout the years, 95 percent of Youngies have decided to stay within the church.

                “I’ve learned most to really respect and admire them. They’re so committed to what they believe and their strong commitment to one another,” Dianne said. “No matter what goes on in their life, someone will be there for them. The grandparents, for example, aren’t ever sent away. They live and die on their homesteads.”

                Baptism, Rumspringa, marriage and death are all major parts of being part of an Amish community. Before marriage can ever occur, baptism must take place. Weddings are a big deal throughout various communities with hundreds of people being invited and the whole community in attendance. What the bride and groom wears at their wedding is also significant and will be worn at various times throughout their life, with many choosing to be buried in the same clothing with the belief that marriage lasts eternally.

                The Kramer’s enjoy what they do by traveling to libraries across the state, with Keota being their 70th different stop, in helping spread the word and clear up any false assumptions people may have about the Amish.

                “There are misconceptions, and when we don’t understand people, sometimes we don’t like them,” Dianne said. “By sharing with them it allows for more acceptance, or at least tolerance in who they are and not to judge them by our standards.”

                “Before we got to know them, we looked at them as a group of people and asked ourselves “how could they live that way””, Don said. “Now we’ve come to realize there’s a reason for the way they live. How committed they are to being Amish, living by the rules and helping people opened my eyes most.”

                You can find out more about the Kramer’s knowledge on the Amish by reaching them at kramerdianne@windstream.net or by searching for “Our Neighbors the Amish” on Facebook.