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Jacob's Choice

The apfelschnitz had been made, the gathering had ended, the young people had gone home, and the house at the foot of Pennsylvania’s Blue Mountains had grown quiet. It was well past midnight, and most of the family had settled into a deep sleep. Everyone, that is, except for young Jacob, Jr. Jacob was roused by an unusual sound outside from the family dog and decided to investigate. The minute he opened the door, a musket ball tore through his leg. Hovering outside were nearly a dozen Lenape Indians. When Jacob realized his family was under attack, he slammed and bolted the door. Within minutes, brothers Joseph and Christian, both excellent marksmen, were armed and ready to defend their home and family. With little effort, they could fire on their attackers, killing their enemies and saving themselves. Their father, however, wouldn’t allow it. It wasn’t right, said Jacob Hochstetler, Sr., to take the life of another. Not even to save your own. That conviction would affect his family forever.

Ervin Stutzman knows this story well. Stutzman is the executive director of Mennonite Church USA. He’s also former dean and professor of Church Ministries at Eastern Mennonite Seminary, Harrisonburg, Va. He’s a preacher, teacher, and writer with multiple books to his name, including Tobias of the Amish, the fictionalized account of his father’s life. He also has a personal connection to Swiss German immigrant Jacob Hochstetler, who settled near Northkill, Pa. in 1738. Stutzman is a descendant of Hochstetler, one of history’s most well-known Amish immigrants. And, like many from the Hochstetler clan, Stutzman’s lineage involves more than one link.

“I’m related eight ways,” Stutzman explains, meaning he has eight different connections to the Hochstetlers through marriage and blood. “I happen to be a descendent of three of the four Hochstetler children who survived.”

In the Hochstetler community, that’s not uncommon. Some people are related 20 ways. Others have a whopping 40 connections to those original immigrants. People love to compare notes on this firmly-rooted family tree. The Gospel Book Store in Berlin, owned by Vesta and Small Hochstetler, descendants of Jacob, has made thousands of reprints of two Hochstetler genealogy books--one of Jacob, and another of his daughter Barbara and husband Christian Stutzman. The descendants have even developed an organization, the Jacob Hochstetler Family Association (JHFA), which publishes a newsletter, manages an information-packed website, and hosts quinquennial gatherings that draw hundreds of Hochstetlers, Hostetlers, and Hochstedlers to talk about genealogy and attend breakout sessions with titles like, “How John’s Little House was Rebuilt,” or “The Hochstetlers from Switzerland to Holmes County, Oh.”

Ervin Stutzman’s presentation at the 2013 JHFA gathering was “Tracing our Ancestor Jacob’s Footsteps.” Those footsteps are important to Stutzman not only as a descendent, but also as an author. Jacob’s Choice, the first in a trilogy, is Stutzman’s fictional, ethnohistorical novel closely based on the facts surrounding Jacob Hochstetler’s choices, life, and family. It delves into the culture of the Amish, Delaware, and Shawnee of the late 1700s.

Stutzman has been working on the book for more than five years, immersing himself in the research required to undertake a project like this, especially considering the intended readership.

“Normally, fiction authors write for one audience,” Stutzman says, “but I wrote for three. First, the descendants; they know the story and want it to be authentic and accurate. Another is Amish romance and fiction readers, because this book looks honestly at the area of romance in the Amish, war, and nonresistance, which aren’t normally addressed in Amish fiction.”

The final audience Stutzman had in mind was Native Americans, who are often depicted merely as the villains of the story.

“The home was surrounded by Indians, but Jacob would not allow his sons to shoot them. He lost family because of that,” Stutzman explains. “But he didn’t see them as the enemy. He viewed them as men created by God.”

It was a challenge to be true to fact while crafting an interesting, believable story, but Stutzman was up for it. He drew not only from books on the subject, legends passed down through generations, and genealogical writings, but also from practical information. What kind of dog would the Hochstetlers have owned? What type of peaches grew in late September? Would Hochstetler really have come face-to-face with an Indian chief? It was important to Stutzman to be as factual as possible. As a scholar with multiple PhD’s, he relished the research. It’s one reason the book will be available in two versions--a paperback with just the story, and a hardcover including all of the facts and historical information.

But beyond genealogy and history, there’s a bigger reason Stutzman chose this subject.

“It’s a story of faith and courage,” Stutzman says, “of sticking to one’s convictions in the face of very difficult times. That’s really what the story is about.”  


