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Iowans say Mennonites are valued neighbors

By Jean Caspers-Simmet

Date Modified: 03/01/2010 2:14 PM

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OSAGE, Iowa —A banker, a veterinarian and a grocery store manager say the Mennonite community in Mitchell, Floyd, Howard and Chickasaw counties provides strong benefits to the local economy. They said the Mennonites are good friends and neighbors.

"I think the Mennonite community is a tremendous asset to Mitchell and Howard counties and to the entire area," said Keith Starr of First Security Bank and Trust in Charles City.

Starr works with many of the Mennonites who attended last week's supervisors' meeting in Mitchell County. At a time when farmsteads are getting farther apart, the Mennonites are bringing farmsteads closer together with their small farming operations.

"In Charles City, Osage and Riceville, we need people to come into the local trade area," Starr said.

He hopes to see an amicable agreement that allows everyone to co-exit. Everyone causes damage to the roads, not just the Mennonites with their steel-wheeled tractors, Starr said, adding Howard County had a situation where road damage was blamed on steel wheels when it was actually caused by large farm equipment with rubber tires.

"We want everyone to be treated fairly," Starr said.

Nathan Bye, an Osage veterinarian, has Mennonite clients.

"I think the economic impact from the Mennonites being here is very significant," Bye said. "As a third partner in Osage Veterinary Clinic, if the Mennonite community was not here my position would not be necessary. Because we have three partners, we can accept clients from Mason City, Austin and the surrounding communities. So it brings new money in the area."

Bye can't understand why the supervisors would want to do something that could either drive Mennonites away or prevent new Mennonites from coming to the area. Bye said the Mennonites are not only his clients, but his friends.

"It's frustrating to see them put through this," he said. "I don't know why the supervisors can't come up with a compromise. The Mennonites are a wonderful group of people and their economic impact is far greater than people realize."

Bye would like to see scientific data that shows steel wheeled tractors are damaging the road any more than anyone else.

Pat Ohlerking, manager of the Charles City Hy-Vee, buys plants and vegetables from Mennonites, and they in turn buy a lot of groceries from him.

"They are very good clientele," Ohlerking said. "They are good people, and I have a lot of respect for them."

He said he'd like the Mitchell County supervisors to sit down with the Mennonite farmers and try to find a solution.

"At least talk about it," he said. "You can't tell me that those little bitty tractors that they drive are causing more damage than the big grain carts, trucks and combines that other farmers are using."