Archive for Sunday, January 7, 2007

Faith, culture, food’

Amish-Mennonite bakery owners pull up Kentucky roots for rural Kansas

January 7, 2007


Lyndon - The kolache - an Eastern European sweet roll with fruit - is something different for the palates of this rural, meat-and-potatoes Osage County town.

But it is still an open question whether these small-town residents come to Selighoff Bakery & Deli more for the ethnic foods - it also boasts bierocks and a special sweet Lebanon bologna - that are in the deli case, or for the people standing behind it.

"We are different," said Mary Files, who owns the business with her husband, Bruce. "People come in here and want to know if we are strange or normal. They want to know why we do what we do."

Selighoff Bakery & Deli is more than a place for unique eats. It also is the most visible sign of an Amish-Mennonite community of about 125 people that has migrated to Osage County during the last five years.

The bakery and deli in downtown Lyndon - about 45 minutes south and west of Lawrence - makes no attempt to hide its religious and cultural roots. Mary and her two daughters always wear the traditional Amish-Mennonite head coverings. Bruce has the traditional beard and plain clothes. Questions about religious or cultural beliefs are encouraged.

Pamphlets describing Amish-Mennonite customs hang from a wall. Customers also are serenaded with background tunes that are always sung a cappella by Amish-Mennonite groups. It is the only type of music ever on at the store because their religion prohibits instrumental music.

And then there's the food. All the meats are shipped in from Holmes County, Ohio, which is one of the larger Amish-Mennonite communities in the country. Plus, the majority of dry goods sold in the store are made by Amish or Mennonite companies, including special mustards, egg-yolk noodles and exotic jams such as tomato and gooseberry. But in some ways, that's all kind of secondary.

"I had three goals when I started this store," said Bruce Files. "I wanted to share our faith. I wanted to share our culture, and I wanted to share our food. I do think of them in that order."

Bought a map

If variety really is the spice of life, Osage County is more of a salt-and-pepper community. It is mainly a conglomeration of about 10 small towns, largely separated by rolling cattle pastures, farm fields and a pair of federal reservoirs.

Many of its 17,000 residents - only about 1,000 live in Lyndon - are long-timers in the county. And familiarity is evident everywhere as many county roads are still referred to by the names of the people who live on them rather than the street signs that popped up about a decade ago.

"To some people here, it may have looked like, 'What is this cult moving in here?'" Bruce Files said of five years ago when members of his church started to come to the area. "In the beginning, there probably was some suspicion. But I think our neighbors have gotten to know us now and know that we're not a cult. They've been very kind to us."

It is easy to see, though, how the group's arrival - and particularly how they chose the Lyndon area - may have raised a few eyebrows. Amish-Mennonite Churches generally like to remain small, typically meaning 25 families or less.

"You lose accountability when you start to get too big," Mary Files explained.

Simple sweets - Mennonite bakery

In Lyndon, Mary Files and her family of Amish Mennonites run Selighoff Bakery & Deli Enlarge video

When the Files' church near Auburn, Ky., started to exceed that 25-family mark, the congregation decided to do an outreach. That means a half-dozen families or so will pack up and start a new church and community somewhere else.

"We would just buy a map and start looking at places," Bruce Files said of the process. "We're rural people, and we were looking to remain in a rural setting."

A group of three or four men scouted out the Osage County area and liked it in part because land prices still allowed for farming, and it was close enough to larger areas such as Topeka, Lawrence and Kansas City to provide jobs for many of the carpenters and tradesmen who are in the congregation.

Plus the area was relatively close to other Amish-Mennonite communities in Missouri and near Hutchinson. That's important because it provides social opportunities, especially for the younger members of the congregation. The church does not allow marriage to people who are not part of the Amish-Mennonite faith.

"We didn't want to be out in the middle of nowhere in that regard," Bruce Files said.


Several Osage County residents this week said they were glad the families had settled here.

"I think it is just the friendliness and down-home feel of the place," said Donna Harper, who frequently drives in from Osage City to have lunch. "It is just old-fashioned type of cooking."

Mary Files said that has been the big selling point of the bakery. The Amish-Mennonites have never used foods with preservatives in them because that would be "too fancy," she said.

"True Amish cooking is really farm cooking," Mary Files said. "It is feeding a family the best way. It is about making it tasty."

Others, though, said they appreciate more than the food.

"I really admire how they live their beliefs," said Wilson Ludlum of nearby Vassar. "We're sure hoping they are successful and are part of the community for a long time because the standards they live by are just excellent."

Growing out

Bruce Files admits, though, that probably isn't the universal feeling in the community. He said members of the church have been well received by nearly all, but said he has heard of people who are offended by the religious music he plays in his store. He also said there were significant rumors that the church members paid no taxes, which created resentment.

But he said that's only partially true. He said the Amish-Mennonite faith did receive a federal ruling back in the 1960s that exempted them from paying Social Security taxes. That's because their religious beliefs shun the concept of insurance, instead relying on the concept of taking care of one another.

The church also has an exception to the law requiring children to go to school until they are 16 years old. Amish-Mennonite children traditionally go to school only through the eighth grade. The Lyndon church has built its own school that serves 35 students age 7 to 14.

"A lot of our focus is on the Bible-based curriculum," said Lester Wagler, a teacher and principal at the school. "It is more learning how to know God at a young age."

Upon graduation, boys traditionally begin learning a trade with their fathers, and girls work with their mothers.

"Most of us don't endeavor to become lawyers or nurses or physicians," Bruce Files said of the rationale behind the educational philosophy. "Most of us would feel on the male side that the trades and farming has provided a good living. It provides you a chance to be home more and allows your sons to work with you."