Marie Roberts Monville: Finding Forgiveness after Nickel Mines

It's the moment we most fear--the phone call, the knock on the door, the jarring news that something terrible has happened to a loved one. For Marie Roberts Monville, the nightmare began seven years ago on Oct. 2 with an ominous note and a cryptic phone call from Charlie Roberts, a man she had known as an exceptional father and supportive husband for nearly 10 years.

"His voice sounded so different," Monville said during a recent phone interview. "The things he said didn't make sense. I knew in that moment I wouldn't see him again."

Monville's nightmare continued when police arrived at her door. 

"It's Charlie, isn't it?" she asked. Yes, they told her. It was Charlie. 

"He's dead, isn't he?"  

As police questioned Monville, the terrifying reality unfolded. Not only had her high school sweetheart committed suicide, his actions had brought unthinkable tragedy to the quiet Amish community in which she, Charlie, and their three young children lived. That morning, Charlie Roberts had walked into a one-room Amish schoolhouse less than a mile from their Lancaster, Penn. home carrying a Springfield XD 9mm handgun. He had ordered from the building all but 10 female students, ranging in age from six to 13, and shot them each at close range before taking his own life. Five of the girls, age six to 13, survived. The others, age seven to 13, died within 24 hours. It was beyond what anyone in the community of Nickel Mines could ever have imagined.

Monville felt helpless. How could she face her neighbors? What would she tell her children?

"In those first moments, when my life was shattered and everything I'd hoped for our future was gone, I had to make a choice: either to believe everything I had read in the Word, or that I was going down with a sinking ship."

Monville chose the former. She even dared to hope that God could, in time, make something beautiful out of extraordinary devastation. 

Even before day's end, as Monville stood at her parents' kitchen sink, a few Amishmen approached the door. Terrified, she looked to her father. 

"What should I do?" she asked. 

"Stay inside," he said. "I'll go to them."

From the window, Monville saw everything--the men's gentle hands on her father's shoulders, their comforting arms wrapped around his grieving body. They had forgiven Charlie, they said, and were concerned for Marie and her children. People came with flowers, meals and silent hugs. A collection was taken not just for the victims' families, but for Marie and her children, too. At Charlie Roberts' funeral, nearly half of those in attendance were Amish. Mothers and fathers who had buried their own daughters just the day before held Monville in their arms. They comforted one another. They wept with those who wept, mourned with those who mourned. 

"They extended such compassion and grace," Monville says. "To hear their words of forgiveness on the very afternoon of the shooting took the weight of responsibility off of me to give account for Charlie's choices and gave me the ability to walk in my own journey with God." 

That forgiveness rippled beyond Lancaster County. It was witnessed around the world and elicited as much awe as the shooting itself. Families of victims who, under conventional standards, would be justified in seeking retribution were instead responding in a way that reflects the wisdom of Christ, putting into action the tail-end of the Lord's Prayer that's often forgotten: If you forgive people their trespasses, their reckless and willful sins, leaving them, letting them go, and giving up resentment, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive you of yours. 

Monville, who has since remarried, will be at the Gospel Book Store in Berlin on Saturday, Oct. 26 from 9 a.m. to noon to sign her book, One Light Still Shines, the story of God's incomprehensible love in the aftermath of massacre and destruction. Monville will also give her powerful testimony at 6 p.m. that evening at the Perry Reese Center at Hiland High School. Contact the Gospel Bookstore at 330-893-2523 for more information. 

Within the past few years, Marie Roberts Monville has begun speaking publicly. Her testimony has been a significant source of comfort, inspiring others to let go of deep wounds and anger against God, people, and themselves, and, in the process, have discovered the wisdom of forgiveness. 

"It isn't just about the other person," Monville says. "It doesn't excuse them. It doesn't mean the wound didn't occur or the hurt didn't happen. But forgiveness sets *us* free. It heals us. It's about the beautiful things that can happen inside of us when we forgive."


"Vanilla Ice Goes Amish" to Premier Oct. 12

Photo credit: Denice Rovira HazettVanilla Ice Goes Amish, filmed right here in Holmes County, Ohio, earlier this year, is set to premiere during prime-time on Saturday, Oct. 12 at 10 pm e/p on the DIY Network.

