Erie J. Sauder was born August 6, 1904. Erie
was born on his family’s farm south of Archbold to Daniel and
Annie (Schrock) Sauder on August 6, 1904. As the oldest child, and only
son, Erie worked on the farm from an early age. However, his true love
was working with wood. At the age of 16, he built a wood lathe to use in
the workshop on the farm. When you visit Sauder Village you can see that
same lathe in the original shop from the Sauder farm now called "Erie's
Farm Shop". His reputation
grew and neighbors would often bring woodworking jobs to him.
Erie married his neighbor, Leona Short, in 1927 and started a
family. He worked several years at the Archbold Ladder Company, but in
1934 he decided to start his own woodworking business in a small
building behind their home in Archbold. Leona, who probably intended to
be the traditional housewife and mom, took a correspondence course in
accounting and took on that job for the Sauder Woodworking Company until
she passed away in 1974. The company suffered two serious fires, one in
1938 and a very devastating one in 1945. Erie’s uncle, William Sauder
died in that fire. Having lost everything in the fire, Erie was hesitant
to rebuild. But the local bank and other businessmen in the community
encouraged and supported the rebuilding process. Today, Sauder
Woodworking is the largest maker of Ready-to-Assemble furniture in the
United States, and ships its product to many countries around the world.
As Erie’s sons, Maynard and Myrl, took on more responsibility in the
business and Erie was looking towards retirement, his genuine love of
his community and its history came to the surface. He worried that
future generations wouldn’t understand the hard work and sacrifices that
our pioneer ancestors made in coming to settle in this swampy area in
northwest Ohio, known as the Great Black Swamp. Erie believed that
people would understand history from interacting with knowledgeable and
welcoming guides in historic buildings far better than just reading it
in books. In 1969, he purchased an initial 15 acres of the Grime farm to
establish his living history village, which opened to the public on June
14th, 1976. In February of that year, he married Orlyss Short, a widow
from Stryker, Ohio, and she became his partner and a volunteer costumed
guide in the historic village. Erie could often be seen working with his
maintenance crew out in the village, but he was never too busy to stop
and answer questions from guests of all ages. He especially enjoyed
seeing the thousands of school children come on their class field trips.
Erie’s generosity extended beyond his local community. He was one of
eleven businessmen who formed the Mennonite Economic Development
Association (MEDA) in 1953. After World War II, Russian Mennonites fled
to Paraguay. MEDA’s initial mission was to help the these refugees
establish new lives there. In the process, Erie made 18 trips to that
South American country and worked with the natives there by teaching
them basic skills that could lead them to self-sufficiency. Erie often
said that his work there was the most fulfilling of his entire life.
Erie continued to dream and build at Sauder Village into his nineties.
When the Sauder Heritage Inn opened in the fall of 1994, Erie and Orlyss
moved into a small apartment at the Inn where they lived until he died
on June 29, 1997. Sauder Village is his living legacy for the community
and the region.
What truly gives Sauder Village life are its people, and Carolyn Sauder has been a part of Sauder Village for 35 years. “After Erie’s wife Leona, passed away, Erie spent many evenings at our home,” recalls Carolyn. We’d be sitting around the dinner table and listening to Erie share his dreams and plans about a place where he’d bring history to life. From the beginning, Erie’s ideas inspired Carolyn to help her father-in-law any way she could at Sauder Village.
Before the Village opened, in June 1976, Carolyn along with friends Mary Ann Miller and Janette Klopfenstein Yoder, established the volunteer program. The first volunteers consisted of retired teachers and quilters. “I knew some retired teachers who actually had taught in a one room schoolhouse,” Carolyn said. “They were so happy to help and what better way to bring a personal touch to the village than through the people that had experienced it themselves!” Carolyn, Mary Ann and Janette also helped build and stock the first gift shop in the original entrance building.
Full of ideas, Carolyn wanted to find a way to enrich and expand what the Village could offer to its guests. So that first year, she started the beginning of what would become one of the highlights of Sauder Village . . . special events. The first was called “The Arts & Crafts Festival” with special guest woodcarver, Junior Cobb, whose bust of Erie still sits in the Welcome Center. Also that year, was the first Apple Butter and Butchering Festival. The next spring held the first Quilt Fair. “I had all these dreams for events and what they could be,” Carolyn said, “and many people pitched in to make them happen.”
