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Several Amish men construct a dairy barn along Rethwisch Road east of Frazee earlier this summer. The Amish community in Becker County stretches east of Frazee for about five miles between County Road 31 and the Toad Lake area. Several families migrated here from Michigan and Wisconsin in the spring of 2007. Several more families have moved to Becker County each year since. (Brian Basham/Tribune)

The Amish in Becker County

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Take a drive on the country roads between Frazee and Wolf Lake and you might come across a scene out of the turn of the century -- the 20th Century, that is.

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A small, black, single horse-drawn buggy moves slowly along the road. The distinctive look is that of the Amish.

The Amish in Becker County have been here for three years. About half of the members of the community came from Michigan, where the Amish community was shrinking due to high land prices and proximity to a city that was growing. The other half came from Wisconsin.

"We decided to move further west just to get away from the urbanization of Michigan," an elder of the Amish community east of Frazee said. "We looked all over Iowa and Minnesota and we found this, and we liked this the best."

The Becker County Amish are a private people who don't wish to have close-up pictures taken of themselves or individual publicity, therefore, they chose to remain anonymous.

The first three Amish families moved to Becker County in the spring of 2007, with several more moving that fall.

"Every year since then, several more families have moved," the elder said.

The Amish community is spread out about five miles east of Frazee to the Toad Lake area. "We like small farming areas. We like broken land because the big farmers are at a disadvantage. And we like to see it about a quarter to half timbered because we burn wood and get a lot out of our wood lots," the elder said.

Another consideration of their location was the proximity to the train and bus lines, which the Amish use to visit relatives and other communities.

Moving to Minnesota from Michigan wasn't as big a problem for the elder's family as one might think. Since they were moving to a smaller house, an auction was held where many of the extra items were sold -- about a semi load. After the auction, there were still two semis of belongings and a horse trailer with four horses that were moved for the family. There were several buggies, a hay mower, wagons and a sawmill that took up half of a semi.

When a family moves, the entire community and surrounding communities gather together to help pack. Two semis were loaded in one day in Michigan then unloaded in a day in Minnesota. The process of unloading wasn't that easy for the first few families who moved here. They had to unload all of their belongings nearly by themselves.

There is a constant push for more land for the Amish community because they tend to have big families, the elder said. One reason the Amish moved from Wisconsin was lack of good land for sale.

"You need more land all the time to keep everybody on the farm, which we consider by far to be the most desirable place to live -- on a farm," the elder said.

The Becker County Amish have a small school near the intersection of County Road 22 and County Road 39. The school is a converted house, moved to the current location from near Toad Lake. According to the elder, the school is already full.

"Eventually, we'll have a second school as the community grows," he said.

Amish children go to school for eight years, learning the usual reading, writing and arithmetic skills. German is taught as a second language one afternoon per week, but school is taught entirely in English. The Amish native language is a dialect of German, and their Bibles are written in German, so it is a necessary language for the children to learn.

In the Amish community, women are secondary to men, but are not abused or subservient to men. But, they work just as hard as an Amish man.

"Somebody has got to be in charge, and God chose the man," the elder's wife said.

"There's a lot of cooperation," the elder said. "Amish women probably have a lot more say-so than a lot of other women."

An abusive husband is almost unheard of in the Amish community, and if it does turn up, it is dealt with quickly because abuse is not allowed in the Amish religion.

There tends to be a division of labor that keeps women closer to home and their children and lets the men go out and do bigger jobs like cutting firewood and plowing the fields.

"Our division of labor is based almost on nature," the elder said. "The women take care of the children. And raising eight to 14 children is a big responsibility."

Amish children learn to work at an early age. When the parents are out in the field working, the children are right there with them -- not working, but seeing their parents work.

"Children learn to work right along with you, and that it's an enjoyable thing," the wife said. "Work is not a bad thing, it's a good thing, and they get that attitude then."

The elder said almost all Amish people like to work.

"There's a lot of fulfillment to doing a job and getting it done well," he said.

The Amish will use modern medicine and go to the doctor in town as needed.

"Chiropractors are big in the community," the elder said.

Like everyone else in America, the Amish are in a quandary over rising medical costs. As a group, they don't believe in insurance, and pay for visits outright.

"The cost of going to the hospital, to the doctors, is just incredible," the elder said. "So we tend to utilize whatever's cheaper."

Chiropractors are utilized a lot, and the Amish also practice alternative medical treatments.

"Then again, (alternative medicine) always has been used, not just because of cost," he said. "People do a lot of herbs and more natural remedies."

They visit the dentist and eye doctor as needed, the same as medical doctors.

Many communities will have a midwife as most babies are born at home, unless there's a problem.

The Amish as a community tend to be healthy people. Common ailments are bad knees and sore backs, which comes from working hard for many years.

An Ontario college study showed that Amish walk more than twice as much as an average person throughout their lifetime, the elder said.

"I walk to the phone. It's a mile up the road," he said. "It's three miles of walking to cultivate the field, and that has to be done every week. We move a lot, and therefore, you tend to be fairly healthy."

Overweight Amish are fairly uncommon, the elder said.

The elderly are cared for in the home and make hospital visits when necessary. The Amish tend to not do many life-prolonging procedures.

"When someone's got a bad heart and they're 80, we don't do a heart transplant," he said. "We don't desperately cling to life."

The Amish believe there is more in the afterlife to look forward to. They don't look forward to dying, but are not afraid to die, he said.

Children are expected to care for their elderly parents, and often will build a small addition onto their house for their parents.

Someone once asked the elder what they could do to help the Amish.

"The best thing someone could do is to buy something from the Amish," he said. "When we have things for sale, stop in. Of course, everything's closed on Sundays."

People sometimes think the Amish don't like to deal with modern civilization, which makes them shy around Amish.

"We don't have any problem with other people," the elder said. "We like to have people stop. We like talking to people, but people also have to remember we have work to do, too."

There's not much an Amish person can do about people gawking or staring at them when they are in public. They are resigned to the fact that when they dress and look the way they do, people have a tendency to look.

The truth is, the Amish are a simple people who don't care to have their pictures taken or for publicity in general.

"We're not trying to show off or present ourselves as some kind of alternative to modern life. We're just people and this is the way we've chosen to live. We're just ordinary people."

This is the first in a series of stories on the Amish way of life.

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