My wife’s grandfather moved from New Wilmington, Pa. to Ohio around 100 years ago (1917?). After renting a farm near Maysville for four years, grandfather Jonathan Byler bought a 160 acre farm just east of Mt. Eaton. He gave $1000 down and the rest was financed by the owner.
The first few years were rough and finally grandpa could not make the payment. At the bank, where grandpa went for a loan, the banker looked at the land contract and whistled.
“The owner expects to get the farm back,” he said.
“How do you know that?” asked Grandpa.
“In the fine print it says that the owner can foreclose if even one payment is missed. No grace period, no nothing! In this poor economy that’s finacial suicide. And this man will do it. Furthermore, we have no money left for real estate loans.”
Grandpa went home very discouraged. What could he do? He decided to write to Frank Thompson, his former employer in Pennsylvania, and see if he would give him a loan. He hated to impose on his friend’s kindness, because Frank had already shipped a fine purebred bull to Ohio for almost nothing, but there seemed to be no other options.
Mr. Thompson was able and very willing to help grandfather. He had not forgotten his former hired hand’s hard work and honesty. He sent a check almost immediately.
When the banker saw the $8500 check, he whistled twice as loud as the first time. That was a lot a money in those days. (Imagine how big of a check it would take to pay off a farm today!) He looked at grandfather in a new light. The owner did, too. When he saw the check and papers to sign the farm off, his face turned white as chalk, but there was nothing he could do but sign the papers. He had expected to get his farm back.
Grandpa Byler died in 1930 leaving grandma Barbara with a mortgage and 9 children. She wrote to Frank Thompson and said that she could not make the payments. Could he just sell her a acre or two off the corner of the farm? Frank didn’t write back. He came personally in his chauffer driven limo and went into the house and said, “Don’t worry Barbara. We will never take your farm.” He even offered her more money if she needed it. Lydia’s Uncle Dan said he had never seen his Amish mother hug anybody, but the Thompsons were hugging and crying and letting her know she could keep the farm even if she never made another payment! (This was during the depression.) She eventually paid the farm off, but for three years she made no payments, and Mr. Thompson cancelled the interest.
That story has been told in the Byler family for almost a century. Wouldn’t it great if we could get ahold of someone in the Frank Thompson family and thank them for the kindness of their ancestor? I called The American Bridge Company several times where Frank had been the comptroller, trying to find descendants or relatives. “Never heard of him,” was the usual reply by a young, non-history minded secretary. Click. Then five years ago, cousin Linda Byler Sortor went online and (long story) got in touch with Tommi Wagner, a great granddaughter of Frank Thompson! After telling her the Thompson/Byler story (she had never heard it) we invited her to our Byler Reunion here in Ohio. She came with her brother and a cousin, Jim Stranahan. It was a great and emotional time of rehashing how their anscestor saved the Byler farm. And the family. There were 200 or so Byler descendants (out of a potential 1000 or so) at the reunion.
Last week we finally accepted Jim Stanahan’s 2 year old invitation to come to New Wilmington. He took us to where grandpa Byler lived and worked on the Thomson farm. We saw the house and the barn. He took us to the oldest Amishman in Lawrence County, where he had gone last week, to see if he had ever heard of a Jonathan B. Byler.
“Jonathan B. Byler was my uncle!” said 85 year old Amos Byler.
“A couple of his grandchildren are coming on August 13,” Jim told Amos.
“How many benches should I have?” asked Amos.
Jim said, “There will be seven of us.”
So, on August 13, 2020, over 100 years after Lydia’s grandfather left that area, we met Amos J. Byler, probably the only living first cousin of Lydia’s dad, Tobe J. Byler. He seemed very pleased to meet us. His four children all took off work to be home when these long lost cousins showed up. It was time of meeting, sharing, story telling, laughing… We can’t call it a reunion because there is no “re.” It was a “union.” The “re-union” will be next time, which is already in the planning.
What if Frank Thompson had not been kind enough to loan money to Jonathan Byler? What would have happened to widow Barbara and her 9 children? Thankfully, we’ll never know. I know this: his kindness will never be forgotten.
“The heart benevolent and kind most resembles God.” -Robert Burns
“Kindness is the golden chain by which the society is bound together.” -Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
“Visit the fatherless and the widows in their affliction.” James 1:27