How they live

Bruce Files said he thinks the community is beginning to learn about his beliefs and customs. They aren't exactly what people have seen or read about the Amish in the popular media.

Because they are Amish-Mennonite, they do drive cars, unlike their cousins the "horse and buggy" Amish. About half the congregation speak Pennsylvania Dutch, a form of German, although not usually in front of nonchurch members out of concern for being rude.

They also have indoor plumbing and electricity. Although the food is made from scratch at the bakery, they use electronic mixers and other modern conveniences.

Bruce Files said most Amish-Mennonites have the same modern conveniences as anyone else, except when it comes to entertainment. There are no TVs, no radios, no musical instruments, no competition in organized sports. Computers are rarely used, and never for entertainment, although there is discussion about how they should be used for business purposes.

That type of discussion won't take place in a boardroom, but rather will happen at church. Almost all decisions related to standards that Amish-Mennonites live by are made in individual churches.

Almost all of the group's practices and beliefs - everything from their dress to their entertainment - can be traced back to the Bible. But there's also a basic principle behind them as well.

"We try to be modest," Bruce Files said. "We try not to call attention to individuals, but we try to glorify the Lord through our actions. We want people to see something that is not pointing toward us, but rather pointing toward our faith."


Donkeypunch 11 years, 3 months ago

I've worked extensively with Amish-Mennonites (commonly referred to as Holderman) and can vouch for their work ethic, honesty, and modesty. The best part is, they don't nag you about your faith. They will answer questions, debate with you and politely invite you to church once in a while, but never get nagging or insistent. Which is a lot more then I can say for some other religous organizations that I would consider 'cultish'.

jrk29 11 years, 3 months ago

I have eaten at the Selighoff Bakery and would recommend it to anyone. The food is excellent. More importantly, however, the opportunity to spend 5-10 minutes with the Files family is a refreshing addition to any day

hottruckinmama 11 years, 3 months ago

i bought an amish made storage shed a few years back for my back yard. it is very well made and cute too. it looks like a little tiny barn. it sure beats those cheap made sears sheds hands down. and it really didn't cost all that much more. i can't wait to go check this bakery out.

Aufbrezeln Eschaton 11 years, 3 months ago

I wish these folks were my neighbors. I can't possibly concieve of how anyone could have a problem with them moving into their community.

Danielle Brunin 11 years, 3 months ago

How cool! I think we will be making a trip to Lyndon in the next couple of weeks to visit this bakery. I do wish their hours and days open had been mentioned, but I'm thinking Saturdays are a safe bet.

Jamesaust 11 years, 3 months ago

I grew up in a community filled with the descendants of central and eastern european immigrants. We had kolaches (we spelled them koláÄe) all the time. To quote Homer (Simpson): "mmmmmmm".

Rich Minder 11 years, 3 months ago

Posted by Donkeypunch (anonymous) on January 7, 2007 at 4:39 a.m.: "I've worked extensively with Amish-Mennonites (commonly referred to as Holderman)"

Actually Holdermans belong to a religious group that has its roots right here in Kansas. Most other Mennonite and Amish groups have their roots in groups that formed in Europe during the Protestant Reformation. The original Holderman congregations grew out of the same stock of Russian Mennonite immigrants to Kansas who settled in south central Kansas. These Russian Mennonites who had themselves migrated from Holland to eventually settle in Prussia and the Ukraine descended from the original Anabaptists from Holland who eventually became known as "Mennonites" after their leader Menno Simons, a Roman Catholic Priest who had rejected infant baptism in favor of adult baptism (thus becoming an Anabaptist meaning - read "re" for Ana).

An important component of the Anabaptist vision is an ethic of a community of voluntary (re-baptized) believers who are "separate from the world". Over the centuries groups of Mennonites and other Anabaptists have created numerous schisms over the issue of just how "separate" a given community should become. Amish is a name given to a group of communities that broke off from the larger stream of Mennonite communities to be more "separate" from the world. The were led by a man who had a last rooted in the word "Amish".

This Article's application of the term "Amish-Mennonite" reflects the ambiguous boundaries around the linguistic categories of "Amish" and "Mennonite" that have grown up as boundaries around the various subgroups have themselves become ambiguous over the years.

Incidentally, the Holderman groups tended to be from a less wealthy class of Russian immigrants. Mr. Holderman appealed to this class of believers by staking a claim of providing a faith direction that was more true and pure in terms of its committment to the gospel of Jesus Christ. Thus, an American way of openning opportunity to a lower class of immigrants was born in Kansas.

bearded_gnome 11 years, 3 months ago

"We try to be modest," Bruce Files said. "We try not to call attention to individuals, but we try to glorify the Lord through our actions. We want people to see something that is not pointing toward us, but rather pointing toward our faith."

God bless them, this is a principle many of my fellow Christians miss today. I also would note the courage it takes every day to dress and act so differently in this culture. good people.

cutny 11 years, 3 months ago

Definitely one of the better stories I've read lately. Nice.

farmgirlalways 11 years, 3 months ago

The Selighoff Bakery is super, the food is great, the family is even greater. Fun to visit with, Mary is a great listener. The kids are fun and polite. Bruce and Mary seem to have the perfect marriage and family. Imagine working so close together and still seeming to enjoy each other and the work. They are closed Sunday and Monday, they are open some evenings, just call them at 785 828-3334 to get exact hours. Worth a drive from anywhere!

farmgirlalways 11 years, 3 months ago

I can't get the video to run and play, keeps showing a broken Quick Time Player?????

mae 11 years, 3 months ago

they are pretty. i think it's also because they are so devoted and you don't see that too often in sorority girls. they are true wifey material.

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