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:
And another showing the casket en route to the cemetery:
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.