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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Washington Amish settlement dwindles as four families depart

Belgian draft horses stand at the Springdale-area farm of Vernon Yoder. The horse on the left is called Copper, but Yoder couldn't remember the other horse's name. They are called

SPRINGDALE, Wash. — Vernon Yoder considers the valley between Springdale and Hunters a “paradise,” except for one thing. There aren’t enough Amish people.

Yoder is the patriarch of four Amish families who will conduct a giant farm auction Saturday and return to their native Wisconsin. Two other families who came five years ago to establish a settlement nine miles west of Springdale will stay awhile at least, in hopes that others of their faith will join them.

“It’s paradise here,” Yoder said. “It’s going to be hard to leave it. But it’s for our families’ sake. We’ve got to do it if we’re going to keep our family together. That’s one of the most important things in life.”

The main problem, he said, is that some of their children are growing up and need to find mates who share their religion and background. Those who are leaving are all part of Yoder’s immediate and extended family.

They’ve already sold three of the four farms where they grew hay and grain and operated a leather shop, a machine shop, a wheelwright shop and a furniture shop. The wheelwright shop – where wheels for farm equipment are made and repaired – has been sold, but much of the inventory of the other shops will be liquidated Saturday.

A couple of miles down the Springdale-Hunters Road, Christy Shrock and his older brother, Moses Shrock, are hoping Saturday’s auction – which will attract Amish people from other parts of the country – will inspire new settlers.

“At this time, we don’t feel it’s the Lord’s will for us to move,” Christy Shrock said. “We’d be very happy if others would join us here, but that’s all in a higher power’s hands. If it’s his will, it will happen.”

If others don’t come, it will be difficult to remain, Shrock said.

Yoder figures at least 15 families are needed for a successful settlement. The Springdale-Hunters group attracted only nine families, three of which have since left.

After Saturday, the 40 or so Amish residents will dwindle to the 16 members of the Shrock brothers’ immediate families.

The Amish are pacifists who split from Mennonites in the 17th century, under the leadership of Jacob Amman, a Swiss Mennonite bishop. A self-effacing people who prefer not to be photographed, they set themselves apart by avoiding modern technology as much as possible.

They immigrated to the United States, where they continue to live an agrarian lifestyle, using methods other Americans abandoned more than a century ago. Many live in Ohio and southeast Pennsylvania, but settlements exist in numerous other locations. The next nearest Amish communities in the Northwest are in Montana – including one near St. Ignatius – and southeastern Idaho.

Because they grow up speaking a German dialect, the Amish refer to their non-Amish neighbors as “English.” Their English neighbors on the Springdale-Hunters Road will be sorry to see them go.

“The best neighbors you’ll ever have,” said John Bauman. “They were friends in every bit of the Christian sense of the word. They were very brotherly-like.”

Lee and Renee Bradford agree.

“We’ve had a lot of cooperative effort through the years,” Renee Bradford said. “You can always count on them for a hand, and they rely on us for the technical advances.”

Although the Amish avoid electricity, motors and other modern conveniences, they don’t consider it a sin for their neighbors to share those things.

“We use stationary motors sometimes,” but insist on tending their fields with horse-drawn equipment, Yoder said.

But there’s only so far you can go with a horse and buggy. Yoder and his relatives will move back to west-central Wisconsin in trucks they hire. And they’re willing to ride in cars that other people own.

They don’t have a telephone, but “we might use the neighbor’s in an emergency,” Yoder said. “Right now, with all the moving going on, we’re using it more than we should, more than I like to.”

As he and Christy Shrock explained it, the question of technology is a matter of trying to stick to the ways of their parents. There are no hard-and-fast rules, and different groups of Amish people come up with different interpretations of what is appropriate, Shrock said.

Most would draw the line at tilling a field with a tractor.

“We feel that goes into where the scripture says to set yourself apart from the world,” Shrock said.

Neighbor Lee Bradford said it’s still a mystery to him how one piece of power equipment is OK but a similar tool isn’t.

“If you try to make sense out of a lot of it, you’ll go nuts,” Bradford said. “Even they’ll admit some of it doesn’t make any sense.”

Neighbor Vicki Ojdrovic said she admires the Amish people’s industriousness and resourcefulness, finding productive uses for materials others throw away. But Ojdrovic said she also has come to understand that the Amish have some of the same problems as everyone else. They may be pacifists, but they don’t always get along.

“The more I got to know them, the more I got to realize that everybody puts their pants on one leg at a time – unless you’re a woman and you’re not allowed to wear pants,” Ojdrovic said.

Christy Shrock acknowledged that he and his brother don’t see eye to eye with the Yoder clan, but declined to discuss their differences.

But a decision to allow a Level III sex offender join the local Amish community may be one source of friction. It is with non-Amish neighbor Andrea Scherbarth, anyway.

She and other neighbors were surprised in January 2003 when authorities announced that Stefan Christopher, a 67-year-old convicted child molester, was living next door to Shrock.

The Stevens County Sheriff’s Office reported that Christopher was convicted in 1989 of two counts of indecent liberties involving three children, male and female, ranging in age from 11 to 16.

Christopher brought his wife and numerous members of her family – including his victims – from Bangladesh in 1988 and forced them to work on his farm in Grays Harbor County, the Sheriff’s Office said.

“I’m upset with the Amish that they would allow him to be in the group,” Scherbarth said.

“That’s not being part of the community. I think they don’t realize that this is an important issue to people now. … They don’t see the picture that he’s a danger to our children.”

The Bradfords, who both used to work for the Los Angeles Police Department, agreed that their Amish friends “may be a little naive about the nature of his illness.”

But Christy Shrock said he and his brother “had nothing to do with bringing him here.” Rather, Shrock said, someone in the Yoder clan sent Christopher a letter of welcome.

Shrock said he and his brother were “shocked,” but “we didn’t feel that it would be quite Christian-like to send him away.”

Christopher’s only comment was to note that his crimes were 15 years ago.

“I think it’s time to forget about it,” he said.

In spite of her concerns about Christopher, Ojdrovic echoed her neighbors’ sentiments about the Amish. “If I had to categorize them in one way, I’d say, ‘Good neighbors.’ ”