By Rebecca Powers
Did you know that just a short 45-minute drive from Champaign-Urbana is the largest Amish settlement in Illinois? It’s true — Arthur is, in essence, a whole new world! The Arthur-area Amish settlement has around 4,500 members in roughly 25 square miles. My friends and I decided that there really is no time like the present to take a day to submerge our children (and ourselves) into another lifestyle and culture, especially one that’s so close to us.
A simplified day in old Amish Country seemed quite appealing in the midst of the hustle and bustle of the busy life. However, none of us really expected such a fulfilling day filled with so much kindness and sense of community.
A few weeks before a “free day” finally opened up in our calendars, I did a quick Google search of Arthur, which led me to ACM Tours. ACM offers all sorts of options for trips into the Amish world. Some of their options include: step-on guided or self-guiding tours around Amish Country, tours inside and around Amish homes and farms, goat farm tours, shopping excursions and even meals in an Amish home.
Well, if you know me, you’ll know that the quintessential activity on my list is always FOOD! The opportunity to eat a traditional Amish Sunday-style meal, in an Amish home, served by Amish ladies … that was right up my alley. Our ACM contact, Susan, knew just the place. She set us up for a wonderful meal in the home of Marvin (a minister) and Sarah Ann Helmuth. (The meal rate is $20/person 12 and older, $9.75/person 6-11, and FREE for children 5 and under. Groups can be arranged from 10-100, though if your group is smaller, they welcome you to schedule with other smaller groups.)
Joining our group was a family from Germany, a family from Australia, and two more groups from Wisconsin. The international groups were on separate Route 66 tours which included the sites of Amish Country. Marvin actually said the prayer in German (the Amish’s first language) to honor his German guests. Our meal consisted of all homemade foods: salad, baked chicken, meatballs, mashed potatoes and gravy, noodles, sweet corn, bread with apple butter and peanut butter spreads (for purchase, also), cherry, peach and coconut cream pies, and water and tea to drink. All of the items were passed around twice; I don’t think you can leave Marvin and Sarah’s home hungry!
Our hosts were happy to answer questions that we all had about their way of living and their beliefs. Many of us had the same misconceptions of their people that we had seen portrayed on TV. Marvin was quick and kind to educate us about these things, like the incorrectly depicted Rumspringa and arranged marriages. “My wife and I arranged our own marriage,” he said with a laugh. They not only opened up their homes, but their hearts, telling us many stories of their lives and the lives of their friends and family. Did you know that Amish children only attend school until the eighth grade? One of the other English (that’s us) guests at the table had been visiting for more than six years. She said that the relationship that she had forged with Marvin and Sarah was precious, and we could see that as she spoke.
After our meal, Marvin allowed all of his guests to look around the farm and barn. His young granddaughter, at the ripe old age of 4, invited our little girls onto her own miniature pony-drawn wagon. The girls thoroughly enjoyed this! Then our host took our group on a little farm tour on his personal horse and buggy. We stopped roadside to have a short chat with his neighbor lady, who we found out gives tours of her home, through a different tour company in town. The buggy ride was an unforgettable experience full of picturesque views and the sound of Marvin’s friendly and insightful voice. We were happy to tip both Marvin and his little granddaughter for their generosity. The town motto rang true: “You’re a stranger only once.”
On our way home, we decided to end our trip with another favorite pastime: shopping. Nestled between farms and workshops are countless stores full of handcrafted and homemade consumables of yesteryear. If you’ve never had authentic, Amish-made jams, butters, and baked good, you’ve been missing out. For you nutritional-label enthusiasts, you’re going to have to throw caution to the wind on some of these things. Just remember, this is a day of simplicity, so travel back in time when calorie counting didn’t exist. Our favorite store was Beachy’s Bulk Foods — you do not want to miss checking this store out. Other shopping in the area includes an old fashioned soda fountain, furniture, crafts, quilts, and more. On the way back to Champaign, you can even stop at the Outlets of Tuscola for a little more shopping.
If you need a day without all of the distractions of our “English” modernized life, a day that will truly take you back to a simpler time and give you a breath of fresh air, make this trip … you won’t regret it!
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Becca is a native of Effingham and an ISU graduate. She and her hubby James have lived in Champaign for eight years. When their spunky little girl, Sydney, arrived almost five years ago, she decided to leave the world of marketing to “stay home” and show her the world. She and her family love Chambana and all that it and the surround areas have to offer.