So I just have a few questions… How long have you been mayor?
I was elected in 2003. I took office January 1st at 12:00 noon in 2004. Two years and five months.
What is the process that it entails? I mean, what is the process that you go about to get elected?
There are two processes. The first process is if you want to become a candidate for a city election you would file your candidacy by February 15th of the year of the election. Then you enter the primary. If you looked at the completed primary elections this year for the county, there were many offices that were unopposed. At that point you would also file for a party. Then the general election is in November. The second process is the one I became involved in. If there is no candidate, you have until June 20th to file your candidacy. So, there was no candidate running for the Democrat Party in 2003. So some people talked to me from the Party and asked me if I would run. I was not excited at that point in running for mayor but they kept after me and I started to think what I could do for the city. I was in education and an administrator so I had background. And I looked at the mayor’s office and I thought that it was an administrator’s job, basically. I decided that I had experience and the knowledge and that’s the way I chose. So I started campaigning. I walked in the Swiss Days parade. Put up signs.
So what all do you do when you campaign?
What you do is, number one, you become very visible attending different functions. I attended the 4-H Fair, Swiss Days; I set up a booth and walked in the parade. Shaking hands, getting your name out. After Swiss Days it was a matter of being downtown, hearing people, talking with people. Finding out what the concerns were. What do I have to face if I’m elected mayor. And you hear everything from problems with dogs and cats to problems with opossums. On lady called me and said an opossum was eating her cat food and wanted to know what I was going to do about that. From flood problems to who you will appoint as city attorney. You’ll get every question imaginable. My philosophy was that I wasn’t answering questions; I was listening. I was also trying to come up with a slogan that would set me apart from the other candidate. It was “Resolve Present Problems Prepare for the Future and Preserve the Past.” I got that out in the paper. I made some signs, “Minch for Mayor.” I put them all over town and I’d move them from time to time because I didn’t have a large amount of money. I didn’t want to go to the Democrat Party to get money. I didn’t want to owe anybody if I became mayor. I did get some money from the Democrat Party because they decided to give each candidate they sponsored some. And I didn’t go to any organizations and get money. I kept it very simple. Plain. After the 15th of October I started the real campaign. I knocked on every door in Berne.
Every door. And I shook their hand and gave them a grocery pad that said “Minch for Mayor.”
That’s got to be 1,000 - 2,000 homes?
And I had a plan for doing it. One thing you learn from being an administrator is how to organize. Now John, you may want to use this when you’re running.
Well, you don’t go into one district and knock on five homes and then go into another district and knock on five more. Because those people are going to talk in that district and if you go to five homes, they’re going to go over to the back fence and talk to their neighbors and ask, “Why didn’t he stop here?” And if you wait a week, it’s too long. So when I covered an area, it took me two, and at the most, three days. And on election you should simply be yourself. I was always myself. My personality did not change and it hasn’t since I’ve been mayor. So, you have a headquarters, which the Democrat Party set up. I was behind by a couple of votes when the first precinct came in and thought I didn’t need to worry about this one. But as the others came in, I kept getting more and more and I won by nine votes. And the mayor came and congratulated me and said there would be no recount. Well, that didn’t happen. When it came up to recount time there was a change and I think it probably came from the party. So my son and daughter-in-law are both attorneys so I turned it over to them. I asked my son what I should do and he said, “Act mayoral because you’re the elected mayor at this point.” So the recount took until December the 20th and I actually got one more vote. And it didn’t give me much time to prepare but I had been preparing before and talking with other mayors.
On a national level, the Republican and Democratic parties are pretty distinct. When it gets to the small, city level, what do those labels mean, if anything?
I think in small towns people would like to think that it’s so but your national carries over. In your small town policies it’s there. People say they don’t like that. I think it’s healthy. I think there should be some definite differences. Just an example, John: When you do a budget, the philosophy of one party might be more liberal or conservative on spending a certain amount of money on a certain aspect of the city. In our city the big issue was flooding and the infrastructure, which I campaigned a lot about. One thing that happened when I got into office was that I got a memo that said we would not be able to get a permit to build because we did not have the capacity in our waste water system to add more sewage. I was floored. And I went to IDEM, the Indiana Department of Environmental Management, and they said we were the second worst city on their list. So I said, “What do we need to do?” And they said that for every gallon of storm water you take out of your system, we will give you so many gallons of sewage you can put back in. So they said it would be a 10 to 1 ratio. And I said we couldn’t do that if we wanted to keep development in the town. So I said, “If I’m a good boy, will you make it half of that?” So, we negotiated and they agreed. The biggest issue facing Berne is if we want to a couple small projects and still have the problem or attack it full force. The kind of person I am, I’m going to attack it head-on. It’s going to cost us money. Everything costs money, John. And after we get these done we will welcome developers.
So, growth in Berne over these past few years has been inhibited by this wastewater program?
Let me clarify that John. New growth.
