June 13: A Day of the Anabaptist Heritage Tour

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Summer of 2015

June 13, 2015

The day started off with a switch in bus drivers from Marcus to John Paul.  It was sad to see Marcus go but it was a lot of fun listening to John Paul’s irreverent humor. John Ruth led our morning devotions on how Jesus responded to the Sadduces with mercy and not sacrifice, encouraging them to read and learn his ways. We than sang together from the Hymnal: A Worship Book sampler tucked behind each of our bus seats.

Our first stop was the Remagen bridge (located in the Rhineland-Palatinate region of Germany) which played an integral part in the WWII fall of Hitler’s power.  The last bridge to be destroyed was the Remagen bridge which breaches the Rhine River, the great moat that divided Europe.  This bridge was eventually destroyed as well, but only after 10,000 American troops crossed over into Germany.  Today the bridge and accompanying museum stand as a symbol for peace and reconciliation.

We also stopped in Koblenz to see the “German Corner” called the Deutches Eck where the Moselle River joins the Rhine and pay homage to the father of Deutschland, Kaiser Wilhelm. Then we were on the road again, heading south, viewing the hill-strewn wineries of the Upper Rhine through the bus windows.  We marveled at how they could maintain wineries on the steep foothills of the Rhine Valley, but appreciated seeing for ourselves where the German Riesling wine originates.

When we stopped at Boppard for lunch, the St. Severus twin towers greeted us with their austere presence. Soon we were meandering the narrow streets of the Old Town, looking for brat sandwiches and cool, refreshing gelato. The curry bratwich was particularly tasty.  We talked and ate in the warmth of the sun and realized despite some clouds, it was a perfect day for a riverboat cruise up the Rhine River. We boarded the riverboat, taking seats on the top deck and admiring the landscape as we pulled away from the dock. As the riverboat travelled against the current, we ooed and aahed with each new castle announced.  The Hostile Brothers followed by the Burg Maus Castle were intriguing as we tried to imagine their occupants many centuries ago. Then the St. Goar Castle appeared before our eyes, very close to the Rhine and we were amazed at all that remained despite the ravages of the war. Even though we docked at St. Goarshausen, we knew it was not time to get off the riverboat because we did not see Wilmer or his familiar blue flag leaving the boat. After traversing the dangerous Loreley bend (the area that ship helmsmen find unnerving), we had to leave our enchanting castle cruise at Oberwesel.  It had been an exhilarating ride on the Rhine once known as the backbone of Europe for commerce and trade.

Our next stop was in the Palatinate region of Germany at the Mennonite Wierehof. We glimpsed the immaculate spread of farmland and learned that the Mennonites migrating to this area from Bern, Switzerland brought innovative and productive agricultural techniques.  It was too late for cherry picking, but the soon-to-be-golden fields of wheat spread before us invitingly.  When we reached the small Wierehof village, Astrid and Jochann greeted us with smiles and plenty of historical treasures. John Ruth grinned with delight as he fingered the 1556 Zurich Bible, the 1685 copper plates used in the Ephrata Cloister translation of the Martyr’s Mirror, and the 2000 sermons by the father of the Mennonite Encyclopedia and the first World Conference, the late Charles Neff. We took a walk through the village glimpsing the 3 spots of worship—the Adam Kraybill home, the small 1770 year building (that Napolean later used for his horses in the early 1800’s), and the 1830 meetinghouse where we decided to sing “Gott Ist Die Liebe” and 2 other songs.  Soon it was time to go, but we appreciated Jochann Showalter’s tour and animated dialogue with John Ruth. After a walk around the graveyard of the Palatinate ancestors, we headed to our hotel in Alzey. It was a good day of experiencing the Rhineland where our Mennonite ancestors lived, worked and strived to follow their conscience.

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Don’t Take Me off the Farm

Bob and Addie, circa 2012

Summer of 2015

“Holy Cow, they saved the best for last!” was Robert Gehman’s reaction when he first caught a glimpse of Adeline Rush.  His family was visiting at Addie’s home in Dublin, Pa when all the girls came down the stairs after changing out of their church clothes. He noticed them all but it was the last one that stole his heart.  Even today, after 62 years of marriage, Robert (Bob) and Adeline (Addie) Gehman still enjoy being together and are committed to their church, their family and their farm.

