WILMOT — It was lunchtime on Wednesday when Steve Keim jumped atop his dusty blue Ford farm tractor in the parking lot of the Amish Door restaurant.
He started to drive off, but he wasn't heading home or back to the fields of corn or cattle. Keim was bustling to pick up his mail at the Wilmot post office. His tractor is his preferred mode of transportation.
"I just go," said Keim, 86, a man of very few words, who is a former farmer and retired sexton of the Wilmot Cemetery, where he worked for about 30 years. "I drive to the laundromat in Brewster. We don't have one here."
Keim pilots his tractor around town nearly every day — running materials for a friend, going out for a hot meal or getting laundry done in the next town.
Clearly, life in Wilmot is a little different. The days seem to roll on at a slower, quieter pace. And those who live here seem to like it that way. Keim has been a resident since 1955.
"It's OK here," he said with a slight grin. "I just didn't ever move."
Settle in, never leave
For many folks in Stark County's southwestern-most suburb, once you arrive and settle in, you're not likely to leave.
"It's small, safe and a caring community. Once you're here, you feel at home through church and neighbors," said Marcella Meese, 77, who moved into a house on Milton Street three decades ago with her husband, Robert (deceased), the former village postmaster.
Meese's husband had a pretty good gig. The job paid a comfortable salary, she said, and in the wintertime he could get around the slick, snowy roads by walking a few blocks to the office.
"We just loved it here for a long time," Meese said. "There are a lot of retired people here. It's a safe, tiny hub."
Drive into Wilmot from either direction on state Route 62 or 250, and you'll see a number of historic buildings, such as an old town market and Wilmot Methodist Church. On the northeast side of town along Route 62 — known as Massillon Street locally — sits Village Hall, which until 1968 was the Evangelical United Brethren church.
The church combined later that year with the Methodist church, where Meese has been a longtime member. She was unsure when Village Hall moved into the former church building, which is on the National Register of Historic Places.
Although Wilmot has much to appreciate — community togetherness, less traffic and noise, little crime and abundant nature — the village does lack a few preferred businesses, such as a drugstore, medical clinic and bank.
Most have to travel to Massillon, Canton or Wooster to nail all three services in a single trip, Meese said.
During the working hours of the day, dozens of growling semis make their way through town, stopping at traffic lights, en route to larger municipalities in the county. A few Amish tourist buses swing by the Amish Door, and visitors pour into the restaurant and marketplaces.
Some of the neighborhood streets in Wilmot are older and worn. Like many communities, the village has its share of crumbling pavement and potholes.
A pothole issue on her home street was the main reason Lizzie Ellen Weaver (who likes to be called Ellen) strolled into a Wilmot council meeting on April 9. Unbeknownst to her at the time, council was seeking a new member to serve the village of slightly more than 300 residents due to a recent resignation.
When publicly discussing her pothole concern, Mayor Bobby Pulley asked Weaver if she'd be interested in serving on council to help figure out issues and push for more funding to fix roads. She called the offer "unexpected but exciting."
"I thought I'd have the time and can offer ideas," said Weaver, 62, who grew up in an Amish community and lived that life for 22 years before leaving the community. Weaver married a truck driver and has lived in Wilmot with her husband for 13 years. "I just want to get a feel of the budget and see where the money is going."
Weaver had never been to a public meeting before, and certainly never held public office, or even thought about it. Now, she is replacing former Councilwoman Amber McCune, who resigned during a regular council meeting on March 11. She had served in the position since August 2017.
Weaver's first meeting as a public official is slated for May 13. Road maintenance and getting new street signs will be among her top priorities, she said.
Members of Wilmot council earn $24 per meeting and are elected to four-year terms. Pulley, or whoever serves in the office of mayor, is paid a monthly salary of $115. The mayor is also elected to a term of four years.
Weaver describes Wilmot as a "calming and friendly" place without much crime.
"There are not a lot of people, or pressure on anything here," she said "You can always walk your dog and talk to your neighbors [without interruption]."
Building a business
Milo Miller purchased more than 100 acres in western Wilmot a few decades ago. At the time, he said, much of the property blossomed as an apple orchard that had upward of 300 trees.
In 1977, Miller turned a few of those acres along Winesburg Street into the Amish Door restaurant. Today, a 12-acre tract has a market, bakery, gallery and gift shop and a 52-room inn.
"This is a quiet place. It's peaceful and not overcrowded," said Miller, 81, who referred to Wilmot as a small paradise.
It is a quaint and quiet town where people appreciate their privacy. A few folks approached by The Independent politely declined to discuss their hometown, and didn't want to be interviewed or photographed.
One of the Amish Door servers said she started working there as a teenager in 1988. She and her husband raised three children, ranging from 17 to 23, in the community.
Fresh air, friendly customers, generous tips and a setting that could bring a smile to Mother Nature all make coming to work seem more like a breeze, she said.
Some remaining apple trees dot Miller's Amish Door property, where deer often pluck some edibles from low-hanging branches to the delight of everyday customers and out-of-state visitors.
Organic farming, raising beef cattle, wood crafting and tourism are economic drivers within the community, Miller said.
"We're on the edge of the Amish Country," he said with a prideful smile in reference to nearby towns to the southwest, such as Millersburg, Berlin and Walnut Creek. "We eat, sleep, shop and farm. Where else would you want to be?"