Ok, new growth.
If you were in an area where there were already sewer lines you can hook in to those. Take for instance the new video store out on the highway. There was already a sewer line and they could hook in. The problem is when you want to come in and build something like 15 new homes. So you have to build a development and a sewer line to put those homes in. So, total development has not stopped. We actually had more building in 2004 than in 2002 or 2003. We had a plant that was going to expand. We negotiated with IDEM and we worked with them. The plant stayed in town and they have since then announced that they are going to add another 100 jobs.
What has been the biggest change that’s happened in Berne over the past 40 years?
John, I’ve been here 35 years. When I moved into town I was a young married person here to teach boy’s basketball at South Adams. At that time there was very, very little development. Home development. Many people were living in, what some people say, “old Berne.” Now, I don’t like that term. I call it Berne. We are all citizens of Berne but for some reason people say “old” or “new” Berne. It’s all Berne. With that being said, over the past 35 years there have been housing developments to the west of town and other areas. Those houses (in “old Berne”) that were sold and repurchased were not repurchased with the same pride that Berne had when I moved into town. Everybody kept their lawn mowed and you didn’t mow on Sunday. Killed dandelions. I had a neighbor that volunteered to mow the grassy area between my drive and his and he said he would mow that space so it would all be at the same height. That’s how particular it was. Today it’s not like that. I’m not saying there isn’t a lot of pride in Berne but I’m saying there isn’t the same Swiss pride. It’s not here as it once was when I moved here.
Now are you Swiss? Because it’s interesting to hear you drop the adjective of being Swiss.
No I’m not.
But there’s a certain quality associated with being Swiss?
Swiss, German. I’m German. I think there is. Work ethics. Self-sufficient. You work for what you get. I never saw students come in with a silver spoon in their mouth. They worked for it. Their parents believed in work. You saw very few silver spoons. When I went to coach in another community, I saw it there but not Berne. Now, I’m not saying there aren’t other nationalities that do that. I might go to a German settlement in Ohio. Like Celina, they have a lot of pride. I guess its community pride; I call it Swiss pride.
I’m not Swiss but I chose to live here because it was a great place to raise a family. Another thing that is changed is that homes didn’t sell for what they thought they would. So, entrepreneur’s bought a number of these homes and they became rentals. This creates problems. You have a different approach on financing things. I’ve had to search in numerous states just to find out who financed a home where the weeds were growing up and it was run down. The people moved and hung the bank with it.
What do you see as the biggest hope for Berne in the future? In terms of residential, in terms of business or just the town in general.
Because of the change in the economy one of the concerns I have with Berne and other small towns is the question: Why do their young people choose large cities? I have two children and both live in Indianapolis. That’s where their jobs are. There professions are in cities. What happens to a small town? You have to bring in unique businesses. Support businesses that have been here. Someone asked me, “If you were going to put something in Berne, what would you put in?” What you need to do is look at your population and what’s being built are senior citizen apartments. Retirement living. So if you want to put in a business, you better cater to that demographic. Like good restaurants. We go out to eat quite a bit because it’s just the two of us and we don’t feel like cooking. Also we need to maintain our good work ethic and focus on the things we can specialize in. Like our furniture makers. We need to look to things that can’t be imported and are unique.
When did you become a member of the Amish church?
Zach: 2002. But I attended the church for over two years before I joined.
And how did it come about that you attended an Amish church? One day you just thought you’d try it out?
Zach: No, see, I used to haul an Amish work crew for probably for 5 to 6 years and then another crew for probably two years before that so I’ve been around it for a good 7 to 8 years. It wasn’t like I didn’t know what it was about.
When you made that conscious decision to join, what was the biggest challenge for you?
Zach: The biggest challenge was the language, by far.
What is the language’s official name?
Maryann: It’s a mixture of Swiss, High German, and English. It’s its own dialect.
From a lifestyle standpoint was it much of a change or was it pretty easy?
Zach: Oh, well, a lot of people come up and say, “How could you quit driving?” And all of those things really were nothing. Probably the hardest thing for me to give up was the news. When I worked for the carpenter crew I got the USA Today every morning but now that I work in the cabinet shop I don’t get to keep up on the world events.
Was there anything religiously that was a hard transition?
Zach: I think a better question isn’t what was hard for me to give up but what I received by becoming a member and being accepted into the church. Before I was accepted, I kept thinking, “Man they should let me in, it’s been a year.” And at the time it was hard to accept but I’m glad [the bishop] did it the way he did and took enough time. I’ve got a wonderful bishop. I think a lot of him. The thing I really liked about the Amish was the forgiveness aspect of their faith. The way the Amish, when you do something wrong, you can have an ending to it. You can be forgiven and it’s over. Of all religions, I feel they have the best way of bringing closure to problems when something bothers them. Another thing I really enjoyed was that unlike many churches where you go and for an hour you’ll sit and listen to a minister criticize people of other faiths and other churches but in the Amish church you never hear that. The way they worship; that’s their business. It’s like when someone leaves the Amish, they do a tour to all these other churches and slam the Amish and that’s wrong. I don’t think God looks down and likes that. I don’t see how he can be pleased at any place of worship allowing or inviting someone to come in and criticize someone else’s faith. All churches at one time or other have had their own disagreements and discontent members that leave.
