Amish Acres

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Monday, June 18, 2007

Reverend Honorable David Widmoyer

David Widmoyer was laid to rest today. Flags in Nappanee went to half staff. At a recent retirement party Mayor Thompson asked me to say a few words:

As part of this celebration, the mayor asked me to reflect on Dave Widmoyer’s place in the Nappanee Community. I speak merely as a citizen of Nappanee. It is appropriate and proper that we stand here where the B&B Restaurant was a landmark for 68 years; opening its doors in 1925 in a relocated building from Locke, the forerunner village to Nappanee. It was the year Adolf Hitler published his personal manifesto Mein Kampf, John T. Scopes is found guilty of teaching evolution in a high school class and was fined $100, The Grand Ole Opry made its radio debut on station WSM, and Benito Mussolini announced he was taking dictatorial powers over Italy.

Over the next nearly seven decades, from its coffee counter, stools, and tables, Nappanee’s growing citizenry dealt with the Great Depression when the B&B sold egg sandwiches for 1 cent. In 1936 the B&B added air conditioning to maintain a temperature of 78 degrees. It saw Nappanee convert its manufacturing facilities to World War II production. It survived the coming of television, the Korean War, Vietnam, the assassination of President Kennedy, the Civil Rights Movement, Richard Nixon’s resignation and the personal computer. The B&B closed its doors the year the Holocaust Memorial Museum was dedicated and Martin Luther King Jr’s birthday was made a national holiday.

Within its sight the B&B saw the high school move four times, the kitchen cabinet industry flower, falter, and fail to be replaced by the present vibrancy of today’s RV and modular housing economy. It saw Willard Price become Nappanee’s first mayor in 1925 and Dave Widmoyer become its first City judge.

The B&B was a famous destination and stop on the Grand Army of the Republic Highway, the nation’s longest. The “Sizzlin Steak” on the neon sign in the window I was told repeatedly by my father was invented here. The Walleyed pike and oyster stew could have been. I am the last generation to grow up at the coffee counter at my father’s knee. The stools were lined early morning, mid morning, at lunch, and mid-afternoon. The tables were filled at dinner. The coffee was secondary to the interaction, the pulse of Nappanee being taken, and concrete plans hatched and acted upon for the city’s betterment. Many B&B napkins were used to plan our future with notes and doodles. A lot of good got done here; it was before decaf.

Following his graduation from DePauw with a degree in English (mind you as a youngster I didn’t know anyone who graduated from DePauw and I certainly didn’t know anyone with a degree in English,) he returned to join his father Bunk behind the cigar counter with the quaint Amish figurines where he watched the world of Nappanee pass by. That world, with coffee in common, included the police chief and single deputy, the superintendent, the optometrist, the dentist, the band director, the doctors, the lawyers, the teachers, merchants by the dozens, the Coppeses, the Mutschlers, the Ulines, and an Amish farmer or two. I tell you all of this because it is the background that molded Dave Widmoyer and gave him his life long respect for and commitment to Nappanee.

He could have sided with all of the second guessers, complainers, and bigots who filled that counter with their elbows and become a curmudgeon, as I fear I could easily become, but he chose to sift the good from the bad, and become a pillar of Nappanee; more accurately he became a one man Parthenon. I have searched our history and concluded that no one else has given so much to Nappanee in every corner of its foundation: a city councilman, park board president, serving on the Board of Zoning Appeals, the Nappanee Plan commission, and the Board of Public Works, president of the School and Library leasing corporations. The city, the schools, the library: the big three, a true triple threat. He has been elected and appointed and doesn’t have a political bone in him. Few words don’t allow comments on his legendary work for the Masonic Lodge and his parallel 40 year pastoral career. He is Nappanee’s Renaissance man. I stand in awe.

Fortunately, I have had no interaction with him to describe Dave’s tenure as Nappanee’s judge.


Blogger Kevin Eby said...

Great Article. You are a gifted historian and writer. I'm glad to see you are back at the pen.

8:35 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

My family has great memories of the B&B Restaurant. My family ate our Christmas Eve dinner there with the McKee's for over 10 years. The Jim and Jerry Lentz family also gathered there for years. I'm sure that the Widmoyer's could have easily said "sorry, we're closed," but they didn't.

10:39 AM  

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