August 11, 2017

The Last Ride of Devon Gingerich…

Category: News — Ira @ 5:04 pm


Faint, far, and lonely as a dream, it came to him again through that
huge spell of time and silence and the earth, evoking for him, as it
had always done…its wild and secret cry of joy and pain, and its
intolerable promises of new lands, morning, and a shining city.

—Thomas Wolfe

It didn’t jolt me all that bad, when the news first came trickling through. Probably because there was so little connection. It came from Old Bloomfield, the place I grew up in, and left, a lot of years ago. Nelson and Mary Esther Gingerich, I remember them faintly. The news was about their son, Devon. A son who had left home some time ago. A horseman, and a bull rider. He got stomped on by a bull at a rodeo in Nebraska. He died from his injuries a few days later. He was nineteen years old.

It took almost a week, for all the details to develop. And somehow, that final news hit me in a deep gut blow, even though I never met Devon, and wouldn’t have known him from any other stranger on the street. A clean-cut kid, from everything I’ve been told. He was tall and lithe and handsome. Polite and well-mannered. Quietly focused on pursuing his dream of being a professional bull rider. And just like that, he was gone.

I don’t know the exact details of what happened. And they’re not that important. But it hit me hard, the almost unspeakable tragedy of the loss. A young man, in the prime of his life. With so much before him. And now, his parents would have to bury their son. And that was the other thing that struck me, that I thought of. This was new territory for a lot of people. For a whole Amish community. Because for the first time in its 45-year history, the Amish community of Bloomfield, Iowa, was bringing a wandering son home, to be buried among his people. It was a powerful and brutal and touching thing to witness, even from afar, like I am.

And I thought of his parents. Nelson and Mary Esther. I knew them both, a lifetime ago. Nelson was a bit younger than me. His older brother, Mervin, was one of the original gang of six, in my book. Nelson always tagged along with the boys the next size down. I can’t remember that he ever made any problems for anyone. And Mary Esther. I can still see her as a slim and lovely young girl. The two of them met in grade school, way back, at the Amish school house in the North district, if I remember right. They fell in love then, and they never had eyes for anyone else since.

I can’t remember the last time I saw either of them. It’s been a long time. I do remember hearing it told, when I stopped back in the area, over the years. Nelson was a very good businessman. Some kind of sawmill, I think he started up. He employed a lot of people, over the years. And stored up a good bit of wealth. Which is totally fine. I admire that. You either got it, or you don’t when it comes to running a business, and building it up like Nelson did. And they raised a family, the two of them. Three sons and five daughters. Devon was the youngest son. He had two younger sisters.

And now, now they had lost a son, Nelson and Mary Esther. A son who had left home and the community, to pursue his own life. And it closed in on me like a flood, the emotional devastation of it all. How do you even tell a story such as that? How do you imagine the grief and loss and pain of these parents? From the cultural aspect of the Amish, the whole thing is especially brutal. How do you go and carry back the body of a son and a brother who left? What do you tell the weeping children? And how do I mourn with those who mourn in the world I came from, from so far away?

I don’t know, really. I guess you just tell the story.

The rodeo was in Lincoln, Nebraska, on Monday night of last week. A bit south of the Sand Hills of Valentine, where a young Amish kid struggled on a ranch, way back in another lifetime. And the thing is, I never saw much of Nebraska, other than the area around Valentine. I think the whole state is a lot flatter than the Sand Hills are.

I have few concrete details, because I didn’t really ask for them. You can tell the story, anyway. Devon was an up and coming bull rider in that particular circuit. From my own short stint as a cowboy, decades ago, I know one thing. Bull riders are a special breed. Modern gladiators. Fearless. Tough. Totally willing to take risks. I’ve always thought that maybe on another life track, that is something I might have tried. But I never got it done. Just as well, I guess.

Anyway, something went dreadfully wrong on Devon’s last ride. The bull plunged madly, as bucking bulls do. And he was thrown off. But his hand got stuck, got tangled up in the rope. I’ve seen it live and on TV. Riders getting tangled up when they get bucked off, and flung about like a rag doll. I don’t know the specific details of this particular incident, and I don’t need to. The bull finally shook him off. It was clearly evident that Devon was seriously injured. He was rushed to the hospital.

His parents were notified. Called, late that night. And the family dropped everything and traveled to where he was, in the hospital. Kept a sleepless vigil at his bed side. And there they remained, in shock, day after hopeless day. It could not be. Not their son. Not their brother. Not this young man, entering the prime of his life. It could not be. But it was. Devon never woke up. And last Saturday morning, he quietly passed on from this earth.

The story of the tragedy rippled across the vast expanse of the Amish world. And the ex-Amish world, too. I mean, the horror of it. People recoiled from such tragic loss of a life so young. And the news came then. He would be taken home. Back to Old Bloomfield. Back to where he was born and raised as an Amish child. Back to the land that held his blood. Back to his people.