But at a certain point do you feel that you do have to draw a line?
Zach: Do we have the right to make that judgment? Or are we to respect beliefs and their right to have them? That’s why everybody came to this country.
Maryann: I think though that there is a point where you do have to draw the line.
So is Anabaptist, Mennonite, and Amish history talked about within the church or do you just mostly preach about what you believe?
Maryann: Well, we always remember what they did and what they lived through, so that we can live the way we do. I’ve known for as long as I can remember that our forefathers suffered for the faith.
Do you link that to the way you live now? Do you link their persecution with a your experience of being Amish?
Zach: [Being Amish] doesn’t make us any better than what you are. A lot of people think, “Oh, those Amish, they think they’re better Christians. “That’s not true. The rules we have keep us out of trouble. They help keep us from having problems.
Do you see yourself sharing in the Anabaptists’ persecution…maybe not through violence but through discrimination against being Amish?
Maryann: I would say that the way we live is a separation of the world. That’s why we do it; we’re called to not be of this world.
Zach: But there’s a fear that something like [persecution] might happen again. Or that we might get drafted into the military.
Do you see the way you live as a witness to other people?
Maryann: Yes. But more of just an example to others. With the religion we have you have to make sure you are a good example. It looks bad when somebody does something within the community that is obviously not right.
Zach: And you know, there’s good Amish and bad Amish. Just like your church. There’s good Mennonites and bad Mennonites. But we all use the same Bible.
So if you don’t mind me asking, Maryanne, did your relationship begin before or after Zach became Amish?
Maryann: It started before.
Zach: We had known each other for eight years.
Maryann: He had been a driver and he took us [her family] on a trip once. And we had always liked each other but he wasn’t Amish.
Zach: Before I ever approached her, I knew what I had to do. See, my parents were divorced and going through that, not having my family, there was no way I could take that away from someone else. And it wasn’t knowing what I had to do, it was knowing what I was going to do. I didn’t want to take my wife’s family away from her. Before I ever told her how I felt, my mind was made up.
Maryann: And he had thought about it for a year before.
Zach: Oh, for ages. I thought about it and prayed. And really when I had made my mind up that I really liked her, I didn’t see her for almost a year. Didn’t speak to her. I passed her on the road with her brothers but I didn’t speak to her.
Wasn’t that weird? Knowing that you were fairly intent on getting married?
Zach: Well, I didn’t even know if she would accept.
Maryann: We hadn’t talked about it.
Zach: In fact, I went with her older brother to their house for supper one time and I didn’t even talk to her.
Maryann: I thought he was stuck up as a matter of fact.
Zach: But her mom caught me looking at her.
Maryann: And then we took another trip with my brother, his wife, and some of my friends.
Zach: On the last day I just knew I had to say something. And we did do a few things. She worked at Swiss Village [a retirement community in Berne] and I’d go out there and have dinner with her. No dates. And I’d also came over to their house for dinner. And when we finally did come out with it, we talked to her brother first. And the first thing he said was, “Do mom and dad know?” And we said, “No, we thought we’d start where it was easy!” It was quite an experience.
P.S. Lately I've been pretty busy so now I'll be posting new interviews every other week.
I notice you have a Southern accent. What made you come to Berne?
God sent me here, no doubt. I was in Germany at a military base and there was no church. There were 20,000 Americans on the base and all they had was a chapel, which is a far cry from an actual church. So I started one and maintained it for ten years. While I was there, a fellow pastor’s dad from Roanoke, IN told me that the original pastor here at Faith Baptist was leaving and invited me to be a candidate. So I checked it out and the congregation voted on it and I became pastor. It takes both God’s calling and a desire from the congregation. In the bible David was anointed by Samuel but it took the people of Israel’s acceptance of this for him to become king. I believe that I was sent here by God. It worked out so well, I could even distribute the same tracts I was using in the German language with the Amish people in this area.
Your mentioning the Amish brings me to my next topic. I’ve noticed that people at Faith Baptist dress pretty conservatively and are pretty tightly knit. You also have your own school. Although the Amish would tend to possess these elements to a greater degree, some people might accidentally confuse you with them. What makes you different?
There is a clear difference between the Amish and First Baptist. They believe in “works salvation” and we do not. When you ask the Amish if they are saved they will say, “We hope we are.” At First Baptist, Jesus is our hope. Jesus saved us. Their faith is the tradition of their fathers and the belief in a creed. They believe that man made rules and regulations will get them salvation. This is not what we believe. We can never attain enough holiness. The Bible says, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved.” They don’t know why they are saved and they have no biblical foundation. Our views on salvation are totally different from the Amish. It’s merit and no merit. Theirs is fearful and ours is a love for the Lord.
