Securing History

AMHC trio looking at book
Dave Mast

Marcus Yoder, left, librarian Adam Hershberger and board president Wayne R. Miller inspect one of the rare collectibles the center purchased from Leroy Beachy.

How do you put a price tag on telling the story of your people’s history? For those at the Amish & Mennonite Heritage Center, finances were not going to deter them from adding a rare and unique collection of books detailing the journey of the people of Anabaptist faith who traveled from Europe centuries ago to settle in Amish Country.

A book is often judged by its cover, at least in terms of what kind of shape it is in. However, while a books monetary value
is closely tied to its jacket cover condition, books can also shape the story and history of a people.

In pursuing as much important information as possible, the AMHC is currently reaching out into the community seeking donations and old material that will help stock its bookshelves with the history and stories of the Anabaptist people.

While Heinz Gaugel’s one-of-a-kind cyclorama “Behalt” paints a vivid picture of the Anabaptist faith and history, telling the story from Jesus Christ to modern day, the AMHC board has recognized that additional history can be of great value in telling the story even further.

The board of the AMHC in Berlin wanted to make a big push in introducing more important books, historical documents and papers into their already vast collection of archival material that tell the story of the Anabaptist people’s faith journey.

Local collector Leroy Beachy decided to sell his massive collection of Amish and Mennonite books he has collected over nearly six decades. Beachy’s library is well known far outside of the circles of Amish Country, and when the library was put up for auction, AMHC executive director Marcus Yoder said they board knew it was time to act.

“For those of us in the field, Leroy’s collection is a once-in-a-lifetime experience,” Yoder said. “They are all old and rare and the history contained in this collection is a really unique insight into the history

of the Anabaptist faith and the lives of the Amish and Mennonite people. There are books like this out there, but this collection is so extensive that it rivals any collection of Amish and Mennonite history that you’ll find anywhere.”

Yoder said when the AMHC sent out a recent letter to seek donations for the purpose of purchasing more books for its library, it received very generous support from many individuals who understood the value of creating a library that offers an extensive look into the history of the Amish and Mennonite people.

Wayne R. Yoder, AMHC board president, said they spent countless hours poring over what they would like to bring into the AMHC library. He said they made a numbered list in order of importance.

“At the end of the day, we felt really good about what we were able to purchase what we felt necessary to bring to the Amish Library here at the center,” Miller said.

“We were able to build our library and we couldn’t have done that without the support of the people who supported us financially.”

“We are so grateful for our community’s support,” Yoder said. “We were amazed at how the local communities rallied behind us and helped pave the way to purchase much of the material we hoped to buy from the collection. Multiple people have called and told us that we need to invest in purchasing some of these books and they wanted to help with our ability to do that. It is really a humbling experience to realize the incredible support we have from our community.”

Yoder said an old book or Bible that is worn and used contains not just the stories and words inside, but it also speaks about the journey the book took in traveling from Europe to America. Each book reflects on the people who owned them and used them. Each was part of the lives of the people, families and communities who shaped what the Anabaptist people of Amish and Mennonite heritage are today.

“Every story, every piece, has its own unique story and history to tell in so many ways.” Yoder said.

In attending the auction, Yoder said the goal was to purchase unique pieces of the collection that included books and material written by Amish bishops and ministers. Then there were the high-end items that Yoder felt were must-adds to the AMHC collection, including a rare Esch Martyr’s Mirror book, Abraham Gerber’s Sauer Bible that contains hand-written lists of the Gerber family tree, and a collection of Yost Miller papers. In addition, they also received on loan from a private donor a very rare two-page letter signed by a group of 23 Amish bishops from Canada, Pennsylvania, Indiana and Ohio who came together to try to create a rules-of-conduct within the greater church body. That beautiful hand-written piece is the only known copy of that meeting.

“We were excited about all of those purchases,” Yoder said. “We now have a full repository of all of the Yost Miller letters at the center. The Gerber Bible has connections to so many people in the area. The letter from the bishops will be a great addition. It’s exciting to see our library grow with these great books and materials.”

Some of the old material dates to the mid-1770s when Anabaptist people began coming to America. The originals are delcate, and Yoder said they will digitize much of the material and make it available for people to handle it, make records and glean from the material without damaging the real material that will be on display at the center.

“There’s a fine line between preservation and availability to the community, and our intention is to walk that line,” Yoder said. “We want to keep it well preserved yet keep the contents widely available to the community.”

Even after the large purchase from the Beachy collection, Yoder said the AMHC will continue to seek to bring in more books and reading material that defines the people of Anabaptist faith.

“We are actively searching for more items to add to the archives and the library to provide an even better ‘shape’ to the past,” Yoder said. “I am so pleased with how our archival fund has grown. It allows us to grow the archives and keep this information available to the people to whom it matters the most.”

Yoder said if anyone has something that would add value to the archived collection at AMHC and would like to donate of loan items, they can stop in during hours and connect with Yoder.

Adam Hershberger, the librarian and assistant archivist of the library, will now do all the translating, preservation and archiving of the material purchased, something he is anticipating greatly.

He said people can eventually come in and read and view any of the material in the archives.

“It’s about building this library and making it accessible to those who want to learn about not just the history of the Ana-baptist people, but dig deeper into their own family history,” Yoder said.

If anyone would like to aid the AMHC in its endeavor to build its library, they may do so by contacting Yoder or Hershberger at 330-893-3192.