Look for local faces starting with the very first episode, A Stranger in a Strange Land, in which Vanilla Ice arrives in Ohio's Amish country and says goodbye to modern conveniences, settling in on a farm with his Amish host, John. After an early morning wake-up call and a rigorous round of shoveling manure, Ice joins his Amish construction crew to begin renovating an outdated kitchen for an Amish family experiencing some hardship.

In later episodes, you might even get a glimpse of Mr. Ice doing a John M Schmid version of "Ice Ice Baby," complete with Schmid's yodeling. Check the DIY Network for additional airing times of the premiere. 

Here are synopses of the October episodes. More to come as other episodes are announced:

Oct. 19, 2013 10 pm.: PALM BEACH PATIO HITS OHIO: John assigns Vanilla Ice to a backyard patio project and relies on him to bring his Florida design talents to this bleak Ohio yard. Working hard to win over his new Amish crew, led by 19-year-old foreman Kevin, he learns first-hand about their work ethic while teaching them a few tricks and rhymes of his own.

Oct. 26, 10 pm: AN OLD BASEMENT GOES FENG SHUI: John wants Vanillia Ice's help on his next big project - a Mennonite family's basement that's in desperate need of an update. The Amish know craftsmanship and Rob knows how to rock out an entertainment space, so together they transform the dungeon-like basement into a modern, zen family room.Vanilla Ice (Rob VanWinkle) and John Schmid during the 2013 filming of Vanilla Ice Goes Amish. Photo: Denice Rovira Hazlett


Short story "Bradbury" read at the Hear Now Festival

HE LEANED across the table, his sharp nose angling toward me, and teetered the teaspoon on the saucer’s edge. It balanced there as he lifted the stack of pages and, for the first time, looked directly into my eyes. I fidgeted, waiting, waiting for his measured words. 

“My good man,” he said. “Do you have any idea what you are?” 

I felt my eyelids flutter. 

“I...what I....what I am, huh?” 

That's how it starts. Those are the first few sentences of my short story, "Bradbury," the title story of my short story collection. And this weekend, one of my life's goals is coming true. This story will be read in front of a live audience, thanks to actor and satirist Philip Proctor. This, to me, is no small thing. No small thing at all. 

The earliest form of story to slide into my imagination was the spoken word. From the time I was a tike, my dad would pile on Dr. Seuss and Little Bear and Curious George. When I was an elementary-school student, Mrs. Wise would herd the lot of us fourth graders to the school library weekly where we would hear a chapter or two of The Red Badge of Courage, or The Boxcar Children, or The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.I'd sit, motionless, my scrawny Garanimaled legs interwoven, tailor style, on the denim-blue, no-pile carpet. The words would float freely from the librarian's mouth, hover high above me, sink sweet and low into my wild-haired head. If only she could read to me all day, every day.

Imagine the magic. An album from the bigger library, the library that towered downtown among the big brick buildings. Vinyl, black and satiny, slipped from a sleeve, set on a turntable, needle dropped on the smooth outer edge. And then, words. Spoken words. At my beck and call. Over and over and over and over I could listen, colossal circumaural headphones cupping my tiny ears. A Wrinkle in Time--the orchestra interludes, the thunder claps, the voice actors portraying each vivid character. 

This was where I learned about "renew" and "overdue" and "fines." I didn't want to take it back. I wanted to live inside that story every chance I got. I wish I had it still. 

As I've been preparing Bradbury for print and eBook, I've been listening to a lot of short stories read aloud: Bradbury's "All Summer in a Day" delivered through the voice of Michael Cerveris; Dick Cavett reading Thurber's "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty;" Gaiman's “Troll Bridge" handed over by Gaiman himself. 

"I want to be read by someone someday," I thought. "I want to let someone in on the magic that comes from being told a story." 

Then one morning, I woke with the idea of seeking out a voice actor to bring the title story, "Bradbury," to life. I popped a question into that little Facebook status rectangle. 

"Any voice actors out there?" 

Almost immediately a friend shot back with a response. Two words. One name. 

Philip Proctor. 

I started to respond, but the hyperlinked words went away. My friend had second-guessed himself, wondered whether he should have thrown Philip's name in the hat, but it was too late. In that split-second, I'd seen his response and wanted to know more. 

A quick back-and-forth between my friend and me, and it was clear that Philip was beyond my budget, a high-caliber professional with a string of Hollywood projects on his resume. You might not recognize the name, but you've heard the man. His voice has been in many of the Pixar movies and a bunch of Disney films, too (he was Charlie in Monsters Inc. and seahorse Bob in Finding Nemo, just to name a few). 

