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Sonnenberg Village marks 15 years of preserving history


Sonnenberg Village, under the umbrella of the Kidron Community Historical Society, just outside of Kidron along Hackett Road marks 15 years of continued growth thanks to volunteers and donations and the vision of local residents dedicated to preserving and sharing local history.

KIDRON  When someone retires from an organization after 30 years, they most likely will have a lengthy and impressive list of accomplishments.

But not everyone can say that they built a village.

Wayne Liechty, past president of the Kidron Community Historical Society, will not take much credit for his accomplishments.

With a chuckle he admits that Sonnenberg Village has been a point of both pride and frustration over the past 15 years. He is happy and surprised at how far it has come in that period of time. Like his counterpart, Ray Leisy, project manager at the village, he credits those around him with the hard work, dedication and donations of time, labor and materials.

This year, Sonnenberg Village, the 5-acre campus along Hackett Road with restored historically significant buildings, freshly planted trees, well-tended gardens, and a pond – all with sustainable-living methods using renewable energy and green building technology – marks its 15th anniversary.

Leisy said he expects the annual events such as the Sonnenberg Homecoming and Beet Festival will be bigger than usual this year to mark the milestone.

The village has come a long way. This past year, the former Sonnenberg Church, which is the Welcome Center and has been renovated to serve as a performing arts venue, saw 52 paying events.

“This is the first year since we began that we covered our utilities,” Leisy said.

Rentals, donations and a variety of grants have funded the village. The goal is to make the village self-sustaining.

It all began with the donation of a log cabin.

Actually, it all began 200 years ago with Swiss immigrants escaping religious persecution settling in this area. Many in the Kidron and Dalton area can trace their family trees back to the first settlers.

According to, by July 2007, the historical society had been offered eight buildings of importance to the history of the Sonnenberg area. It was decided to find a parcel of land big enough to place all the historic buildings together.

When the historical society was considering ways to celebrate its 30th anniversary, the Leonard and Nada Geiser family offered to donate the dilapidated Tschantz Cabin on their farm along with 2 acres of ground on Hackett Road for its relocation, according to an article in the latest edition of “Bit o’ Vit” newsletter, of which Judie Nussbaum is the editor. The historical society’s trustees agreed they had other structures that would fit the vision of establishing a Son-nenberg Village: the Saurer Blacksmith Shop, the Glenn Gerber Barn, the Sonnenberg School House, the third Sonnenberg Church, a buggy shed, the Leah Lehman House and Spring House, and the John Bixler House, according to the newsletter. The Geiser family sold three additional acres to the society.

The winter of 2008 was spent planning, obtaining permits and redesigning the flow of surface water to suit the EPA. Some buildings were torn down and reconstructed while other buildings were relocated to the village intact.

Leisy, a retired probate judge, who had enjoyed maintenance and construction at the Wayne County Historical Society was put in touch with Liechty.

“All of these buildings without exception we did it ourselves,” he said. “All of the work inside and out has been done by volunteers.”

Cliff Lehman, Dan Miller, Joe Wolf and Jim Holzaepfel, as well as Walt Mullet at the blacksmith shop, have been a core group of volunteers working with Leisy weekly. Leisy’s wife, Allyson, and other Volunteers have tended to the gardens. Christa and Andrew Wolf are activities directors.

Leisy said one of the greatest accomplishments over the years is seeing the growing number of volunteers and people using the buildings and grounds.

Cliff Lehman, retired owner of Gerber Wood Products, is a perfect fit for lending his expertise to the buildings and he enjoys volunteering and keeping busy in his retirement.

“It’s been a real blessing to work with Ray,” he said.

Dan Miller is retired from Stoller Lawn & Garden and has 25 years of masonry construction. “It’s teamwork,” he said. “Let’s hope after we’re out of here some younger people will take interest and keep it going.”

Art Neuenschwander, president of the historical society, said plans are for the village to grow more. He said it has brought the community together.

“The beauty of some of the programming that goes on there has quite some variation to it which brings different groups in together from the same community,” he said.

Liechty said people have been very supportive.

“If you don’t know where you came from, you don’t know where you’re going,” said Liechty, 85, who has lived in Kidron since 1959 and is a retired sawmill owner. “I think it’s a story that needs to be told. The immigrants came over here with virtually nothing and they made something out of it.”

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