You use the name “Baptist” but your tract says that you’re independent. Are you affiliated with any denomination?
We are controlled by no outside entity. We are completely autonomous from any larger organization and no one has any control over our church.
So, why the name “Baptist”?
Through the centuries that is what we have been called. The groups of people that have carried the faith through the ages have been called “Baptists.” There were the Waldensians, the Anabaptists, and others. We reject infant baptism. We do what the Bible says and it doesn’t matter what society says or the mainstream churches teach. We go all the way back to the apostles. Our purpose is to bring souls to Christ.
Since you brought up the Anabaptists, I have another question along those lines. What do you feel about the early Anabaptists emphasis on peace and the practice of non-violence?
Well, this was not a doctrinal cornerstone of the Anabaptists. Some of the smaller groups held this belief but not the mainstream Anabaptists. God created war for the purpose of judgment. I personally hate war but it has to happen. As a man, I am to be the protector of my household. If someone breaks in, I have to defend my family. It is in the Bible that their blood will be on their own hands. It’s in the Old Testament and it’s in Revelation. Michael the Archangel fighting with Satan. War is in heaven. God isn’t just going to let Satan invade heaven. In the battle of Armageddon, blood will flow up to the horse’s bridle over 70 miles. We believe in defending our country, our families, and our community. We are against murder. Man is ordained by God to wield the sword. Now, we shouldn’t take up arms to enlarge our country. But America has had a history of fighting to help the weak. I think there are a lot of good people who are conscious objectors and are saved by Jesus but this is peripheral. We don’t take issues with those people but we will take issue with you if you question the Bible, salvation, and the reality of hell.
So, transitioning away from that, how do you feel about First Mennonite and First Missionary? Since both of these churches kind of dominate the religious landscape in this town, how does Faith Baptist find its niche?
A church that is not acting as God says is a church that is failing. The important elements of being a Christian are to win lost souls, keep them out of hell, baptize, and teach others to do likewise. When a church becomes a social institution, it is failing. I don’t care who it is: Methodist, Baptist, Missionary, or Mennonite. When a church gets off track from “the great commission,” it is no longer functioning as a New Testament church. Pastor Doug Rogers (the first pastor of Faith Baptist) was sent here by God to start this church. I’m not in competition against other churches. I’m in competition with liberalism and Satan.
Alright, my final question is why do you have a Thursday night service instead of Wednesday night like most other churches?
It was here when I got here. And the people liked it. Also, it allows for other preachers to preach here, especially if they have Wednesday night commitments.
Ok, thanks a lot for your time.
What’s that little guuget?
A tape recorder.
Probably made in China, huh?
Uh, yeah, probably. So how long have you lived in Berne?
My whole life! I expect you want the years too, huh?
That wouldn’t be bad.
Ok, and how has the town changed in that time?
It went to pot.
Jobs have left town something fierce. That’s right. CTS at one time had 1,700. Now they’re going to have basically zero, right? Dunbar is going, Berco is going, Mackintosh is going, Berne Tube is going.
Have you ever thought of leaving yourself?
…Well, something needs to be done as far as leaving. I’m not going to say I won’t.
So what else?
This town’s in a world of hurt. Big time. I’m serious! The next two, three years are going to be bad. Real bad! Unless something changes. It’s all down hill. Service Store’s going out of business. There’s very little downtown anymore.
Have you ever been in there?
Never as far as I know, Doc.
So is there a stigma against people who go in there?
Against them? Not as much as there used to be Doc. This town has changed one heck of a lot.
You say we need more business but you don’t think it’s good that outsiders come in?
What’s wrong with the people who are here? Why do you have to have outsiders come in? Why can’t the people here do something?
Maybe they can’t. Maybe they need outsiders.
You can bring some outsiders in but when you start bring a lot of outside stuff in the town ain’t going to be what it used to be. You can see that yourself. You want to get good quality people in here, not trash. You can’t condemn me for that statement. That’s the problem with this town. People are convinced there’s nothing wrong!
Ok, well, what do you think is happening that is good?
There isn’t much good now.
What about the Clock Tower?
That ain’t going to solve our problems. I’m not going to say it might not help but it ain’t going to solve our problems.
Would you give a donation to see its completion?
Ha-Ha-Ha-Ha. Ohhhh. You want me to go on record with that don’t you? We need jobs is what we need in this town. Big time. If you don’t have jobs in a town it’s going to go to pot.
Where are these jobs going?
Where do you think CTS is going? Singapore. At least that’s where some of them are going. They’ve got people over right now training them. The biggest problem, well, one of the problems is that people don’t think the town is in trouble.
