Iowa Van Accident: Amish Community Shares Final Farewell With The Public

A tragic van rollover accident in Iowa two weeks ago claimed the lives of young Amish father Ervin Borntreger, his one-year-old son, and two of his also very young nieces. Remarkably, the Amish community has allowed the Dyersville Commercial newspaper to publish an account of the funeral and even some photos.

This article is noteworthy in that it gives us one of the closest looks at an Amish funeral I have seen (in particular the photos). Here is one of the photos by Dave & Erin LaBelle, showing the service, which was held inside a chicken house to accommodate the large number of attendees:

Photo: Dyersville Commercial

And another showing the casket en route to the cemetery:

Photo: Dave LaBelle/Dyersville Commercial

There are four more images on the site, all worth viewing The article at Dyersville Commercial memorializes the young man and children, and shares the experience of the wake and funeral:

Close to 1,000 gathered in a former chicken house at the Borntreger farm in Delhi Jan. 31 to remember Ervin Borntreger, 22, his son Marlin Borntreger, 1, and his nieces, Emma Borntreger, 4, and Rebecca Borntreger, 2. The four lost their lives in a Grundy County van rollover accident Jan. 27 while traveling to Missouri with an Amish group during a snowstorm.

The tragedy has left the Delhi Amish and non-Amish communities in a state of shock, drawing them closer together to grieve and support the three families most affected.

Ervin Borntreger was well-loved and many speak of his work ethic and kindness. He had opened a window business and taken over the family farm after his father lost his battle with cancer a few years back, according to an Amish source.

He’d stabilized the farm again and both his small family and business were thriving. As the youngest sibling in his family, he’d done a good job rising to the occasion of being the man on the farm and home to both his young family and his mother, Edna.

On the wake & funeral:

The farm was full of visitors Jan. 30-31 for the wake and funeral. Women filled the kitchen preparing meals for the families and for the after-funeral lunch. Non-Amish neighbors dropped off food, the most the community has ever received from “the English,” according to an Amish source. Another wise Amish woman pointed out we all feel the same way when something like this happens because we’re all human.

The funeral began at 9 a.m. with many arriving much earlier. Frozen roads and frigid temperatures didn’t faze the local community or those who traveled from across Iowa and from other states. The chicken house, having been cleaned in preparation by community members, was heated with two wood stoves. Young Amish men walked down the center aisle at one point removing insulation to create air vents in the ceiling.

The sounds of infants crying filled the space, with a temporary nursery walled off by tarps in the back left corner. Men and women sat separately, except for the immediate family who sat together facing the two simple wooden caskets. There were less than 15 non-Amish in attendance, making the room feel like a black-and-white photograph dotted with orange water coolers and the pink and blue of baby blankets, sweaters and toys. The service lasted until noon, with two ministers reading and praying.

Soon after pallbearers carried the caskets out of the building, men began moving benches and clearing space for the lunch, setting up white folding tables that women quickly filled with an assortment of pies. Many traveled by van and buggy to the cemetery, while others socialized over their midday meal, sharing stories and posing the questions sudden death evokes.

There were also these noteworthy comments by the young widow:

They spoke of the gratitude expressed by Edna, wife of Ervin and mother of Marlin, regarding the fact God had spared one of her children, so she wouldn’t be alone. They asked why God would choose those four out of the 13 who traveled alongside them that fateful day. There was also much laughter and the usual reconnection of people who live great distances and see each other on such occasions.

Edna’s burden must be immense right now, as it must be for the family of the two little girls lost. Her ability to express gratitude for still having one child in the face of such sorrow is remarkable. However, I think sentiments like that in such situations are not uncommon from an Amish perspective. But of course, those sentiments don’t mean they don’t feel the same deep pain of loss that any humans do.

As noted above, the Amish community expressed appreciation to the English community for their support. The fundraising effort has generated over $20,000 (part via GoFundMe and part traditional donations). All of the other accident victims who survived (nine total), except for one, have been released from the hospital.

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    1. Richard J. Traunero

      Remarkable indeed

      As a funeral director, friend to some Old Order Amish, and friend to a funeral director who serves an Amish community in Leola, PA, stories like these always intrigue me. I am amazed at how the Amish communities deal with death. Thanks for sharing, Erik.

