Balloon Release Leads to Interstate Amish-English Friendship

Here’s a neat story of friendship that started when a fifth-grade teacher in Pennsylvania came across a balloon released several days earlier by an Amish girl in Ohio.

Valley View School. Photos via Trib Live


A deflated and tattered orange helium balloon landed in the Leechburg backyard of the Young family on April 20 of that same year.

“It was not easy to read,” recalls Debbi Young, who was teaching fifth grade math at David Leech Elementary at the time and now teaches sixth grade at Leechburg Area High School. “My husband found the balloon and put two and two together and thought (Young and her class) could figure it out.”

Her students were thrilled with the balloon find, and Young was thrilled with the learning opportunity for her students.

The balloon’s condition was deteriorated, but Young was able to make out an address by holding the balloon up to super bright lights. She deciphered the following message on the balloon for her class:

Anna Mae Yoder


her address (omitted for privacy)

Middi …, Ohio 44062

I go to Valley View School

The balloons were released on 4-15-10

Please contact me if found

Young’s class wrote to Anna Mae, who it turns out was from Middlefield (Geauga County community) setting off a letter exchange which lasted the rest of the year:

Yoder wrote back to Young’s class within two weeks. Her note featured neat penmanship on Winnie-the-Pooh stationery and highlighted the fact that she was from an Amish family and was one of 10 siblings.

In her letter, Yoder explained her goal of becoming a teacher, her fondness for reading, cats and eating turkey. She also explained that as an Amish girl, she did not attend basketball games, one of the questions posed by Leechburg students.

Anna Mae’s first letter to the David Leech Elementary fifth-graders

Later while on vacation with his family, a student of Young’s named Abe Gibson stopped by Anna Mae’s home.

The Yoders welcomed Abe and his family, and now they visit annually. They have become good friends, with Abe even being invited to Anna Mae’s sister’s wedding.

Anna Mae has since become a teacher, and also works on a pickle factory assembly line. Both sides treasure the friendship:

“It has been very special,” she says. “I don’t know how to explain how great it’s been. It is amazing how it all started with a balloon.”

If you’ve ever wanted an Amish pen friend, I suppose this is one way to go about it…though the balloon release method will be more effective for Amish seeking English pen pals, than vice versa.

Abe Gibson visiting the school where Anna Mae now teaches, January 2018

By my rough estimates using Google Maps, Anna Mae’s balloon traveled about 100 miles to reach the Leech Elementary fifth-graders.

In any case, a nice tale about how special connections can come from random places. The Trib Live article also has a video on the story.

Amish in the news

Some other recent stories involving Amish worth checking out:

Dennis Yoder is building a barn and home in Presque Isle, Maine. The Amishman is a nephew of Noah Yoder, who you might remember as the founder of the Fort Fairfield community in Aroostook County, ME. This article shares a nice interview with Dennis about his plans.

There have been 23 fatalities due to horse-and-buggy accidents in Pennsylvania since 2007.

The AP reports on a horse auction in Harrisburg (source article removed) which draws Amish from around the country. The highest-priced horse went for $25,000 and carries the colorful name Watersedge Flash Impressive. About 85% of the buyers and sellers at the event are Amish:

Photo: Jacqueline Larma, AP

A rabbi writes about technology and faith after a visit to the Amish in PA.

The Philadelphia Eagles won the Super Bowl last night. A reader shared the photo below via Instagram. Amish youth (and some adults) do follow football, and Lancaster County is definitely Iggles Country:

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    1. KimH


      What a fun post!! And how very awesome the address was able to be deciphered and the kids were able to be pen pals.

      I was born and raised close to the Gulf of Mexico so we would leave messages in bottles that we threw out to sea. I never heard from anyone though. How fun if I had.

      1. Neat story

        Glad you liked it Kim, I always enjoy these kinds of happenstance random-chance meeting stories. According to the article Anna Mae was the only one that got a response, though they release balloons all the time, but had never heard back before…though in the article it also says the children from the English school later released their own balloons and three heard back.

        I guess it’s not so likely to have success with this when you think about all the empty space out there where a balloon could land and go unnoticed as just a piece of trash. But this one came down in someone’s backyard, a perfect place to be found.

        So that makes it that much more special. I guess if you did this in a city you might have a better chance of it being found, though on the other hand, it’s probably also a factor of how long the helium inside will hold it aloft, wind, how populated the region is, and so on. Anyway, fun stuff.

    2. Me


      I once found a balloon with an address. I believe it was from New Jersey and I lived in Connecticut. I was very excited about it but I never wrote the girl whose name was on it. I don’t know why. The pic is cute. I guess she allowed a photo.

      1. Yes, some Amish are more permissive about photography than people believe, and generally speaking if they’re not church members yet (baptism occurring typically between age 18 to 22) photography is more acceptable. Photos of Amish children posing for the camera are pretty common.