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How the Torch Travels: Elkhart County

As the Bicentennial Torch makes its way up and down the state of Indiana, its 65th stop will be in Elkhart County. Here, the torch will spend five and a half hours winding its way through the highlights of the county.

A total of 40 torchbearers will carry the torch during this time before it moves on to Marshall County at the end of the day.

The torch’s time in Elkhart County will begin at 9 a.m. and will end at approximately 2:30 p.m. 

Its 52-mile journey begins at the MyBrook Dairy Farm in Middlebury. There, beginning at 8 a.m., a kickoff party will be held to celebrate the passing of the torch.

When the relay begins, the first torchbearer will be Truman Weaver. He is a fifth-generation dairy farmer from Goshen, Indiana, whose family, according to his bio page on Elkhart County’s website, has lived in Elkhart County for 76 years. Weaver, according to Terry Mark, the Director of Communications at the Elkhart County and Visitors Bureau, will be riding in a 20th century horse-drawn milk wagon, to honor the past.

To symbolize moving from the past into the future, Craig Blough will carry the torch for the second leg of its journey through the county. He will be riding in a new 2016 milk truck.

The torch will then pass to Don Smucker, an 87-year-old lifetime resident of Middlebury. Smucker says he thinks he was nominated to be a torchbearer because, “they thought maybe people would recognize me,” he says, because he has lived in Middlebury his whole life.

Smucker will ride in a replica of a Cardinal charter bus. Cardinal Buses is a charter bus company that began, and is still in, Middlebury. Smucker will ride in the bus, with his head and a hand hanging outside, he says. The torch will ride in a specially-made holster for use when it rides outside vehicles.

Smucker and his family owned a pharmacy and drug store for 45 years and he says he is “glad to be accepted by the community like this.”

The torch will also ride in a horse-drawn carriage, to celebrate Elkhart County’s large Amish population. The carriage will be driven by an Amish man, and the torch will be carried by both Judith Mantyla and Nancy Hannah. Mantyla is a teacher, coach and advisor at Northridge Middle School, according to the Elkhart County press kit. Hannah is a biology teacher and mentor at Northridge High School. They will carry the torch on its fifth leg of the journey, in Middlebury.

Mark says Elkhart County is very well-known for its Amish country. The Amish tourist experience, he continued, is one of the county’s top attractions. Visitors to the county can experience Amish artisans and eateries across the area. One of the places Mark mentioned is on the torch’s route to pass by is Das Dutchman Essenhaus, a local eatery in Middlebury that is a major attraction to the area.

The torch will begin and end its journey through Elkhart County in Amish Country. Middlebury, its first leg, and Nappanee, its final leg, are big Amish areas, Mark says. The torch will end at Amish Acres, an historic farm and heritage resort in Nappanee that Mark calls a “good representation of the Amish lifestyle.” Here, visitors can have a meal, shop for Amish foods, and learn more about the history of the Amish people.  

Other highlights of modes of transportation the torch will employ will include two locally-made RVs. These are to represent Elkhart County as the “RV capital of the world,” Mark says.

One of the RVs will be a Jayco RV. These are made in Middlebury, Indiana. Joanna King, a local business owner, will ride in this RV. This will be the torch’s sixth stop on the relay, in the Middlebury leg.

The other RV will be a new 2017 Newmar Dutch Star Sedona RV, according to the press kit for Elkhart County and the Torch Relay. Newmar Corp. is located in Nappanee, Indiana. Gregg Fore will ride in this RV. Fore is the president of Dicor Corp., a supplier of RV component products, located in Elkhart. He is stop eight for the torch and the first stop in the city of Elkhart.

Many of the “leading innovators and founding fathers” of the RV industry are from Elkhart County, Mark says. Over time, he says, even those who didn’t begin in the county consolidated in Elkhart County. The area, he says, is, to this day, full of suppliers to the RV and vehicle manufacturing industries.

The torch will also be carried by a Janus motorcycle. Janus is a company located in Goshen. The company hand-builds and designs their motorcycles. The torchbearer, Brett Weddell, will carry the torch as he rides in the motorcycle’s sidecar. Weddell is an optometrist and city councilman from Goshen. He is the torch’s 29th carrier for Elkhart County, one of the torchbearers for Goshen.

Classic cars are another mode of transportation in Elkhart County. Some of these include 1962 Nova Convertibles that will carry Sandra Bontrager and Deborah Washington in Elkhart, a 1985 Corvette carrying Krisen Hunt, a 1927 Bugatti race car carrying Lori Snyder in Elkhart, a 1920 Model T Station Wagon carrying Jim Smith in Goshen, a 1962 Volkswagen Dune Buggy in Goshen carrying Samantha Kruse, and a 1937 Ford carrying Margaret “Peg” Hoffer in Nappanee.

A 1917 Milburn electric car will also carry a torch bearer, according to Elkhart County’s press kit. Gail Martin is the 14th torchbearer for Elkhart County, and will ride the car in Elkhart. She is the development officer for the Ruthmere Museum in Elkhart. She will be driven by the executive director, Bill Firstenberger. Mark says the museum’s director didn’t want an open flame near the car, so Martin will use the relay’s safety torch, fitted with LED lights instead of a flame.

In Wakarusa, Indiana, the torch will be carried by an antique fire truck and tractor. Dr. Robert Abel, who has practiced medicine in the Wakarusa and Nappanee area for more than 60 years, will ride in the fire truck as the 33rd leg of the trip. Jeff Troxel was a detective lieutenant for the Elkhart County Sheriff’s department for 20 years and is now the town manager of Wakarusa. He will ride on the antique tractor for the 34th leg of the torch’s relay through the county.

The Elkhart County Convention and Visitors Bureau also assigned three torchbearers to ride in 2017 Subarus for the relay, as Subaru is one of the sponsors for the relay. One of those torchbearers will be Mary Ann Eisenbeiss. She was nominated by Emily Haskins for her community service. Eisenbeiss says the nomination was a challenge for her at first.

“I do underneath work,” she says. She says she is not used to being noted for her work, and that she doesn’t do it for the glory and fame.

“The closer it gets,” she continues, “the more excited I get.” She says it is a great honor to be a part of history in the making.

Eisenbeiss is the seventh stop in the relay in Elkhart County.

The torch’s journey through Elkhart County will showcase many downtown areas. These include the downtowns of Middlebury, Elkhart, Goshen and Nappanee. This was an intentional effort by those planning the torch’s route to showcase as many downtown areas as possible.

In Elkhart, downtown sites include the Lerner Theater. This theater, Mark says, was recently restored and is now a center of arts and culture in Elkhart. In Goshen, Elkhart County’s county seat, the torch will pass by the courthouse and The Goshen Theater, an historic theater.

“We are very proud of our downtowns,” Mark says.