Yeah, I think we started a little late to turn it into a tourist town.
The thing is everyone else is tourist too. Not just Berne, Indiana. Everybody wants it. Doc, that’s just a temporary solution. The big thing is that they want to get all these people who are fifty years old and who are retiring, to come back here and live. What are they going to come back here for? They’re used to the big time city, most of those people. There’s nothin’ here, is there?
Peace and quiet.
Yeah, those people are used to doing some things. What is there here to do?
Golf. Hang out at the retirement community.
You know what? Man wasn’t made to retire. That doesn’t mean you can’t slow down or change. When you have 24 hours in a day and don’t do anything how are you going to fill those hours? You’ve still gotta fill them. They say, “Well I’m going to do this.” Well you know what? That only lasts about 2-3 weeks and then they’re tired of that. There’s a lot of people here who are 50-55 years old and they’re not doing nothing…but I’m just the jackass out back. You’re the man in the know…So what are you up to? It’s awful strange how you just came out here to ask me this. Something must really be a brewin.’ Big time.
Well, I do this with a lot of people. I’ve talked to the owners of Haps, Ben Sprunger, another guy I went to high school with…
Yeah, then I put it on the internet. You’re one of many.
Ooohhhh, Ok Doc.
Most of the pictures will correspond with an article on this blog. Some won't. Nevertheless, check it out.***
It was the only bar for sale in Adams county and it was within our budget.
So, have you always had a desire to own a bar?
No, my husband did and I tried to talk him into buying a laundromat.
Well I’ve actually seen a bar/laundromat combination and it was called “Sit and Spin.”
Anyway, just an idea. But how long have you owned this?
Five long years.
Well, in case you haven’t noticed, this is a beer and wine bar only. There’s no liquor. There is not a city ordinance in Berne that allows a bar owner to sell liquor. The [previous] bar owners of Haps have asked the city council for an ordinance [to allow them to sell liquor] and they have refused to sign one, saying they did not want alcohol in Berne. However, it should be noted that several years ago there was an American Legion just a few blocks from here that was allowed to sell liquor because, according to Indiana law, if you call yourself a club, you don’t need the city’s permission to sell liquor. There’s also a “carry-out” out on [U.S. Highway] 27 that sells liquor and nobody’s had objections to that. The carry out doesn’t need the city’s permission because they don’t sell it open across the bar.
Could you reassign yourself as a club?
Yes. But it has to be a non-profit organization.
Oh, ok. It seems like Berne is founded around a theme of being Swiss. How do you feel about this community being founded around one theme or mindset…
I don’t have a problem with this community. The biggest problem we have is with the churches.
Really? Has it been overt or implied? Have you received letters or phone calls?
We haven’t received letters or phone calls. In fact there are plenty of people that go to church on Sunday and during the week come in here. And I don’t have any problems with that. I don’t have any problems with religion at all. But not everyone in Berne is religious and not everyone goes to church. These [religious] groups have been a serious hindrance to our growth and our business. When we bought the bar five years ago, we did not technically want a bar, we wanted to open a steakhouse. We were looking at the huge brick building next door to us. My husband and I were prepared to put a half million dollars into the building to build a huge steakhouse for Berne. It was in the paper that the city council says it’s ok for us to sell steaks and not liquor. When I was in high school I learned that you vote for your city council, your mayor, your senators, and they are supposed to vote according to what the people in your district want. That’s democracy. I had a councilman tell me that he didn’t care what the people of his district wanted, he was against us getting a liquor license and he was voting it down. And I’m sorry, where I come from that’s communist. It’s all over. It’s all over.
So you live in…
I live in Decatur.
But you obviously come down here to work every day. Could you see yourself living in Berne ever?
No. ‘Cause I’ll tell you what. My opinion is that God is everywhere. I drink maybe 10 drinks a year. If I sit in Berne and drink a beer, God sees me. There are people in Berne that think if they go to Ft. Wayne and drink beer, God won’t see them. And I have issues with that. People are being hypocrites to God. Personally, I know that God sees everything I do and nothing personal but I don’t care what you think, I care what God thinks. So if God is seeing these people drink, God should be the only one they care about. But it isn’t like that in Berne, the only thing they care about is what their neighbor and fellow parishioners think. They go out and hid what they want to do and I don’t do that. I only have to answer to God and myself.
Being a bar, do you find it hard here in Berne as opposed to other places? In terms of general sentiment.
Well yes, because if I’m shunned as a bar owner in Berne, so are my customers. I’ve got people who go to very strict religious churches that come in that back door, I’ve got some that change their clothes in the bathroom and stay all evening and at 2:30, change and go home.
Do you have any Amish that come in?
That’s who I’m talking about.
I believe that our constitution tells us to separate church and state. And I don’t believe that’s happened in Berne. I don’t care if the city council goes to church or not, I’m not here to judge them but I think that they mix their church business with their state business. And I think that’s wrong. If they should stand one way or another, they should come up with a better reason than the churches.
