Steiner family legacy extends back and reaches forward
MCC connections began by sponsoring a Russian refugee in 1922
In 1922, only two years into MCC’s existence, John R. and Eliza Steiner sponsored Henry Penner, a Russian refugee, to travel to their home in northeast Ohio from what is now southern Ukraine. This act kicked off almost 100 years of service and connection with MCC through multiple generations of the Steiner family.
The Steiners provided housing and employment as they helped Penner gain his American citizenship. And when they realized their family farming operation wasn’t Penner’s preferred vocation, they purchased tools and materials for him to set up a blacksmith shop.
Marvin Steiner, John and Eliza’s oldest son, was seven years old when Penner was sponsored by his parents through Sonnenberg Mennonite Church and MCC. Metalwork soon became a passion of young Marvin as well. He loved working with steel and began creating new farming equipment as he eventually married and started a family.
“My six brothers and I learned the art of welding at the same time we were learning our ABCs,” said Dallas Steiner, son of Marvin and his wife Mary. “We were encouraged to innovate and build throughout our lives.”
Photo provided by Dallas Steiner
This laid the foundation for what would later become several successful family business ventures. But even more importantly than the business and innovation skills, Marvin and Mary impressed upon their seven sons the importance of serving and supporting others through MCC and other organizations.
Marvin helped to start the local MCC meat canning program in the Kidron area, and he served on the founding board that organized the first Ohio MCC Relief Sale in 1965. He was also active with Mennonite Disaster Service (MDS) in the 1960s and 1970s when it was part of MCC. “By being a son of Marvin and Mary, we all got to help early on in various ways,” said Steve, their son.
Their involvement and the encouragement they gave us brothers in our early formative years, instilled in us the interest of service and the want to be a part of MCC and its calling to share God’s love and compassion to all in the name of Jesus,” said Dallas.
This sense of service has spread deeply throughout the Steiner family. Steve served with MCC in a very isolated region of Chad from 1974-1977 working on agriculture and food security projects.
Photo provided by Steve Steiner
“Having been modeled a holistic view by my parents, I soon came to a greater appreciation for my Anabaptist heritage and the work of MCC,” said Steve. “I had the privilege of working with various organizations and NGOs, mostly faith-based organizations. MCC's holistic approach brought them to the top of the organizations that I rubbed shoulders with.”
Steve volunteered with MCC again in 2005 following the large tsunami in Indonesia to assess and begin implementing MCC’s five-year reconstruction plan. And he participated in a learning tour with MCC to South Sudan four years later.
Photo provided by Steve Steiner
Richard Steiner served in Madagascar from 1967-1969 and worked in agricultural education. Roy Steiner has given countless volunteer hours at the Ohio MCC Relief Sale and his wife Ruth works with quilts for the relief sale and at MCC Connections, a local MCC thrift shop.
Dallas and his wife Rhoda served together in Bolivia from 1979-1981. Dallas’ work centered on designing and making appropriate technology equipment for small, rural farmers, testing it and then helping business owners replicate production.
Photo provided by Dallas Steiner
“I loved what I did,” he remembers. “In my time in MCC, I was discovering more about what serving meant in the larger global world. When you can show love through economic empowerment and solutions, where you help unleash people’s potential to earn a livelihood, provide for their families and enrich their communities…that brought satisfaction for me.”
In 1975, the seven Steiner brothers formed Steiner Corporation producing agricultural and turf equipment. They also went on to form Venture Products. Both divisions have been sold off over the years as the business evolves, but the family’s commitment to service and faith remains at the core of their endeavors.
Fast forward to today, and Lydell Steiner is the fourth generation living with his family on Venture Heritage Farm between Kidron and Dalton, Ohio. Lydell, son of Steve and Beverly, also served with MCC working with sustainable agriculture and community development in Nicaragua from 2005-2008, where he met his wife Rebeca.
Photo provided by Lydell Steiner
“In serving, my faith and values are closely connected to the work of my hands and heart,” said Lydell. “What I believe has its greatest impact on those around me when I model and speak it through words and action.”
Lydell saw firsthand the importance of empowering farmers with appropriate equipment and products. “It’s very important that we move away from the extremes of independence and dependence and find the sweet spot of interdependence where all parties involved bring their time, talents and resources to the table to create a lasting solution.”
This approach has formed the foundation for Tilmor, the current company operated by this third generation of the Steiner family. Recognizing that small farmers are often overlooked by agricultural manufacturers, their goal is to offer effective, simple and accessible equipment to support farmers every step of the way.
Photo provided by the Steiner family
Through their experiences serving with MCC and working with other organizations like Mennonite Economic Development Associates (MEDA), the Steiner family wanted to be part of the solution. While the idea for Tilmor came out of Dallas’ MCC experiences in Bolivia, it is now owned by the next generation including Lydell and other family members.
“Developing tools and equipment that are scaled appropriately, with a focus on support and service, and access to fair credit can have a positive impact on farmers and communities that are seeking to increase food security for their families and community,” explains Lydell.
Photo provided by Tilmor
Building off the lessons they learned from their grandparents and parents and coupled with their first-hand experiences, they desire to be more connected to the end-user than traditional equipment dealers, both in the United States and globally.
“MCC Bolivia taught me the importance of encouraging and helping unleash entrepreneurship in the lives of those around me,” said Dallas. “MCC helped drive a passion within me to look at the world with bigger eyes and to look for opportunities that can help change the world. I am grateful for MCC for providing a solid and formative base that has been a part of my journey.”
Lydell points to not only his service experience with MCC in Nicaragua, but also growing up listening to the stories from his father and uncles and his family volunteering with local MCC initiatives like the relief sale. “My experience with MCC has really helped me get a better understanding of how to work and respond in the global world,” he said. “Our goal is to recognize the challenges our global neighbors face.”
Photo provided by Beverly Steiner
MCC connections within the family continue to reach deep. Two participants in MCC’s International Volunteer Exchange Program (IVEP) have had placements in recent years. Wilmar Gonzalo Caal Botzoc from Guatemala (2011-12) and Mizinga Choompa from Zambia (2017-18) brought their own skills and experiences to the Steiner farming operations and learned additional techniques to take back to their home communities. Caal Botzoc is now a Bluffton University student and serves as a student representative on the MCC Great Lakes Board.
In fact, the Steiners have been hosting IVEP participants stretching back to Mark Rockson from Ghana in 1984-85 and Walter Guzman from Bolivia in 1988-89.
Lora Steiner, daughter of Richard and Wanda, is another family member that chose to serve with MCC at the MCC Washington Office in 2003-2006.
Photo by Steve Steiner
As the next generation of the Steiner family grows up, the connections with MCC will no doubt continue to flourish. This summer, Steve and Beverly packed school kits with their children and grandchildren. And in October, family members of multiple generations volunteered to help with the local MCC meat canning.
“That decision to sponsor Henry Penner was one example of many acts of generosity and service in my grandparents’ and my parents’ lives,” said Dallas. “Service is intertwined in our family’s DNA. God has blessed us with this legacy and with this calling to strive to make the world a better place.”