From a Farm Boy to the Outer Limits of a University Education, Part I

Today we have a story from Henry Troyer who left the Amish in 1958 in pursuit of more education. For his full bio visit About Amish.  His story will be posted in two parts.

Henry Portrait.jpeg

At an early age, I longed for knowledge. I read everything I could get my hands on, which in our Amish home was not very much. I attended a one-room country school, named Brush Run, in Holmes County, Ohio. Our teachers were always outsiders; that is, they were non-Amish, non-Mennonite teachers. During most of my nine years at Brush Run School, all the students were from Amish families except the children of a Mennonite family.  Later, five of the Amish families joined the Mennonite Church.  All their children continued to attend Brush Run School, and the mix of students was no longer so predominantly Amish.

I became familiar with just about every book in that school.  The “library” consisted of several shelves of books along the back wall of the building.  Among the books was an old set of World Book of Knowledge, published in 1929.  From it, I learned about the eight planets of the solar system.  Yes, eight because Pluto had not yet been discovered.  I learned about the four moons of Jupiter, the rings of Saturn and the canals of Mars.  That was our understanding of the solar system at that time.

During the four months of summer vacation, I longed for access to those books.  Yet, the schoolhouse was locked up all summer.  However, I learned that one of the windows could not be locked, and I could enter whenever I wanted to.  No one else seemed to know about the unlocked window, or perhaps they simply did not care. I did not often “break” into the schoolhouse during the summer to get to the books, but when I did, I tried to do so discretely so that no one else knew.  Yet, the word got around that I had a way of getting into the schoolhouse, and it earned me something of a reputation – in today’s lingo I would have been a nerd.

I finished grade eight at the age of 14. I would have to stay at home and work on the farm for the next six or seven years, a prospect that I did not cherish.  A year later, the State of Ohio would require children to be in school until age 16.  The county to the east already had the school-to-age-16 requirement.  The Amish families in that county were taken by surprise and were unprepared, so the Amish children who passed grade eight had no choice but to attend high school for a few years until the Amish got a satisfactory compromise worked out.  Some of the children (early teenagers) were my friends, and when I would hear about their high school experiences, I would get very envious.

During that era, every child in Ohio was required to pass an exam in order to successfully pass the eighth grade.  I took that exam and made a score of 131, the highest score ever made at Brush Run School. I only held that record for one year, however, for the very next year Aden Troyer, a distant relative and a close personal friend, scored 132 points on the same exam.

After finishing studies at Brush Run School at age of 14, I worked on the farm and had little additional formal education experience for a number of years.  I secretly longed for the opportunity to attend high school or some other school experience.  However, it would have been very improper for me to openly express such a desire.  It would have earned me ostracism from my parents and other people in the community.

To be continued…

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One comment on “From a Farm Boy to the Outer Limits of a University Education, Part I
  1. Emma Miller says:

    Thanks for sharing your story, Henry. How well I can relate! I can’t wait for Part 2.

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