That’s funny because the original Mennonites that came here from Europe did it because they were persecuted by the state. The Mennonites were one of the first groups to advocate for a separation of church and state. If all of this what you’re saying is true, then it’s kind of ironic.
Yup, persecuted by the persecuted since 1934.
Alright, was there ever a point where you didn’t want to be identified as a Berneite?
No. Nope. Never.
Didn’t you ever go through a stage of rebellion?
Uh, against the town? No. Against the ideals of Berne? I guess sometimes. I don’t like the whole closed-mindedness of Berne and the only reason why that is, is because I was able to go to college. I went to a Christian school, you went to a Christen school. You see everything you see at a state school. You might be sheltered a little bit on the kind of courses you take but outside the classroom…I played on the football team! That’s like going to strip bars and stuff. I never did go to a strip bar but gosh, it wasn’t a very Christian football team. There are parts of Berne I don’t like and one of those would be the idea that Berne is closed-minded…but all small towns have that. Everyone talks about everybody, everybody knows everybody and if you’re not one of those old names… You know, I think that’s bulls**t. You can put that down. Sponge says bulls**t. Now I will agree that people that run the town are of the old names. But that doesn’t mean that John Smith can’t come in here and make a name for himself. I could be “Jones” coming in here, or “Kowalsik”, a polish name… so what? Trust is not found in a name, it’s found in what you do.
What do you think is the biggest obstacle for Berne?
I think the biggest obstacle for Berne is finding its way in an economy that’s run by cities and suburbs. What’s Berne to do? Do we quit and just let the downtown go to shambles or do we increase the vitality of the economy? I think it’s the economy, keeping jobs here.
How can that happen?
I believe the CDC has a good idea when it comes to bringing people to Berne.
What’s the CDC?
Community Development Corporation. That’s the one building the clock tower. Is the clock tower going to bring in millions of dollars? I don’t know. Probably not. Is it going to bring jobs to Berne? Maybe. But it is definitely going to help Berne define who it is. It’s a Swiss community. And a town has to have a brand. If you look at all the surrounding communities, they’re going to shambles. What does Geneva have? They have the Limberlost. At least they’re capitalizing on it. We have our Swiss culture, our Swiss heritage. We have to have a way to bring people to Berne.
But don’t you think that branding Berne as a Swiss town comes into conflict with what you had earlier said about other people coming into Berne? And it not mattering who you are or what your last name is? Don’t you see any tension there?
Not necessarily. And I’m saying this as one of the “haves” not one of the “have-nots.” I have the name, the lineage, the ancestry. My take on it is that people don’t have to come to Berne, they choose to come to Berne. Great. I’ll accept them. My hope is that they’re concerned about the town they live in, they want a better place to live, and they want to be active in the community. That’s the ideal kind of person every community needs. People can embrace the Swiss heratige. You don’t have to be born Swiss or have Swiss blood in you to embrace that. Look at Geneva, Monroe, Bluffton, Decatur. Those towns, other than Geneva, don’t have anything really. Ossian: What are they? Berne: the land of the Swiss. That’s where the Swiss settled. So let’s encourage it…I could move anywhere but I’ve got to get involved with the community, with the church, the YMCA. Get involved.
So, what you’re saying is that you could live anywhere. But because you have roots here: Why not here?
Yeah. Now granted, me starting my business, this is the best way to do it. As I’m building my business, it doesn’t hurt to have the name Sprunger. It doesn’t hurt to have a mom and dad who are both Swiss, or have relatives who were the founders of Berne, or be on the Chamber of Commerce, or being on the CDC, or to coach South Adams Football. I’ll tell you what, the Chamber, the CDC, and the coaching don’t require me being Swiss. It means nothing. I could do all those without it. And if people aren’t willing to accept you, shame on them.
In high school I remember people always saying, “I can’t wait to get out of here.” How did you react to that and how do you react to it now?
In high school, I was looking forward to college and wanted to leave just to see what was out there. Now, I kind of frown on that. The reason being is that I see an intrinsic value of what a small town offers. Because we both know that the majority of kids our age, who went to college, haven’t moved back. Most live in large cities or the suburbs. Now why? The jobs are there but at the same time I think people focus so much on convenience and ease of life rather than really what is important in life. And that’s: Family, friends, and quality of life. And you might find that in a big city but convenience gets in the way of that. There’s a lot of things to do in the city. Moving to a small town makes you limited. But there’s something about one town united in the cause to be a community. Like going to a South Adams basketball game, everybody’s there, I can talk to them.
Where do you see yourself 50 or 60 years from now?
Swiss Village. Ha-Ha. If I’m alive then, I am a hefty fella, I see myself in Berne, and I’d like to do what Gaylord Stucky does.
What does he do?
