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

Continued from previous post:

After a few years, I came across an advertisement in a magazine for a high school correspondence course, offered by American School in Chicago.  I secretly enrolled – secretly, because I knew that my parents would not approve.

I took some courses, including algebra, biology, psychology, and English.  I completed the equivalent of about one and one-half years of high school.  I do not recall how I paid the fees for the course; I did not have much money of my own at that time.

My parents pressured me to join church when I was 19, but I was never in good standing with the church.  I simply did not make a very good Amishman. I bought a car and let another Amish boy drive it and pretend it was his.  It soon became known that I owned the car, and I was put out of the church. This was during the time we had a military draft, and I had to somehow satisfy my draft obligation.  So when I was 21 years old, I began my I-W service at University Hospitals in Cleveland.  I was no longer shunned although my relationship with my parents continued to be strained.  I used to visit home about once a month.  I worked my obligatory two years at the hospital and then stayed an extra year to save up some money for college.

I worked on a medical floor at the hospital, doing patient care.  One patient I cared for was a middle-aged man with multiple sclerosis.  He and I hit it off very well, and he got me interested in going to a drafting school called the Cleveland Engineering Institute.  I applied and was accepted.  I took several mathematics and engineering courses, including trigonometry, advanced algebra, metallurgy, material science, and machine design.  I loved every one of those courses.  The instructors were engineers and scientists who taught these courses in their spare time in the evenings, and they were all excellent teachers.

Attending that school served to give me a great deal of confidence. It was the only formal schooling I had between eighth grade (age 14) and the time I began at Goshen College (age 24) as a freshman.

Going to Goshen College upset my parents very much. My relations with them was so strained that I just didn’t go home again.  That was a VERY difficult time.  During holidays, all the other students went home to their families, but I had no family to go to.  I was usually allowed to stay on campus, but it was so lonely.  I became very depressed during those times.  And there was nothing to do about it but just tough it out.

A year after I graduated from Goshen, my relationship with my parents was reconciled.  They were so pleased when I married Elsie, because they had known her mother, and thought very highly of her.

My academic studies at Goshen College did not seem particularly difficult, although I thought the amount of work was somewhat staggering. Almost without exception, I enjoyed my courses and acquiring bodies of knowledge.  I was beginning to see the “big picture” which gave me great satisfaction.

I developed a great deal of respect for all my professors with one or two exceptions.  Perhaps I was somewhat surprised that my professors at Goshen College were as accessible and helpful on a personable level as they were.  I still carried a considerable amount “Amish baggage” and insecurity.

I once had an extended conversation with one of my professors during which he told me, in a perfectly well meaning comment, that he felt I was not graduate school material.  I did not take offense from that comment because I had great respect for him and the course I took from him was a wonderful course (Sociology of Religion).  I did not take offense, but perhaps something did get stirred up deep within me somewhere – something that said, “I think I can prove you wrong!”  And I did.

After graduating from Goshen, I got into graduate school at West Virginia University (WVU). At the Department of Anatomy of WVU, we graduate students used to have informal sessions where anything and everything was discussed, including some things that really should not leave the room!  During some of those discussions, I gained an even greater appreciation for my education at Goshen College because some of the other students did not have a rich undergraduate experience like I did.

After graduating from West Virginia University (Ph.D. Human Anatomy) I taught at four American universities, two African universities, and at Dhamtari Christian Medical Center in India.  I also studied epidemiology and biostatistics at the University of Kansas and at Johns Hopkins University.  I taught those subjects in India and did research in those areas at the University of Kentucky.

The Amish elders would have us believe that too much education would be harmful to your faith.  They teach that studying too much science might lead you to question the validity of the Bible and that subjecting a spiritual experience to psychological analysis could render the experience meaningless.  I can honestly say, however, that my faith was strengthened along with my education, and I really cherish my knowledge of the Bible.  I also enjoy an excellent relationship with my Amish relatives and the Amish community.

Now when I take a moment to look back to see where I came from, it seems like I’ve taken an incredible journey.  I started out an Amish farm boy, where knowledge was not valued beyond what one would need to run a farm or to be a builder.  From there I went toward the outer limits of a university’s body of knowledge by being involved in medical research.  Was such a journey really possible?  I guess it was because there I was and now here I am!


Henry and Elsie Troyer

I took early retirement for medical reasons.  That was thirteen years ago.  Elsie and I live near Springfield, Missouri, where we have a daughter and grandchildren. We do hobby farming, raising goats and chickens. We have a huge garden and take produce to the farmers’ market in the city.  I also build yard carts, old-fashioned wooden wheelbarrows, half-size farm wagons, and power-generating windmills.  I use scrap lumber almost exclusively and rarely buy lumber.  I’ve gone green!  I have not forgotten the many skills I learned as an Amish farm boy.

Do chickens come home to roost at night?

GoatAntics 009

Henry feeding his goats (or pigs — he’s not sure which at feeding time.)

This concludes the story of Henry Troyer’s educational journey. We will be featuring more education stories from people who have left the Amish and gone on to acquire more formal education. Look for them every two weeks on a Sunday afternoon.

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One comment on “From a Farm Boy to the Outer Limits of a University Education, Part II
  1. Betty McKenzie says:

    What a wonderful story. I’m looking forward to reading more. We had the pleasure to know Dr. and Mrs. Troyer when they lived in eastern Kentucky. We are sorry they’re no longer here, but glad to know they went on to a happy life near their daughter.

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