The farming partnership they built over the years utilized their gifts, but also required a lot of grit and determination to create a 228 acre farm with 200 head of cattle and 75 milking cows. “I just wanted to be a farmer ever since I can remember,” states Bob.  Bob, the son of Norman and Viola Longacre Gehman, grew up in Lanark, a small town outside of Allentown where he shared a bedroom with 3 brothers. Two sisters slept in another very small bedroom.  “My dad worked as a florist for 26 years and he had long hours especially on holidays and us children would sit on the radiator waiting for him to come home.” Even though his father later worked for the family oil burner business, Bob only was interested in farming. “I had uncles that were farmers and I loved going to my uncles’ farms for a week at a time.” Bob remembers being at Uncle Henry Longacre’s farm one time as a young boy and walking past the cattle truck when a cow “blessed” him with excrement.  But even that didn’t discourage Bob from being a farmer.

Addie, the daughter of J. Paul and Barbara Wismer Rush, had the gifts to complement Bob’s desire to farm. “I would have been a carpenter if I would’ve been a man,” Addie says with certainty.  Naturally athletic and extremely intelligent, she was the capable helpmate to Bob’s keen business sense and love of animals.  The couple met when they were barely teenagers and because Addie lived in Dublin, Bob says, “I wore out my car going to see her.” They were married in 1953 and afterwards Bob did the two things his mother wouldn’t allow him to do, “buy a motorcycle and get a goat.”

For a while they lived in an apartment in Plumsteadville and then worked for a number of farmers, including Dan Schantz. They attended Swamp Mennonite Church where Bob had been carried in by his mother many years earlier. By 1959, they had 3 children and an opportunity to rent a farm in Coopersburg that was owned by Wellington Cassel and called Marwell Farm.

Wellington Cassel stopped in on the new tenant farmers every Thursday, partly to check on his two grocery stores in Quakertown and partly to see his farm. Bob recalls, “Nancy, our daughter, would go out, walk around with him, holding his hand. Then he’d give her gum.”  Addie comments, “He was a wonderful man. We never signed any agreement with him. What he said, he would do. “

Wellington was known in Franconia Conference for his song services and the Marwell Farm was where he held the sing-a-longs.  “I don’t know how many people talk to us from the Souderton area, saying, ‘Oh yes, I used to come to his song services.’ About everyone knows Wellington Cassel’s farm because he did that.  In fact he has a hill that they built for the chorister to stand on. It looks like a cave, but it’s not, it’s especially for the song service.”

After a number of years, Wellington told the Gehmans they would have the first chance to buy the farm. Addie remembers, “He was a very generous man. He never complained about anything we were doing,” with Bob adding, “And I’m sure he could have cause I didn’t know that much.”  They both appreciated that Wellington “wanted the person who bought the farm to be active in the church and active in the community.”

And the Gehmans lived up to their promise to Wellington because not only were Bob and Addie involved in the Board of Elders and the Mission Outreach Committee at church, Bob was on the Lower Milford Township Planning Commission for 30 years and the Lehigh Valley Cooperative Farmers Board of Directors for 20 years.  They raised five children on the farm and all of them contributed over the years to the farm’s success. “I never learned to milk,” admits Addie, but by the time the girls (Susan, Nancy, and Peggy) turned 9 or 10, they were able to do the milking by themselves. This enabled the boys (Barry and Bob Jr) to stay out in the field while the girls finished the milking.”

Listening to his parents talk about their home life, Bob Jr comments, “They have a successful business, good marriage, and good kids.” Addie says, “We always felt that the Lord gave us a big house so we had to use it. We had cousins by the dozens that wanted to come here on the farm.” Over the years, not only did they house nieces and nephews, but they had trainees come to live with them, six from Paraguay, three from Brazil, and one student from Germany.  But they have had some hard times, too, especially when their daughter Susan took her own life after several serious bouts of depression, leaving a husband and three sons, aged 9, 13, and 15.  Although they miss their daughter every day, Bob and Addie have found continued strength and reliance on the Lord, their family and their church family.

Addie taught guitar lessons at Clemmer Music for one day a week for 31 years. “It was a good chance to get away from the farm and it was also very rewarding to see a person come in not knowing anything about an instrument and go on to be a part of a worship band.” They’ve also taken some time away from the farm to travel, visiting Europe, Paraguay and Brazil.

The farm is currently a member of the Land O’Lakes agricultural cooperative, as sons, Barry, Bob Jr., and grandson, Wendell gradually take over more and more of the day to day operations. Bob Sr. still takes the hay and fertilizer orders and recognizes that he wants to stay on the farm “as long as [he] can.” In 1967, they started with 19 milking cows and 160 acres and gradually over the years turned the farm into 75 milking cows with 228 acres, renting an additional 1000 acres. They remember the moonlight walks in the winter followed by hot chocolate, the creek stomping and picnics, the Open Gate Farm Day when the public took hayrides and tours, and more recently the pig roasts and square dances on Labor Day. Although Bob and Addie have had some health issues in the last few years, they insist, “We are grateful for as many good years as we’ve had. You have to take the bad with the good, whatever…the Lord is with us.”