by Nancy Huth
Middlefield, which as the fourth largest Amish community in the USA, has a Swiss connection. On Saturday, May 8, Ambassador Markus Börlin, Consul General of Switzerland in New York, was hosted by Destination Geauga. His counterpart in Ohio, Swiss Honorary Consul Marianne Bernadotte, born in Zurich and now living in Shaker Heights, was already familiar with the Amish and invited Mr. Börlin to accompany her to Middlefield. The ancestors of many of the Amish emigrated from Switzerland, traveling through Germany or Holland and from there by boat to the USA. They left Europe to escape religious persecution. The first Amish arrived in Pennsylvania in 1737 and settled in Geauga County in 1886.
The first stop on our visitors’ tour was to Rothenbühler Cheese Chalet, accompanied by Mayor Ben Garlich. Rothenbühler Cheesemakers founder, Hans Rothenbuhler, grew up in Switzerland, the son of a master cheesemaker. Hans received his education and diploma as a cheesemaker in Switzerland, and then came to America and produced his first wheel of cheese in 1956 here in Middlefield. He and his wife Ann grew the business to become one of the largest Swiss cheese manufacturers in the USA. Son John and grandson Hans now operate the former Middlefield Cheese, renamed in honor of their parents/grandparents.
Second on the itinerary was a visit to the Geauga Amish Historical Library on Nauvoo Road. The library was founded in 2014 and is a treasure chest of Bibles, prayer books, ancestry catalogues, clothing, and artifacts donated by our Amish community. John Gingerich, a local historian of Amish descent, who has collected many of the precious books and Bibles, together with fellow library board member, Samuel Weaver, led the Swiss visitors through the collection. Eli Miller, local Amish historian and former owner and operator of the Leather Shop and Country Store in Mespo, added his expertise.
Showing great interest in the history of the Mennonites and Amish in Europe, especially Switzerland, Ambassador Börlin asked questions of the younger Amish who were present, including Chester Kurtz , Paul Wengerd, and Malva Weaver. He wondered about their use of solar power, batteries, and modern technology. He mentioned how New Yorkers are slaves to their cell phones. Börlin asked about Amish church service and what young Amish thought about their community. He said he loved books and history. “It’s important to keep cultural exchanges alive,” he stressed.
An Amish meal at the home of Mahlon and Ruth Miller rounded off the day. As we sat in the cozy home of the Millers feasting on homemade food, Ambassador Börlin mentioned how hectic New York was. When it was time to go, he said he loved the peacefulness here and wanted to stay. We hope he visits again.
Note: Ambassador Boerlin, who speaks five languages, was born in Basel, Switzerland and holds a Masters Degree in Law. He began his diplomatic career in 1990 when he joined the Federal Department of Foreign Affairs. Over the years, he has represented Switzerland in various capacities in Nairobi, Stockholm, The Hague, and Strasbourg, France. In 2018, he was appointed to his present post in New York. The mission of a General Council is to provide service for the Swiss community. He promotes trade relations, supports American and Swiss businesses, professionals, artists, scientists, visitors or any person interested in learning more about Switzerland.