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By Tom Mitchell
HARRISONBURG - Ervin R. Stutzman suspects that his highly principled mom might blush about his latest book.
"She wouldn't want the attention," said Stutzman, author of "Emma: A Widow Among the Amish." Stutzman's book, released in November, tells the true story of his widowed mother, Emma Stutzman, who raised six children, including one with a disability.
Stutzman, 54, vice president of Eastern Mennonite University and dean of Eastern Mennonite Seminary, spent four years researching and writing "Emma," a sequel to a text that Stutzman released in 2001 about his father, Tobias. His father died at 37 in a car crash in Kalona, Iowa, when Stutzman was 3.
"Emma," said Stutzman, picks up where "Tobias" left off.
The book gives readers a close look at life in an Amish community, and how that society's beliefs in the mid-20th century governed women.
In his mother's case, said Stutzman, Amish customs forbade her from collecting Social Security. The more liberal church that the Stutzman clan attended later relaxed its views on federal assistance, in time to let Emma Stutzman receive such benefits.
Emma Stutzman died of breast cancer in 1989 at the age of 73.
Rocking The Boat
Through the years, said Stutzman, his quiet but determined mother challenged her culture's restrictions on women's rights, once by declining to marry a widower who could have provided for her family.
"This book is about a young mother growing up alone," said Stutzman, whose present family includes wife Bonnie and three adult children: daughter Emma and sons Daniel and Benjamin. "It's also a story of a widow's journey, from helplessness to independence. It's a history and a story."
Those close to Stutzman applauded the book's truth and scope.
"He did a remarkable job of tending to detail," said David L. Miller, a semiretired Amish Mennonite pastor from just outside Hutchinson, Kan., and a first cousin of Emma's who has known Stutzman since the latter's childhood. "He had to make the story readable, and in that he did very well. It's very accurate."
Stutzman's administrative assistant at EMS, Joanna Swartley, helped edit the manuscript. Swartley calls "Emma" easy and enjoyable reading.
"This book summarizes what I felt," said Swartley, whose own life parallels Stutzman's.
Swartley, who grew up in a Mennonite family in Orrville, Ohio, lost her father to leukemia when he was 37 and she was 8. Swartley's mother raised five children. And, like Stutzman, Swartley had a disabled sister.
"Emma" also reveals similarities between Amish and Mennonite cultures, said Swartley.
Stutzman's work contains numerous pictures from his past, including many photos collected from kin and friends. His book, said Stutzman, has drawn interest within and outside the Amish order.
"The response from the public has been very positive," said Stutzman, an ordained Mennonite minister and holder of a doctorate from Temple University, who calls his book a "formative" journey. "It formed me. It forced me to look at things I hadn't looked at in years and years."
More information on "Emma" is available online at www.ervinstutzman.com.
Used with permission from The Daily-News Record