Ora Troyer: Steward
of His Community's History
by Dennis Stoesz
In April of 1990, I had the opportunity
to visit Fairview, Michigan. The invitation came from a long-time
and senior member of the community, Ora Troyer. After some twenty
years of collecting and compiling information on the history
of the community, Troyer had decided to deposit a bulk of his
materials at the Archives of the Mennonite Church and the Mennonite
Historical Library in Goshen, Indiana. This led me to become
acquainted with Troyer by telephone and correspondence. I also
learned some of the story of the community as seen through the
eyes of the archival materials Troyer sent to Goshen. This in
turn led to Troyer's invitation to see the community first hand.
The migration of the Amish and Amish-Mennonites to this northern
part of Michigan occurred at the turn of this century. The land
had been cleared of timber by the lumber companies in the latter
part of the nineteenth century, and now the companies were encouraging
people to buy and settle the land. First, Amish migrants from
Indiana and Ohio arrived in Oscoda county. Soon the Amish-Mennonites
from Kokomo and Nappanee, Indiana, followed, settling generally
west of the Amish settlements. By 1914, the Amish began moving
out of the area, while the Amish-Mennonites had by then established
the Fairview Mennonite Congregation (1904). The General Conference
Mennonite congregation at Comins was started in the early 1920s.
One of Troyer's first projects, after retiring as a mechanic
from the Highway Department of Michigan in 1969, was to map the
settlements of the Amish. Troyer, himself, has Amish roots. His
parents, Emanuel S. and Sarah (Miller) Troyer, were Amish from
Lagrange County, Indiana, who had moved to the Fairview area
in 1914. Troyer did not restrict his research to the Fairview,
Oscoda County, area, but also researched the Luce, Ogemaw, Midland,
and Alpena Counties in Michigan. Much of this research was published
in Family Life, an Amish paper from Aylmer, Ontario.
Troyer was also interested in the general history of the community:
the lumber companies, the once-rich network of railroads used
to transport the lumber, the land deals, the saw-mills, the various
locations of the hub of the community --"the post-office,"
the development of the roads and highways (which his father and
he had helped build), the years and locations of the various
schools in the area, and the various churches. This led him to
research several of these topics. For example, he interviewed
Stanley Marsh, an old-time lumberjack. As a result, Troyer constructed
small wooden replicas of equipment once used by the logging camps.
He donated these museum pieces to a local Christian camp, Camp
Barakel, where they are on display to help orient children to
the rich logging heritage of the area.
Wood-working has been yet another retirement highlight for Troyer.
For several years running he built a standing grandfather clock
for auction at the Mennonite Central Committee Relief Sale held
at Fairview each year.
Seemingly there was strong local historical interest in the upper
peninsula during the 1970s and 80s. The local Oscoda County history,
Oscoda County, 1881, was written in the mid-1970s by members
of the Au Sable River Valley Historical Association. The local
newspaper, Oscoda County News, celebrated its centennial
in 1981, and carried several feature articles on the Amish and
Mennonites. A local magazine, Wilderness Chronicle, edited
by local resident and writer, Nelson Yoder, was begun in the
mid-1980s. It has featured many historical articles on the Upper
Peninsula of Michigan. The Steiner Museum, located just two miles
north of Fairview, houses many artifacts and photographs of the
area, and features a reconstructed school building. Troyer collected
many of these clippings and books as he pursued his historical
Troyer also was interested in his own family history. He has
a 1934 Head Tax Receipt from his father, from the Depression
days, as well as a World War II War Ration book. Troyer has retained
pictures of when he attended the Special Bible Term at Goshen
College, January-February, 1928. He has also collected genealogies
of the Troyers, the Hershbergers, and the Detweilers.
During his retirement, Troyer has also taken the time to write
a short autobiography (29 pages, typescript). Another long-time
member of the community and friend of Troyer's, Oren Detweiler,
wrote a biographical sketch of Troyer, Around and Around the
Hill, published in the early 1980s.
Another of Troyer's projects has been to continue to research
and write about the Amish-Mennonites and about the history of
the Fairview Mennonite Congregation. In the 1920s Troyer married
Freda Kauffman, who came from this Fairview group. It was in
the early 1920s that Troyer had also transferred his membership
from the Conservative Mennonite Church at Au Gres, Michigan,
to Fairview. Research into the history of the Fairview congregation
began in earnest for Troyer when the congregation began talking
about having a history of their church written. The congregation
celebrated their 75th anniversary in 1979, and published a short
history and pictorial directory, but there was interest in having
a more complete story written.
