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An Honest Day’s Work

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An Honest Day’s Work and an Amish Way of Life

By Rocco Satullo, your tour guide to fun!

Keim Family Market is owned by Dan Miller, an Amish man. This is a story about his culture, community, business and family. It’s about an honest day’s work and the Amish way of life.

In the mid-1970s, an Amish wagon-train of sorts left the Northeast Ohio Amish heartland and arrived in rural Adams County, Ohio about an hour east of Cincinnati. The fledgling community built its homes and dug into the land to farm at the edge of Appalachia. In the early 1980s, hard times fell on Roy Keim so he took his wife Mattie’s homemade pies to sell along State Route 32. He earned $68 from truckers with a sweet tooth. And it is with that humble beginning, Keim grew a popular bakery, furniture and bulk food store.

Dan Miller, moved to this small Amish community from Northeast Ohio in 2002. He also worked land and ran a construction business. He was born in Middlefield, Ohio in Geauga County in a strong Amish community just 30 miles outside Cleveland. He milked cows by hand on his parents’ dairy farm alongside his siblings – four brothers and three sisters.

“Children don’t get to enjoy God’s nature anymore,” Dan said. “Chores keep children out of mischief because there’s no time for boredom.”

His mother was a bit of an entrepreneur. She ran an upholstery business. She even reupholstered the interiors of police cars.

So in the fabric of Dan’s life, a good work ethic was sewn.

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“I always enjoyed challenges and liked to think I could do the impossible,” Dan remembers.

He calls his parents his heroes. His dad taught him to respect and learn from employers by doing things the way they say. But he also learned that businesses were temporal and that you can’t let them run your life. You have to be just as motivated when it comes to spiritual things.

“Business can’t stand in the way of raising our family and teaching morals,” Dan explained.

After years of husking corn and milking cows by hand, when Dan reached adulthood, he could just about guarantee he’d never work on a farm again.

“Teens can have a different path. They may seek other pastures. It’s about how it was for me,” Dan said. “It’s a teenage thing to think I’d rather be doing something else but all the while what you’re doing is probably better than something you think you’d like to do instead.”

He was off the farm for six years and married a young lady who grew up nearby. Then, as fate would have it, he bought his father-in-law’s farm.

“Looking back, those were the best years of my life!” Dan revealed. “I didn’t realize it at the time but they were very special.”

He went on to say that there are too many children in this day and age that will never get the opportunity to grow up on or near a farm.

“They don’t even hardly know where an egg comes from,” Dan said.

Today, Dan has five children, two boys and three girls, one in a wheelchair. Another, Caroline, learned enough on her job at Keim Family Market, along with her husband, Owen Mullet, that they opened their own bakery in Coshocton County’s Walhonding, Ohio. Their shop is named Bread of Life Bakery. It’s a full-line bakery but they specialize in donuts and cream sticks. Their young business is growing as is the Miller family. Dan has three granddaughters now.

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Dan Miller bought Keim Family Market from Roy Keim in July 2007, several years after moving to the quiet Amish community. He says that there’s a plus to having your own business if you can work together as a family. Farming isn’t what it used to be when you could make a pretty good living at it and have the family at home. But now, a lot of people can’t make ends meet just farming so they’ve branched into trades like woodworking.

Keim’s furniture is different from most big-box stores. Its handmade and not from China. It’s solid wood and not veneer-colored appearing to be solid. The furniture sold at Keim’s was handmade, one piece at a time, not mass produced.

“We have about 18 Amish guys making things,” Dan explained. “The reason for that many is that each guy specializes in something. One may only make chairs and another, tables. Although they work separately in their respective shops, they’ll bring a dining set together through coordination.”

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They’re an old-fashioned place that strives for quality. And yes, you may pay a little more for something with that much time invested in it.

Keim Family Market employs approximately 20 part and full-time workers, not including construction. Dan finds his biggest issue is finding enough responsible help. The local Amish community is small relative to the number of employees needed in the area’s Amish businesses. So there’s a shortage.

“We reach out beyond our community for good workers,” Dan said. “You don’t have to be Amish to be a good worker. I have great employees who are Mennonites and Baptists. It doesn’t matter what your background is as long as we can work together. We all serve the same God.”

That said, most of the employees at Keim Family Market are true Amish.

Amish are more conservative than Mennonites. Mennonites may have more conveniences available to them such as cars and electricity. Dan, being Amish, cannot have Keim’s on the electric grid. Instead, he generates his own power using over 50 solar panels blanketing his rooftop. His entire business is powered by the sun. When the sun isn’t shining, he uses a battery which has stored the sun’s power. It’s a big battery!

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One of Dan’s favorite employees was the late Irene Yoder.

“Irene was the life of the party in our bakery,” Dan smiled as he spoke. “She was the kind of person that everyone enjoyed to tease because she gave it right back! But very sadly, she got cancer and it took her. That left a big hole here.”