And as I looked at all the circumstances around Devon’s last bull ride, I couldn’t help but see it. My own journey, so long ago. My own flight from home, from Bloomfield. I was a raw youth, rough and unpolished. And it could just as easily have happened to me, as it happened to Devon. Not that I ever rode a bull. But I did a whole lot of dangerous stuff, in a whole lot of other ways.

I thought, too. Of all those journeys, leaving home, all those years ago. The pain I inflicted on my parents, during my long and desperate struggle for freedom. And how easily that could have been me, coming home in a wooden box. Just as well as not, I could have been killed. But I wasn’t. I don’t know why. Life is random, like that. I do know it is a strange and fascinating thing to ponder. That a deeply troubled youth like me walked through the gauntlet, mostly unscathed. And that a quiet and focused and calm young man like Devon Gingerich got killed, doing what he loved. It’s like looking through a glass, darkly. One day, we shall know more fully, as we are known. This I believe by faith.

The Bloomfield community is a vastly different place than it was when I lived there. It has grown tremendously, exploding to thirteen districts, if I got that number right. It’s the largest Amish community west of the Mississippi. It generates its own economy. And now, after forty-five years of existence, it has generated its own customs, too. But this, this had never happened before, that a wandering son was brought home to be laid to rest.

And they came from all over the Midwest, the people. Friends. Neighbors. Relatives. Amish. English. Ex-Amish. I’ve said it before. An Amish funeral is one of the most unique experiences in the world. At least in the circles I come from. Because you don’t need an invitation. You can just go. And it’s like a truce, for a day. You are accepted, if not necessarily respected for being there.

I have close friends who went. It was a huge event. The viewing, the evening before. Bearded and dark clad men sitting and talking in somber knots. And the women, too, huddled in small groups across the room. You could hear the hum of hundreds of voices speaking in hushed tones.

And the next morning, they gathered, then. The main crowd assembled in a large machinery shed. For the overflow, a big tent had been set up. There would be two separate services. And the traffic clogged the roads. Buggies, by the dozens. Vans, hauling loads of Amish people from other communities. Cars and pickups, from both English and ex-Amish. They came, and they were ushered inside to row after row of hard, backless benches. And then the service. No singing. There never is, at an Amish funeral. Just two relatively short sermons.

They filed past the open coffin, then, all twelve hundred people who had come. Silently, somberly, for one last look. And then the family came and stood there, alone. Devon’s parents, and his siblings. They looked at him for the final time on this earth and wept in bitter sorrow. Young men in dark plain suits came then, and lifted the coffin. Carried it outside to the waiting horse-drawn hearse. It would be Devon’s last ride. Then the long convoy of buggies and cars snaked slowly to the graveyard. The dark crowd stood, surrounding the hole in the earth. The coffin was slowly lowered with straps, then the men with shovels stepped forward and set to work. And the Amish community of Bloomfield, Iowa, laid one of its young sons to rest. A man who had wandered the earth, but now was home for good. Such a scene had never unfolded before, not in that place.

And here was the end, then, of the young life of Devon Gingerich. A lot of people will think it, even though they might not say it. It was such a waste. It’s just too bad. It could have been different. It should have been different. It was a life so foolishly spent. But I disagree. It was not.

It’s better to do what you love to do, and die doing it, than it is to trudge through life all fearful and unfulfilled. It is better to live intensely, and really live, than to let your spirit thirst and wither on the vine. Devon Gingerich chose to live. He burned through life, doing what he loved. Now he’s gone. It just is what it is. Life is life, and death is death.

To his parents and his siblings, I have this to say. To Nelson and Mary Esther and all their remaining sons and daughters. Hold your heads high. Do not be ashamed of your son. Do not be ashamed of your brother. I know the code of conduct of your people calls for bowed heads and downcast eyes in a time such as this.

Don’t do it. Hold your heads high. Look people in the eye. Your son was a warrior. Your brother was a warrior. And he died, doing what he loved. He died, following his heart. That’s more than most of us will ever be able to have told about us, after we leave this vale of tears.

And to Devon Gingerich, the gladiator, now resting in silence in the earth, I say this. I never knew you. Never knew of you, except in death. Here, on my blog, I speak your name. I would have loved to meet you. And one day, I figure I will.

I hold my clenched hand to my heart, in salute to all you were in your young life.

And to you, I say. Strength and honor.

Devon Gingerich



  1. Nice tribute to a good lad. I, like you, Ira, often wonder why it never was me.

    Comment by Warren Stehman Jr. — August 11, 2017 @ 8:00 pm

  2. Thanks for another inspiring post, Ira.
    “Life is random, like that”, and none of us mortals can ever really figure it out. Devon’s story makes me grateful once again for all that I have been given in my life.