He’s basically Berne’s ambassador. He greets people to Berne. I think that would be the coolest job in the world. Because I have a pride for this community and I have a love for it. Nothing would please more than to promote Berne. I just realize how lucky I have it in a small town like this. I just think there’s something neat about this town. There’s something special here.
What inspired you to write Pilgrimage of a Congregation?
He came to me once and said, well, I had written several historical pageants you know…
Those are like plays?
Yes, the big pageant that we did for the 100 years history of the community, A Time to Remember, I wrote that one. But back to the book, Kenyon came to me and said, “Naomi, you ought to write a history of the church.” And I said, “Oh goodness, I never thought of such a thing.”
I said, “Kenyon, I won’t forget it. You won’t have to ask me again. When I have time I will come to you.” And so, when my term expired as president of Women in Mission, I went to him and said I was ready to start.
How long did it take you?
A couple of years. Les was so helpful. He bought me a little tape recorder and took me places to interview people. One of my finest interviews was with Milton Sprunger, out in Washington, Illinois. He was so good.
Do you still page through the book sometimes?
If I could read I would. I can’t see anymore to read. And it’s such an effort to use magnification. My vision is really very poor. But I’m glad for what I have. I get around. I can still eat but once in a while I’m not sure what something is! But our food is really very good here.
So, what endears you to the church?
Well, let me think…I certainly love my church. I have all my life. There are very many fine people there. We’ve had some outstanding pastors.
Do you like the fact that it’s a large congregation?
It’s the only thing I ever knew. I started going when I was a four-year-old child in Sunday School. To me, a big church is the way churches are!
As you perceive it, how has the church changed over the years?
Well it certainly has… goodness; I remember when we used to kneel in church. That’s a little thing but I think we have broadened an awful lot in our concept of what the church is all about.
Insofar as people’s opinions on what the church means?
Perhaps so. In our outreach, in our caring…I think we’re a much more caring church. People helping, people going down to Louisiana, all the MCC (Mennonite Central Committee) relief sales over the years. We had much better attendance years ago than we do now and that’s hard to understand. Since the church has made progress you’d think it would make progress in that area too. But for some reason it doesn’t. I’ve tried to analyze why there aren’t more people there on a Sunday morning. I don’t think that having two services has helped us any. In fact, I was opposed to it but I guess that’s because I’m old. Have you been to the young service?
No, I’ve just been to the older one. Did you ever go?
No, in fact I don’t even go to church anymore. I watch all of the services here and it’s so wonderful. On this fairly large screen I can see much better than I can in church.
What do you hope for most for the Berne church?
You know, I should really have a quick answer for that. More interest, better attendance, being a Christian and showing it in your practice and your working… wholeheartedness. I always thought we were a real bulwark around here (Berne), people would know that the Mennonite Church cares about them. And I think they do. I think the church is trying to do more inclusive things. We belong to Christ and we ought to show that.
So, being a white guy in a small town. Coming from that perspective it’s…
In terms of rapping, was there anyone around Berne who helped you get started on your way?
No, I had to fend totally100% for myself. That’s why I say I’m the mastermind. Like Albert can make a beat. But I paid for everything you see here, minus these speakers. But I found this stuff, found out what it was and how we needed it. I started out on three beats I had on singles: Cool Breeze, “Watch for the Hook”; Canibus, “Second Round K.O.”; and Snoop Dogg, “Woof” and I just rapped over them back to back to back. Freestyle.
How old were you?
18. I got my first karaoke. It takes a little while to get stuff around here. Wal-Mart had ‘em but I ain’t have no money.
So that was the first thing you got?
Na, the first thing I got was a mic for $20 up at The Music House in Decatur. I said, “Is this gonna work?” And she said, “It ain’t gonna sound good.” I said it don’t gotta sound good. It’s gotta put my voice over a beat and let me hear if I can do this.” I had been freestyling for a long time but I didn’t say that to her, she’s just some old lady.
What was your first rap?
Who knows, It could be recorded somewhere. I’ve got tapes, archives. Most of my stuff is written and hasn’t even been recorded. I was waiting to get a beat for it. ‘Cause I write without beats a lot. I can change the syllables and even change some of the words in a line. I’m planning on releasing a mixtape with other people’s beats. But I can’t record yet. Really I’m just getting off the ground, doing it all myself, in a town where no one else is doing s**t. They might have a rock group but as far as rap, I’m it.
Why not rock, why not country, why not anything but rap?
I don’t know. It just grabbed me at a young age. I just loved the way it was put together. And by the time I was thirteen, it was my life.
What was the first one you had memorized?
Probably “2 Legit 2 Quit.” But the first one I was really proud I memorized was old Bone Thugs “Everyday Thang.”
What are your favorites now?
Dipset, I like JR Rider under Dipset. I like the way Chamillionaire does it and my perennial favorites are Scarface, Yukmouth, E-40 and Saigon. He ain’t got his CD dropped yet. Some of the themes get old but I like a lot of Texas s**t. Trae from Rap-A-Lot and Z-Ro too. And Stat Quo, he’s the main one I like out of the whole Shady/Aftermath label.
