This labor Day weekend, as on some 90 weekends past, this tiny town of 158 souls will sing the praises of their Welsh ancestors who with religious resolve and reliable ditch-digging skills honed in the coal mines of the fatherland made a community from the muck of northwest Ohio's Great Swamp. Venedocia's limestone "cathedral" rises out of a Van Wert County cornfield, beckoning neighbors from nearby Gomer (another Welsh enclave) and as far away as Michigan who come to rattle the rafters at the annual Gymanfa Ganu, a Welsh festival of song.
"We don't have very many bodies, but they work good," explains David Hugh Evans, owner of the broad fields that seem to fence the town with walls of grain. Evan's great-great-grandfather William Bebb of Rhiwgrafol N. Wales, was one of Venedocia's original homesteaders who came to Ohio in 1848. On the first Sunday after their arrival in the new territory, the Bebbs and two other families held a religious service in a small log cabin. And they sang hymns of a starchy faith. That joyous noise has echoed to the area's wide horizons ever since.
"To be born Welsh is to be born privileged, not with a silver spoon in your mouth, but with music in your blood and poetry in your soul," reads a plaque in the Evans home. It is an epitaph borne out at the annual a cappella sing-along, when residents, former residents and neighbors convene to harmonize echo and trill with the confidence and skill of professionals.
The pews promise to be packed for this year's Gymanfa Ganu, Sun.,
Aug. 31, and again in 1998 when Salem Church marks its centennial
anniversary. The public is welcome, but Venedocians kindly insist
that everyone sing along. As another plaque in David Evan's home
warms: "You can tell a Welshman, but you can't tell him much."
Bringing Home the Bacon: Venedocians who don't farm or work for the four-employee Ohio Electric Polishing Co. commute to Delphos or Van Wert or to Celina's Huffy plant. Bringing Home Dinner: Pizza lovers still mourn the recent closure of Coils Corner, a small grocery and pizza shop owned by Mayor Linda Fisher. How to Sound Like a Native: Gymanfa Ganu is pronounced: g-män'va gä'-nee. And when in doubt, call the natives "Hugh." Town histories tell of both a Hugh Pugh and Hugh Hugh, thanks to the tradition of taking a father's first name as a last name. Good News: "We don't have a newspaper," explains resident Janet Ruen, "so the only way to find out if someone is sick or needs help is during the five minutes before the church service begins. News of garage sales, etc., are posted at the post office." Town Crier: Two phone lines running from the porch of Charles Good bring Venedocia to the world via the Internet. The OSU-Lima plant biology professor maintains the village's home page at www.geocities.com/Heartland/Hills/2761/, home to Welsh history, Gymanfa Ganu updates and softball schedules. Main Drag: Neat clapboard houses, the post office and the church reside along the less than a mile-long main Street. Divided Loyalties: Main Street also draws the line for the town's 35 school-agers; those on the eastern side of the street attend Spencerville schools in Allen County; neighbors to the west root for Van Wert County's Lincolnview. Dry Run: Parched throats needing a nip need to get out of town (to Landeck, an "Irish" town where the Town Tavern is just two doors down from St. John the Baptist) unless they are invited to a private party. Venedocian deeds still maintain the values of their ancestors; local legend says that if a piece of property in towns sprouts a saloon, ownership of the land reverts to descendants of the founding Bebb family. Hoping to add to their current holding of 500 acres, the David Hugh Evans family jokingly encourages potential bartenders.
By Jean P. Kelly. ©1997 Ohio Magazine.
Reprinted with permission.