    Comment by Matthew Block — August 11, 2017 @ 8:42 pm

  3. I am speechless !! Here I sit watching my 99 year old Mother as she lays dying, she has been ready for a long time , but her time is not yet , and we trust God that our time on this earth is is calculated only by Him , a young life is taken and an old lady lingers , We must all pass this way , thank you for your blog.

    Comment by Georgia — August 11, 2017 @ 9:58 pm

  4. I read all your blogs, but this one, is one of your best ones yet!!

    Comment by Lavern — August 11, 2017 @ 10:39 pm

  5. My prayers for the family.
    I feel what they must be going through more keenly for having read your compassionate words.

    Comment by LaMar — August 11, 2017 @ 10:40 pm

  6. A beautiful tribute, Ira, and surely a comfort to his family.

    Gute Nacht ihr meine Lieben is sung at the grave around here. I have sung it many times while the grave tenders and now-a-days, family and friends, carefully drop shovels full of earth into the grave. About two years ago it dawned on me that we are not singing to the departed. He is singing to us: “Gute Nacht, die sich betrüben, Und aus Lieb für mich jetz weint;”
    “Good night, you who grieve and weep for me out of love…”

    The departed is trying to comfort us!

    Comment by John Schmid — August 11, 2017 @ 10:56 pm

  7. Great tribute, Ira, for a kindred spirit that you never met. I will pray for the family, that God in His great mercy will give them peace in their heart and spirit.

    In His Service
    Linda Morris

    Comment by Linda Morris — August 11, 2017 @ 11:44 pm

  8. Wow! What a tribute, so beautifully written! I hope his family gets to read this! I know his parents, and my heart bleeds for them! God, I pray, will use this all for His glory, to draw hearts to Himself!

    Comment by Mary Etta Miller — August 12, 2017 @ 1:17 am

  9. Read Jerry Eicher’s books, googled him, linked to you, read your whole 10 year’s blog entries in a week. Interesting stuff. Will get your book, just debating which one; I love real books but I am running out of space and a kindle is easier to carry.

    Do you have an Instagram account? There are a few Ira Wagler #about your book on Insta. Anne

    Comment by Anne — August 12, 2017 @ 10:35 am

  10. You poured your heart out on this one, Ira.

    Comment by Kelly Hunt — August 12, 2017 @ 10:58 am

  11. Mom’s neighbor and all we knew was a funeral was probably going on. Goes to show how insulated a person can be with an Amish neighbor (their land even abuts). Never had she seen so many buggies and vans attending. Thanks for filling us in.

    Comment by lisa — August 12, 2017 @ 5:41 pm

  12. Very good, Ira. Loved the blog. Had to think of the scripture… life is but a vapor.

    Comment by Joe Keim — August 12, 2017 @ 6:39 pm

  13. Our son, too, was a fearless Bullrider.

    Broken Jaw (yes, wired shut, all liquids) concussions, a friends funeral, but he always got back on… ride, ride, ride – trying for that magical “8 seconds” and making it sometimes. We went and watched faithfully, unless he went too far (New England, The Carolina’s, Florida, etc.)

    We were blessed, he always came home. He is now a Husband & Daddy of 5 lovely daughters, a civil engineer in Virginia, had his last ride shortly before the wedding.

    Comment by Jacob R. Dienner — August 13, 2017 @ 12:33 am

  14. By way of clarification, these young men are for the most part really great guys, church buddies, college kids, carpenters, harness shop guys, Firemen Volunteers, all with great mothers, great friends, good honest hardworking church-going boys that “COMPETE AGAINST THEIR OWN PREVIOUS PERFORMANCE” – always trying to fine-tune their skill, listening carefully to their coaches, simply a great training field for their future life as a fun-loving daddy and useful member of society. And with all the safety gear they have (Helmets, vests, cups, etc., etc.) the injuries are rare. HATS OFF to Devon, and kind condolences to the grieving family.

    Devon, you beat the rest of us Home.

    Jacob R. Dienner

    Comment by Jacob R. Dienner — August 13, 2017 @ 8:45 am

  15. A beautiful tribute to Devon, as only you could do, as you felt a kinship with him. Great advice to the family, also! Rest In Peace, Devon!

    Comment by Rosanna F. — August 13, 2017 @ 10:28 pm

  16. So sad.Something like this leaves a hole that never entirely goes away, especially for his parents.And who knows why it had to happen.At that age I was not thinking about dying and Devon probably wasn’t either.We are immortal when we are young.And yet,that is the only way to do it.Live like it will never end.Dont hold back and give it all you got.I did and now I can look back and not regret not trying something,whether it was good,bad or indifferent.Things didn’t always end well or work out the way I figured they would.But I tried.And it’s never failure when one tries.Devon was doing what he wanted.My hats off to him and may he rest in peace.Thanks for the tribute,Ira,and peace to all..

    Comment by lenny — August 27, 2017 @ 6:24 pm

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