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Hutterites focus on present, not future
Edgeley colony uses day-to-day approach to get through life

By Becky Bohrer, The Forum, Fargo, North Dakota, Sunday, May 9, 1999, Page A-14

Willowbank Colony Hutterite women prepare lunch and serve the men before sitting down at a separate table to eat. About 90 people live at the colony in Edgeley.
Edgeley, N.D. -- At Willowbank Colony, folks don't pay much attention to the approaching millennium. There's too much work to do.

A crop must be planted. An order of wooden trusses has to be hauled out. Livestock must be tended.

A distraction like the turn of the century is of little concern to Dan Wipf, a spiritual leader of the Hutterite colony for 29 years.

"It'll just be another day, another hour, another minute," said Wipf as he rushed from his home late one morning to the on-site truss company where he works.

Wipf, a short, bearded man, also dismissed forecasts that the so-called Y2K computer glitch could have catastrophic consequences, signaling the end of the world.

"God does not want us to know when that will happen, so why speculate?" said Wipf.

Outward preparations for the end times aren't being made at the colony. They really don't need to be.

The 90 or so Hutterites who live communally southeast of Edgeley are self-sufficient. They drink the milk from their 100 head of cattle, raise 100,000 turkeys each year and sell many of them, use eggs from their chickens, garden, and farm about 2,000 acres of corn, soybeans and wheat.

They made the buildings at the colony -- the long barns and garages, a church and school, a dining hall, a lumber business and identical three-apartment homes.
Hutterite children ride bikes down a sidewalk past a row of three apartment homes at the Willowbank Colony.

"They ain't no dummies," said Leon Lagodinski, a local farmer.

Hutterites trace their roots to the 16th century Protestant Reformation. They arrived in North America in the 1870s. About 25,000 Hutterites remain, Wipf said.

Wipf, whose relatives were Russian immigrants, was raised in Mitchell, South Dakota and has known no other life.

Hutterites speak a German dialect, reserving English for dealings with others.

Those relationships have improved. For the most part, Hutterites are no longer viewed as extremist or threatening and, after many years, are being accepted as part of the larger community.

"They're good for their word," said Clint Hoggarth, a salesman at the local implement dealership. "They're good people to deal with."

Pam Schrader agrees. The Hutterites often come into her Edgeley cafe. "They are very polite, very reasonable," she said. "You don't hear complaints."

The commune resembles a small-town neighborhood. Trees grow in generous clusters, kids ride their bikes on paved sidewalks and underground sprinklers water the grass.

Women and girls wear head coverings, "the mark of a true Christian," Wipf said, and ankle-skimming dresses they've sewn. Women spend most of the day preparing large meals they serve the men in a dining hall -- and then eat separately from them.

Everyone's home decor is the same. Limited furniture and cabinetry, made by the Hutterites, and perhaps a toaster and refrigerator.

But the Hutterites do not live strictly off the land. Their communal income is primarily from their on-site hardware store and truss company. Golden Rule Lumber and Willowbank Truss. The trusses are sold through contractors, and customers are scattered across the country.

A fix machine and large computer adorn Wipf's business office. He has a laptop and a two-way radio at home. Internet access for a select few, including Wipf, will be in place soon.

A pool of vehicles is available, besides trucks for delivering trusses, tractors and a new combine.

But none of this, he insists, interferes with Hutterite beliefs.

A stack of Bibles sits in the living room of Wipf's home, which he shares with his wife, Mary Ann, and their son and his family. Wipf leads nightly church services and reads Scriptures daily.

Spirituality is central to colony life. A chaste lifestyle means no playing cards, taking photographs or wearing jewelry or make-up. And no smoking or swearing -- such activities could lead to expulsion.

Rarely do Hutterites leave the colony, Wipf said. And rarely do any join.

Townspeople have seen how hard it is for one-time Hutterites to try to survive on their own. They often spend what money they earn because they don't know how to manage it, Lagodinski said.

"They aren't street-smart at all," he said.

Hutterites pool their money, giving allowances for trips, but no pay for members' work.

Work begins at age 10, when the children are assigned to the dairy barns, fields, truss company, gardens or turkeys and chickens. They adopt the trade they are considered best at by a five-member governing board. They finish school in the eighth grade.

Edgeley Public School District provides two teachers and an aide for the 17 students in grades one through eight. They teach the "English school" from 8:50 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., with the "German school," conducted in that language, taught by a Hutterite for an hour in the morning and an hour in the afternoon.

Hutterites can go to college, though most don't, wipf said, adding that he and others taught themselves their vocations.

The group has evolved this century, Wipf said. "You have to change. You can't always be the same," he said.

Women, for example, no longer milk the cattle by hand. That has long been done by machine. And not all modern conveniences are shunned. Besides new technology, they also receive a daily newspaper.

One thing that hasn't changed is the Hutterites' deep-rooted faith and values. "That's who we are," he said.

And Wipf said the Hutterites aren't interested in public perception.

"Let people say what they want. This is our way of life," Wipf said.

Reprinted with permission of The Forum, Fargo, North Dakota

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