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.