      1. I second that Richard and was just glad to see this story and be able to share it here. Also I didn’t excerpt his quotes above, but sounds like the community has a good friend in the local pastor Rev. Pitts who I believe has helped with the fundraising.

    2. Susannah


      My husband and drive a Paratransit service in PA for the Amish. We’ve learned that they are shy, kind and gentle. This is very sad. We especially are extremely careful knowing lives are in our care. The driver must be so filled with guilt. Our sincere thoughts and prayers go out to all. Further, we have cancelled our services when severe weather is forecasted. It may cause some disappointment but far better than devastating damage.

    3. Kay

      Question and Concern

      Has the Amish community been significantly impacted by the chemical burn from the train derailment in Palestine OH?

    4. Central Virginian


      Another newpaper reported that the four who died were not wearing seatbelts nor in child safety seats, and were ejected. So sad that there was not awareness of the importance of seatbelts and child safety seats in motor vehicles. Most states require them now. I do remember the days when everyone just piled in the car without them.

      It’s not unique to the Amish to neglect seatbelts and child safety seats – similar tragic accidents happen in all cultures.

      1. Susannah


        This is tragic! My husband and I comply with PUC Paratransit licenses as well as commercial insurance which isn’t that expensive…we do not drive when severe weather is forecasted…we abide by the law with child safety seats…we can only transport up to 6…sadly many drivers aren’t properly licensed and insured…the money is NEVER more valuable than lives..often the Amish trust us as they don’t know the laws. Many drivers charge the Amish without proper insurance and licenses. The Amish need to know to NOT hire these people….for so many reasons…making and saving a buck is not Godly when lives are lost

    5. Family Connections

      I think unexpected death is always more difficult, especially when there are young children.
      I continue to be surprised at the huge attendance at Amish funerals. It points to big differences between the Amish and English in family and community. Amish families are close and connected no matter how many states they live away from one another.
      When was the last time you heard of an English funeral with nearly a thousand in attendance? It doesn’t happen around here.
      I’m sorry for their deep personal loss.

      1. Central Virginian

        And family size is generally larger so folks have a greater number of close relatives and families of friends.

    6. R.C.

      It’s interesting that the casket is transported in a trailer behind a normal buggy, whereas in, for example, Lancaster, there are purpose-built hearses.

      1. Richard J. Traunero

        2 caskets?

        R.C., just guessing, but since there were two caskets, perhaps one is in the buggy hearse, and the other is in the trailer? The child’s casket would not be very large, so I do not know, just surmising.



      I have noticed that a few times that I have been asked to drive the Amish they will go someplace that should have been called off because of the weather. No matter how badly you want to do something always consider the weather.

    8. Dolores

      Iowa van accident

      My deepest sympathies to the Delhi community.
      Our local Amish community suffered a similar loss a few years ago.

      I am so ashamed of all the ignorant, rude and critical comments here aimed at Amish and Amish lifestyle. I’m sure those voicing their “opinions” lead immaculate lives.

      1. Richard J. Traunero

        Rude comments?

        Not sure what comments you consider ignorant, rude, and critical.


        What are you speaking of?

        Can u enlighten us as to what u consider rude, critical, and ignorant? Please let all of us know.

      3. Central Virginian

        Inconsiderate Comment

        Perhaps my comment that seatbelts and child safety seats weren’t in use by the folks who sadly lost their lives was seen as a bit cold and clinical. If so, my apologies. I was thinking about the importance of learning from the tragedy and steps that could be taken to prevent another such outcome. It’s not something I would say to family and friends of the deceased.

        Or perhaps there were some rude comments that have since been removed?

    9. Iowa van accident

      My deepest sympathy with prayers. The Everlasting Light. Those we love must someday pass beyond our present sight must leave us and the world we know without their radiant light. But we know that like a candle their lovely light will shine to brighten up another place more perfect more Devine. And in the realm of Heaven where they shine so warm and bright, our loved ones live forevermore in God’s eternal light. Light a candle in memory