Kramers present Our Neighbors, the Amish

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Dianne Kramer and her husband Don have developed many connections with the Amish and travel around the state with an educational program called Our Neighbors, the Amish. (Press photo by Molly Moser)

By Molly Moser

Dianne and Don Kramer of Dyersville brought their traveling program, Our Neighbors, the Amish, to the Colesburg library on Thursday, April 26. “We have been giving these programs throughout Iowa and have been so surprised at the interest in the Amish. You are so fortunate to live this close,” said Dianne. “Most English (people who aren’t Amish) have very little interaction with the Amish, and for that reason there is an air of mystery about them,” Dianne told the group that gathered for the presentation. 

The three Amish settlements nearest Guttenberg are in the Edgewood-Colesburg-Garber area (three to four districts), Delhi (two districts), and Hazelton (seven districts). Each district has 25-35 families. All the districts in these communities are Old-Order Amish, the most conservative degree. 

Simplicity, humility, and obedience are the virtues the Amish live by. “Separation from the world is of primary importance to the Amish. The Bible verse they use to explain their lifestyle is from Romans, ‘Be not conformed to this world,’” she explained. 

The Kramers have learned much of their knowledge from Amish friends. They met Marvin Hershberger, a log furniture maker in Hazelton, when working on their log home. Amos Christner, who has recently relocated from the Edgewood area to Delhi, is a deacon in the Amish church and recommended the Kramers read the nonfiction book The Amish. Cyndi Nuering, an English public school teacher at one of seven Amish schools in Hazelton, has provided the Kramers with insight into Amish childhoods. 

The Amish came to America from Germany and Switzerland in the 1700s to escape religious persecution and find land. Today’s Amish population is growing at 3.1 percent per year, which is three times faster than the English population. Iowa has the ninth largest population of Amish with 9,070. Ohio, Pennsylvania and Indiana have the most Amish people. 

Religion and lifestyle

“The two guidelines for the Amish are the Martin Luther German Bible for spiritual life and the Ordnung, an oral guidebook for behavior,” Dianne explained. Thus, Amish is both a religion and a lifestyle. 

Church services are held every other week for three hours in the home of a member of the district, and Communion is given twice yearly. Baptized men promise to take on the lifelong responsibility of being a minister if chosen to do so.

The Ordnung dictates the district’s style of clothing, hairstyle, carriage design and color, and that marriage occurs only between baptized members. According to the Ordnung, the Amish cannot use public electricity or self-propelled machinery, may not own a TV or computer, can’t attend high school or college, join the military, divorce, sue in a court of law, or run for political office. “They vote if there is some issue of importance to them, such as eminent domain,” Dianne said. “Everything they do is to keep a sense of community.”  


Amish homes have spacious first floors, simply built with bedrooms upstairs and large windows. Some have an attached ‘dawdi haus,’ or grandparents’ home. It is not uncommon for three to four generations to share a house. Floors are wooden and curtain style is determined by the Ordnung. Treadle sewing machines are commonly seen, as women make the family's clothing. “Indoor plumbing is becoming very popular with the Amish today. All of the new homes in the Delhi area have indoor plumbing,” said Don, to the surprise of many listeners. The county requires new construction to contain indoor plumbing. 

Lighting comes from batteries or kerosene, and some Amish use solar power to create electricity. Water often comes from private wells accessed by a pump. Refrigeration is achieved with an icehouse, but in Delhi refrigerators are powered by propane. Ice cut from farm ponds is hand-sawed into blocks, which are stored for summer use in sheds where they will last for up to a year. 

Social and occupational

Social gatherings revolve around barn raisings, quilting bees, auctions, picnics, reunions, parties, sisters’ days and holidays. Amish also travel, taking bus tours and family vacations. Farming is a traditional occupation, but today 60 percent of Amish income comes from somewhere other than the family land. Amish often sell eggs and chickens or milk goats. Prevalent Amish industries include selling baked goods, crafts and repair service; welding, carpentry and construction. Phone shanties located on the edge of Amish property are used to make and receive important calls, especially for business purposes. 

Amish people pay the same federal, state and local taxes as English people do, but do not contribute to Social Security unless they work for an employer required to do so. Gas tax, sales tax, and property taxes are all paid. They do not use any governmental aid programs. 


The Amish are Anabaptists, meaning they choose baptism as young adults rather than being baptized as babies – which is why the young adults don’t have to submit to church laws, allowing Rumspringa. Rumspringa happens between the ages of 16 and 25, when young people sing hymns, play sports like hockey or volleyball, have parties, buy cell phones, drive or go to the movies. According to an Amish friend of the Kramers, “There are two emotions going on in Rumspringa. It’s an exciting adventure and a time of inner turmoil.” 

“They’re looking at all the things that we deal with in our world every day and determining whether it’s something they want to be involved in,” said Don. Ninety-five percent of young Amish choose to stay within the church. 

“The biggest purpose of Rumspringa is to socialize and find a marriage partner. At the end of Rumpsringa, the young person decides if he or she would like to be baptized, and then very often a marriage follows,” Dianne told listeners. Weddings may draw as many as 300-500 guests and are an all-day affair at the home of the bride. “Weddings assure the continuation of their community… so everyone celebrates,” said Dianne. Immediately after marriage, Amish men begin growing a beard. 

Childhood and education

First births may occur in the hospital, but most occur at home with a midwife. “In Amish society, one of their basic concepts is not ‘me and mine,’ but ‘we and us,’ and that’s instilled in these children from little on,” said Dianne. Discipline is rarely a problem, according to schoolteacher Cyndi Nuering. Children are taught to yield to God’s will by surrendering selfish interests and desires – personal needs and wants are important, but not more than the needs and wants of others. The average number of children per family is six to eight, but in this area, the Kramers have found 10-15 children to be more common. They receive formal education from ages 6-13, and learn a vocation from parents after completing eighth grade. Religion is taught at home. 

The Amish speak Pennsylvania Dutch, of which about 15 percent is derived from English. “The Amish are functionally trilingual,” Dianne noted, explaining that English is learned at school and German is used as the voice of spirituality. Pennsylvania Dutch is not a written language, so the Amish write and read in English. 


The average lifespan of an Amish man is 79 years old, the same today as it was a century ago. Amish use natural methods to treat medical issues. Herbs and oils are used; chiropractors are respected for their homeopathic, modest remedies. Medical doctors are used when necessary. 

Health insurance is through mutual aid – in each district, all the working people contribute the equivalent of one day’s wages a month to a fund that is administered by a minister. Bartering is sometimes used to pay medical bills.

“The Amish die as they live, with no frills. It’s very simple,” said Dianne. Funerals focus on goodness and praise for God. Funerals are held in homes and are attended by many. Embalming is common and is done in funeral homes; burial occurs three days after death in simple six-sided coffins often made locally. Today, graves are dug by community members in Amish cemeteries and are marked by plain stones. Burials are done chronologically. There is often a one-year period of mourning. 

For more information about the Amish, the Kramers recommend Our Iowa Magazine with its regular editorial, “The Diary of an Amish Housewife,” and The Budget, the weekly official newspaper of Amish and Mennonite communities throughout the U.S. and around the globe. 

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