Some of Carolyn’s fondest memories of her years at the Village stem from these special events. “One of my biggest blessings I received in my work at Sauder Village was meeting so many talented people in the world of dolls, quilts, art and music,” Carolyn recalls, “and some of them remain dear friends.” Over the years, Carolyn has worn many hats and managed numerous teams and projects at the Village. “We didn’t have titles at the beginning”, Carolyn said “we all just did what needed to be done.” Later, Carolyn set up the management team to work together in the administration of the complete Village. Now retired, she serves on the Board of Trustees and is active in development and raising funds for the Village. She also takes every opportunity to stop by the Village and visit the place and people she loves.“My pay over the years has been the relationships I’ve made,” Carolyn notes,“I consider them my extra family.”
Carolyn now enjoys spending extra time following her grandchildren’s activities, traveling and being involved in musical events. She also looks forward to the plans that are being laid for the future of Sauder Village. “From the Inn expansion to the train, each new idea brings vitality to the Village,” Carolyn says, “With our current leadership, I have every confidence, that Sauder Village will continue to be a destination where people will enjoy learning about the way of life, traditions and values of their ancestors.”
Carolyn graciously serves on the Board of Directors and continues to share the Sauder Village story with those she comes in contact with. She remains an important part of the Sauder Village team.
Debbie Sauder David
In 2002, Debbie David, the eldest grandchild of Erie Sauder accepted the position of Executive Director of Sauder Village to carry on the traditions and dreams of her grandpa and her mother, Carolyn, Executive Director Emeritus. Debbie has led the leadership team at Sauder Village since that time and has worked to establish the Master Plan for the Village as a roadmap to continue to make Sauder Village a vibrant place for the future. Debbie has overseen the development of Natives & Newcomers, Little Pioneers Homestead, the Heritage Inn Expansion, the Erie Express Train and Pioneer Settlement, our newest addition. Debbie’s foresight and vision has continued to keep Erie’s dreams for Sauder Village alive.
Erie’s eldest son Delmar, worked at the Village for many years. Delmar’s primary responsibility was caring for the animals. He had a passion for all the animals on the farm and also for those not living here on the farm.
One time, a mother deer had been hit by a car on the road and her baby fawn was following behind, so Delmar took that fawn and continued to care for it until the fawn was old enough to be on its own. Other times, farmers would bring injured deer to the Village and Delmar would help nurse them back to health.
The Village has also been home to many other animals over the years. Delmar helped care for buffalo, raccoons, ducks, guinea fowl, miniature horses and peacocks. His caring spirit is a great example to others.
Steve Sauder, now Director of Facilities & Grounds, has seen many changes in the 35+ years he has been at the Village. When Steve first was hired by Erie in 1970 as a general maintenance man, he moved buildings, restored furniture, built bridges, hauled equipment and moved machinery. You name it, Steve worked on it. Steve shared that “Erie worked hard and got things done, and he expected that out of you as well.”
Steve was an important part of the team, getting to get the Historic Village established. His favorite part of the job was securing buildings, taking them apart, moving them and putting them back together. Steve shared, “The Barn Restaurant was probably one of the most memorable buildings we moved. When people saw that shell of a Barn, they thought we should just throw it away, but Erie saw in it the beauty & framework, to make it into the beautiful Barn Restaurant it is today”.
Steve has seen a lot of changes over the years. He was instrumental in establishing the Heritage Inn and expansion, the campground, Natives & Newcomers, the new train, Little Pioneers Homestead, and Pioneer Settlement. He said that Erie’s statement, ”It’s amazing what you can do, when you don’t know it can’t be done.” rang so true in all that Erie accomplished.
Kris Jemmot is celebrating her 35th Anniversary at Sauder Village this year. Kris was hired as in1976 and has worn many hats over the years. Kris has been in Housekeeping, Admission Desk, Human Resources and now the Director of Historic Operations.
Kris shared “My favorite memory was on Sunday afternoons. Erie & Momma Sauder would have lunch at the Barn Restaurant and then come over to the Historic Village lobby and sit on the bench & greet guests as they came in. He loved to talk to guests and share stories.”
Kris shared that, “Erie was such a great storyteller, we used to have a girl scout day camp and girl scouts would come from all over. For the program, Erie would share stories with those girl scouts & they would sit & listen so intently to the stories he would share. Sauder Village is about sharing the history of northwest Ohio, but we are all about telling stories and that was what Erie loved, sharing stories.”