One of Dan’s favorite memories of Irene was a rare occasion where he had a chance to get one over on her instead of the other way around. It was Irene’s birthday and Dan was back making fresh donuts for a tour bus group. When Irene wasn’t looking, Dan snuck out to the bus and asked the driver if he would convince his group to circle around the bakery and sing, “Happy Birthday,” to Irene – without warning.

“Pretty soon I heard a ruckus – They did it!” Dan laughed. “And it was the one time Irene didn’t have anything to say. She was speechless.”

Days later, Irene was still trying to figure out who pulled this on her.

Dan said its things like this that keep life interesting and the workplace limber.

“Ya, you go to work and do a good job but you can also have good-natured fun,” he continued. “Ah, I miss her. She was a lot of fun and she was a good hard worker.”

Lots of tour buses visit Keim’s and Dan enjoys talking to people from so many different places and learning about so much history behind them.

“In talking to visitors, I have learned of many misconceptions people have of Amish,” Dan said. “What really bothers me a lot is the misinformation on these money-making television shows like the one called Amish Mafia.”

He explained that these are designed to get people’s attention and to make up a good story to make a lot of money for the TV people. He says more stories are not true on these shows than what is true.

“It’s sad that that’s just the way it is,” he sighed. “I hope most people have enough common sense to realize a lot of those things are false.”

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Another misconception about Amish, Dan shared, is that Amish don’t pay taxes. He says he pays about as much or more than anybody else.

“It amazes me that people think just because we’re Amish, we don’t pay taxes. To others I guess we’re a peculiar people because of our dress and way of life but that’s all right. There are other cultures that are different, too but the main thing in my eyes is to be a good example to the people we meet every day.”

Keim’s attracts customers with many backgrounds. Truckers still stop off the Appalachian Highway to get refreshed and eat a fresh sandwich from the deli out under the mature shade trees. There’s even a turnaround for their rigs. Since G.E. Aircraft is nearby, people stop in to shop all the time. Customers have signed the guest book saying they’re from faraway places such as Saudi Arabia, Nigeria and Mecico. They get a lot of clientele from France.

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Keim’s non-perishable products can be had through mail order. They ship furniture nationwide along with sealed jellies and jams and other merchandise to California, Puerto Rico, you-name-it.

Although Keim features a full line bakery, full line deli, bulk food (grocery) store, indoor and outdoor furniture, children’s playsets, barns and more, there are some offerings in which they’ve become well known.

“In our bakery, it’s a no-brainer, it’s our donuts,” said Dan. “It is unbelievable how many donuts we sell.”

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Their deli has weekly specials on meat and cheese. But their pretzel bread sandwiches sell really well. The furniture store sells a lot of dining room sets, hutches, playsets and poly outdoor pieces that last a long time even out in the weather. The bulk food store’s healthier offerings fly off the shelves. These include grains, spices and ingredients that you just can’t get anywhere. They have a very large selection of sugar-free foods. Seasonally, orders skyrocket for lots of pumpkin related items in the fall and fruitcakes around Christmas.

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“It’s hard to keep up with demand for Zucchini bread and bars and fresh vegetables when they’re in season,” Dan said. “And we sell a lot of ice cream in the summertime.”

There are special holiday sales at the store throughout the year.

Although word-of-mouth seems to promote Keim Family Market the best, Dan also dabbles in other ways in which to introduce new people to his store. These include advertising in newspapers, magazines and on billboards in addition to some spots online even though he doesn’t personally use such technology.

“Advertising is something we do carefully,” said Dan. “It is important to tell only the facts and not to make use look like we’re better than anyone else.”

This may fly in the face of how many non-Amish companies advertise.

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“As human beings we’re all on the same level. It’s all on what we make of life. What we do is up to each individual. I just don’t want people to think that I think that I’m better than anyone else just because I’m Amish,” Dan explained.

The store is closed on Sundays much like most American stores used to be just a generation or two ago.

“To be a good steward, you can’t let business run your life,” Dan explained. “I have a strong belief that there can’t really be any blessing on our business if we are open on the Lord’s Day.”

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The Amish community here goes to church on Sunday and get together with friends on Sunday evenings for a church supper.

“We don’t have radios for music but we sing when we get together,” Dan said.

Sundays aren’t the only time for family. Amish families have devotions with family every evening. Young folk have a night of the week where they help others in the community to do things such as cut wood. On another night, they convene for a boys’ baseball or basketball game and a girls’ volleyball match.

Dan loves unwinding perched up in a tree. He’s an avid archery hunter. He says it’s a great stress-reliever to sit still and watch nature for hours on end.

“All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy,” Dan smiled. “And vice versa.”

So it is, in this Amish way of life.

Keim Family Market is located at 2621 Burnt Cabin Road in Seaman, Ohio 45679. Their phone number is 937-386-9995 or visit http://www.keimfamilymarket.com/. They are open Monday – Friday from 8am – 6pm and on Saturday from 8am – 5pm (closed Sunday).

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By Rocco Satullo, your tour guide to fun! And author of a memoir and novel