Would you say rap is a social statement, a political statement, race, youth…?
A little bit of everything, like this song “Strugglin’” that C-Mob got. He said, “This life ain’t f**kin’ fair, feel like I look in my pockets and there be nothin’ there, f**kin’ nobody cares, whether I life or die…or something.
When you’re sitting at the Shell station what are you thinking about most of the day?
Flows I’m about to type when I get back inside. Thinkin’, hell at least I’m makin’ something out of this job. And eventually, who knows what I’m going to do. But I’m trying to make some money one way or another. There’s endless possibilities.
In a way you’re kind of like the American Dream, you’re basically reinventing yourself and you believe you can do it.
One of the things is that I saw all of this s**t on TV. All of these people in rap videos and I could just tell a lot of them were coming from nothing. They were still wearing t-shirts and stuff. They’re not rich. I felt like I was more like them than I was like these other people… like rock, like Aerosmith in the early 90s. I just couldn’t get into it.
One last thing: Why the name “Infamus”?
It just came up one day to me a long time ago. Just for different things I did. I felt like different people knew I did it. Like I was in a bad spot, like I was infamous.
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So, are you recording it?
Can you give me some time before I answer questions so I know what I’m going to say?
Sure…well, it should come naturally.
It won’t if I know I’m being recorded. I’ll be all nervous.
Well, I’ll turn it off.
When I was, we had to call in rounds…
You had to what?
When the radar picked up rounds, we had to call it in on the radio. Even though there was no one there I knew there were people listening and I still got nervous and I got tongue-tied.
What did you call in about?
Counter fire. Counter fire, counter fire, counter fire. Target number. Yankee, Yankee. We send it over the net to the gun line.
What’s the gun line?
So did you only work inside the compound? You didn’t go out and do work?
Not much actually.
Did you carry a gun.
Yeah, I carried my M-16 to church. With 30 rounds.
Really? You carried that wherever you went?
Even if you were in a radar station underneath a desk, you would have your gun nearby.
Mmm-huh. It was always on.
Did you have a bayonet?
I didn’t. I didn’t get issued one. Other people did but I didn’t. I just had a gun. My drill instructor and basic trainer had stabbed somebody so hard that the rifle, it went in up to the front sight post. That far. It got stuck.
How do you get that close to the enemy?
That’s when you either run out of ammunition or hand to hand combat.
I didn’t think they even did hand to hand combat anymore.
Sometimes you get into a lot of trouble. When you shoot the wrong guy you’ll here on the news these soldiers getting into trouble. And somebody’s got to take the blame. The Army will, it depends on the situation, but they will help, it’s not like you going and committing murder. Unless it’s intentional. And they prove it. There’s a lot of times where in a split second…you know…I shot a grandma in training.
A fake person?
Yeah, it was a silhouette in a building. Steel containers.
When you were over there were you just thinking about being there? Were you living in the moment or were you looking forward to coming home?
My job was a lot of boredom and not much excitement.
So you were looking forward to getting back?
Yeah. The most excitement I had was we chased a dust devil. They are big over there. We chased it across…its all desert, even our post. We chased it across the open field. It was a big ball. I was sitting in the bed [of the truck] and I was flipped up and landed on my back. That was one of the funnest times.
That was sort of like a mini-tornado?
When you were over there you were just thinking of coming back here and getting an apartment, getting a car…
Buying a farm. Getting animals and tractors.
So your parents have a farm?
I grew up on a farm. And I was thinking about organic farming.
Yes. But I think you have to let the ground sit for three years. I was thinking about goats or sheep because the ethnic people, my dad told me, I didn’t know this; the sheep is the most milked animal in the world. So there’s a lot of foreign people from the Middle East who are over here who would be interested in sheep. There would be a market for it. The vegetables would take a lot of work. And I wouldn’t have the tools or machines to go and pick it. Like tomatoes. That would be a job done with hands.
Yeah, I know a few people up by Goshen who do organic farming and they’re doing well. A lot of them do it form the perspective of living simply. Sort of a hippie mentality. And there are a lot of traditional farmer types who are starting to go organic.
What I’m afraid of is everything is starting to turn. I don’t think we’ll ever get rid of the traditional type of farming. It’s just like everything else; the market is going to get flooded soon. I know that’s what happened with hogs a few years back. The price was really good so everyone started building hog barns so the price goes way down. The only people that could afford to stay in are the ones that are already set up or the bigger corporations can get better prices just with the quantity. And they will be able to produce a product cheaper than anyone else. That’s what’s happening to a lot of small farmers.
Is that what happened to your parents?
Pretty much. And I don’t know what dad was really thinking I guess. I never asked him. I don’t know if he was ready to get out of the hogs. They were a pain.