At the time of my visit to Fairview in April, 1990, the Fairview
History Book Committee had an almost-completed manuscript in
hand. In a supper meeting arranged by Troyer, I had the privilege
of meeting the committee: Beverly Friend, MaryLou Green, Genevieve
Troyer, Norma Troyer, Virgil Hershberger (the minister of the
Fairview congregation), and Ora Troyer. It was with interest
that I heard of the ups and downs of publishing a book: from
research to writing, to putting the manuscript on computer, to
editing the book, to writing an introduction, to finding photographs,
to having more meetings, and then finally to finding a printer.
It was then during the 1980s, while working on the history of
the church, that Troyer uncovered and collected many historical
documents on the church. Among them were the church record book,
1904-1917; secretary's reports, 1919-1921; assorted correspondence
and reports, 1912-1961; Michigan Mennonite Bible School records
held at Fairview, 1946-1966; documents from the 50th anniversary
celebrations in 1954; church bulletins, 1954-1989; records of
the new church building dedication of 1960-1961; church constitutions;
and the 75th anniversary booklet of the church, 1979.
Another valuable historical work forwarded to the Archives is
the Autobiography of Menno Esch, 1879-1967 (52 pages).
Esch served as minister and then bishop at Fairview from 1906-1952.
Troyer also discovered a short unpublished biography of Eli A.
Bontrager, who served the church as minister from 1904-1916.
Other short unpublished papers on the history of the church include
Lillie Esch (1929), Clyde O. Troyer (1959), Regina Kauffman (1965)
and Sherm Kauffman (1972).
During the mid-1980s, Clarence Troyer published story of The
Mennonite Church in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan (Evangel
Press, Nappanee, Indiana). Although Fairview was located in the
lower peninsula, it too had sent workers up to the peninsula
churches at Manclona and Wellington, and initiated its own mission
outreaches, like Sunnyside, located just north of Comins.
In the late 1980s, Troyer along with a company of volunteers
visited the Mennonite Historical Library at Goshen College. They
came to page through the many issues of the Herald of Truth
and the Gospel Herald in search of any published reports
and articles about the Fairview community. These articles were
photocopied and became source material for writing the congregational
history. It was partially this visit to Goshen that led Troyer
to consider placing his collection of historical materials in
the Archives of the Mennonite Church.
Researching the congregation's history raised new reflections
on the burning of the church building in 1918 by pro-war neighbors.
The History Committee wondered how best to write about this World
War I incident. Troyer had gathered some information on this
event. Other material had been preserved by court records housed
at the State Archives of Michigan in Lansing, resulting from
an investigation of the burning. Troyer had provided important
information about this hostile act against the Mennonites of
Fairview to Gerlof D. Homan, Professor of History at Illinois
State University, Normal, Illinois. Homan has written several
articles on the Mennonite experience in World War I, and published
an article on the Fairview situation in the April 1990 issue
of the Mennonite Quarterly Review. Homan has since published
his book, American Mennonites and the Great War, 1914-1918
(Herald Press, 1994).
Finally, by the spring of 1990, the History Book Committee had
a manuscript on the Fairview Mennonite Church in hand. In September
I heard that the first published copy of the book, Fairview
Mennonite Church: A Congregational History, was auctioned
off at the Northern Michigan Relief Sale, August 4, 1990. Troyer
signed and donated copies of the history to the Mennonite Historical
Library and to the Archives of the Mennonite Church.
The book is 266 pages in length. In the portion of the volume
that Troyer wrote, he took the history from its beginnings, to
1960. In it he included much of the Anabaptist, Amish, Amish-Mennonite
and family and community history in which he was so well versed.
He dedicated the book to his wife, Freda, and to his children
who gave to him the "commodities most needed by a writer:
...sympathy, respect, laughter and love."
Virgil Hershberger, the minister of the Fairview Congregation,
then picked up the story from the sixties and concluded with
a chapter on "The Nineties and Beyond." Hershberger
provided several key challenges for the church: honoring the
message of scripture, continuing sacrifice in the face of affluence,
keeping unity in the midst of diversity, practicing evangelism,
opening up long-standing friendship and family groupings, preparing
and sending youth into service, dealing more effectively with
conflict, maintaining a peace-church stance, promoting active
prayer and faith, and renewing worship of God. Hershberger had
succeeded Harvey Handrich in 1967, who had served as minister
and then bishop of the Fairview congregation from 1946 to 1967.
An introduction of the book by Genevieve Troyer, and three submissions
by Ira Esch (Men's Service Organization), Velma Esch (Northern
Michigan Relief Sale Report) and David Johnson (Camp Barakel)
complete the book.
The book is a culmination of many years of work, especially on
the part of Ora Troyer. His historical interests also led to
the collection and preservation of many historical documents,
which are now available for the public to use.
--Dennis Stoesz is archivist at the Archives of the Mennonite
Church, Goshen, Indiana.
Mennonite Historical Bulletin, October,