Sam Yoder’s journey from a Mennonite community to medicine and music
When Sam Yoder received an invitation to join the military, it removed him from the sheltered Mennonite community where he had been raised. This invitation ultimately exposed him to experiences that shaped the rest of his life—one composed of equal parts medicine and music. Today, Yoder is the executive director of Allegro Community School of the Arts. His journey has been a winding, unchartered path that often doubled back on itself and wove in the law of attraction, returning him time and again to his humble beginnings surrounded by simplicity.
Raised by a nonconforming Amish family, Yoder’s father moved his wife and three children to a less conservative Mennonite community to take advantage of the use of technology. “My parents pushed back against what they considered to be man-made rules and regulations for which they could not find supporting scriptures,” says Yoder. When they moved to the Mennonite community, the family embraced basic technology, including telephones and cars, as well as alternative careers to farming. “My father never wanted to be a farmer, but in the Mennonite community, that’s just what you did,” Yoder explains. His father however, quit the farming business and earned a living as a John Deere mechanic a few years after moving to a Mennonite farm.
“In both the Amish and Mennonite communities, music was part of the social fabric,” says Yoder. “We sang a cappella and in four-part harmony so well we rivaled professionals.” A curious three-year-old Yoder found an old pump organ and struggled to understand how the instrument worked; he tried to press the pedals while keying the instrument. Even at this tender age, Yoder heard music. “I just assumed everyone heard what I did,” says Yoder of his finely-tuned ear. The seed of music started to grow.
Another aspect of the Mennonite community is work ethic. As time passed, Yoder grew into a young man and was instilled with this strong work ethic. “There is a German word for lazy that has no English comparison. It is essentially saying you are the lowest of the low,” says Yoder. He has carried this strong work ethic with him throughout his entire life.
While Yoder inherited his father’s mechanical abilities, he did not inherit his passion for it and has remained a farmer at heart his entire life. When he neared the age of 20, Yoder received a call from the United States Military and was drafted for two years of service following the Vietnam War. The Conscientious Objector policy gives Amish and Mennonite men and women the option to work in alternative service programs away from home rather than join the military, but the expectation is that they too will serve their country if drafted. These alternative programs can include providing community service, participating in agriculture programs, or working in hospitals, which is where Yoder went when he was drafted. “I stayed state-side and helped many men during my two years. When the two years were over, I stayed in the military,” says Yoder.
A man of many talents, Yoder soon discovered he had a gift for medicine as well, if not the interest. “If I were to list 100 things I would like to have done, medicine would have been at the bottom of the list,” says Yoder emphatically. He became a registered respiratory therapist and has been published in the World Congress of Critical Care Medicine for his research, “I ended up being good at it,” he says modestly. With his military service completed, Yoder continued to earn his civilian credentials in medicine. During his medical career, Yoder developed a method to intubate people in an emergency. His method has saved countless lives.
In his 20s, Yoder’s two passions were front and center in his life, even if he kept them distinctly apart. While he pursued his medical skills, he also pursued his long-time passion for music. He was part of a six-person band that spent 15 years touring. The band played a variety of music: southern gospel, rock, and barbershop quartet. A perfectionist, Yoder also earned a Bachelor’s degree in music to correct bad habits he had developed over the years. This degree was in addition to a business management degree and medical credentials he earned.
To Yoder, education is obtaining “knowledge for the sake of knowledge.” He earned certificates and degrees as he needed them. “If I needed a degree to sit for my National Boards in Respiratory Care, I earned it. When we had a difficult time finding good piano tuners for the recording studio, I went back to school and became a certified piano technician,” he explains. His approach to education is a freeing experience: “It allowed me to shop a lot of competitive programs and choose the classes I would take.”
This approach connected him with people and projects he might otherwise never have become involved with. As a recording studio owner, he teamed up with another person to document old time fiddlers in the Appalachian Mountains: “Many of the mining companies have gone out of business, but the sub-culture still exists. These were folks who were absolute masters of their art, but were dirt poor–many have died.” Yoder tracked down recordings and “cleaned” them up as much as possible. Had it not been for his effort, the fiddler recordings would be lost forever. Today these recordings are housed in the Library of Congress and have been used as membership premiums by NPR. “For the families of the fiddlers, it allows their way of life–represented by their music–to live on. A small part of an obscure art form that will enrich the mosaic of the art culture of our society,” he explains.
Yoder, who has remained a simple man at heart, believes there have been other forces at work throughout his life. He has not fought against the direction his life has travelled, although it wove an uneven and uncut path. He accepted challenges when they were presented and proceeded to utilize his strong work ethic for any given task. Yoder gives a slight nod towards the law of attraction, something he admittedly did not give much attention to in his youth, but has observed its presence only in hindsight.
In its most simplistic terms, the law of attraction works through giving something that you want increased attention. The more attention you give to it, the greater will be the attractive force exerted toward its attainment. The concept includes visualizing a better future and, through that visualization, bringing that future into existence.
As the executive director of Allegro Community School of Arts, Yoder envisions a better future for his organization and the community at large. One where Allegro’s students are safe, taught by instructors that embody a strong work ethic as Yoder expects of himself, and where the arts are the heart of a community.
Allegro is a nonprofit school that serves all members of the community through the arts: music, theatre, writing, and dance. The Allegro Board only agrees to add a new program in response to a documented community need and when they can obtain a qualified expert to run it. Among the traditional offerings of voice and instrument lessons, Allegro also has a program for the blind and visually impaired. Thanks to a grant from the PATH Foundation, they have an embossing machine to print braille sheet music for students.
With his gifts of music and medicine in a continuous spiral around him, Yoder looks to the future and sees greater opportunities to weave the two together. Yoder and wife, Lachelle, who manages the business and daily operations of Allegro, have plans to implement a music program for individuals in hospice care. Yoder simply cannot help but be attracted to the beacon of these two very distinct fields that have called to him throughout his life.
For more information on Allegro programs, visit: www.allegrocsa.org.