I scanned down the IMDB list: 

  • A Bug's Life
  • Aladdin
  • Brother Bear
  • Dr. Dolittle
  • Hercules
  • Tarzan
  • The Iron Giant
  • The Lion King
  • Toy Story

And there's the other stuff. He's the evil Dr. Warren Vidic in the video gameAssassin's Creed. And awards? Goodness. The man won a Theatre World award, was tagged "Best Actor" by the LA Free Press, nominated for 3 Grammies with his long-standing, much beloved comedy troupe, The Firesign Theatre, named one of the 30 Greatest Acts of All Time by Entertainment Magazine.

Then there's the three daytime Emmies for his work in Rugrats (he's Howard Deville, Phil and Lil's dad, and has his own star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame) and he also shares Academy Awards for his work in the Pixar movies and the animé Spirited Away.

Plus, he speaks seven languages. So there's that. 

In short, this man one I could ever afford to hire for my measly little project. 

But my friend Robert said to fire off a message anyway. And I did. And Philip responded, asking me about "Bradbury." 

So I sent him the story. 

Less than an hour later, Philip sent me this response: 

"What a beautiful story. Brought tears to my eyes. Especially having known Ray. Brought him back to me."

Especially having known Ray. 

Especially having KNOWN Ray.

I was floored. Astounded. Overwhelmed. Not just by the feedback, which was obviously inspiring, but by the fact that, out of all the people I could have contacted at any time for a project like this, the first one--the VERY FIRST ONE--was a friend of Bradbury's himself. 

At Norman Corwin's 99th Birthday in Beverly Hills and a live performance of "Leviathan 99... (based on his screenplay for "Moby Dick" - starring Sean Astin, William Shatner, and Norman Lloyd.)

We enjoyed a wonderful correspondence late into the night (late for me; he's in Beverly Hills), Philip and I, to find a lot of common ground. For one, cats. We're both owned by several. For another, I'm Mennonite (joined the church a few years ago because "Jesus" and "peace" seemed to go well together). Philip, born in Goshen, Indiana, has Anabaptist roots. Rosanna of the Amish was written by Philip's great uncle Joseph W. Yoder. And then, of course, our mutual love of Bradbury--mine as a devoted reader, his as an adoring friend. 

And so, by the very goodness of his soul, Mr. Proctor has agreed to record the title story, "Bradbury," as part of this project, to be released as an audio short, because of our mutual love of Bradbury. He has offered me a deal I simply cannot refuse and is eager to start recording when he's not in rehearsals for the Arthur Miller play, The Crucible and his Classicsfest reading of Much Ado About Nothing at The Antaeus Company in Los Angeles.

He actually said he's "delighted" to work with me. 

"I am honored to apply my meagre talents to portray the early character of the giant literary genius that is Ray Bradbury," Philip says. "Ray had a great influence on my own imagination when I was young, and I was blessed to know and work with him during my own long career as a member of the Firesign Theatre."

A few weeks ago, Mr. Proctor asked my permission to read Bradbury in front of a live audience at this year's Hear Now Audio Arts and Fiction Festival in Kansas City. I could barely say "yes" quickly enough. The festival opened yesterday with the US premiere and only American public listening of Neil Gaiman's NEVERWHERE. So that means the same ears who appreciate one of the most beloved fantasy writers of our time will also hear my little story, "Bradbury." Good stuff. Good, exciting stuff. 

I'm pretty thrilled, to say the least, and wish I could be there to hear it for myself, but I'm happy knowing it's in the very capable hands (and vocal chords) of my new friend, Mr. Proctor. 

Wouldn't it be cool if someday some little girl borrows MY stories from the library to be swept away by words? That's all I could possibly hope for. And this is a pretty doggone good start. 


Rob Van Winkle: Master Craftsman and (N)Ice, (N)Ice Guy

Rob Van Winkle and his construction posse on-site in Ohio's Amish Country. Photo copyright 2013 Denice Rovira Hazlett, all rights reserved.

I had the privilege of spending some time on-set of DIY Network's Vanilla Ice Goes Amish, to premiere in late 2013 or early 2014. Rob Van Winkle, AKA Vanilla Ice, spent several weeks in Ohio's Amish Country working alongside some of the world's finest craftsmen. Take a peek at the piece here and see what Van Winkle's experience among the Amish was like.