Erie Sauder was born on his family’s farm south of Archbold to Daniel and Annie (Schrock) Sauder on August 6, 1904. As the oldest child, and only son, Erie worked on the farm from an early age. However, his true love was working with wood. At the age of 16, he built a wood lathe to use in the workshop on the farm. When you visit Sauder Village you can see that same lathe in the original shop from the Sauder farm now called Erie's Farm Shop. His reputation grew and neighbors would often bring woodworking jobs to him.
In 1927 Erie married his neighbor, Leona Short, and started a family. He worked several years at the Archbold Ladder Company, but in 1934 he decided to start his own woodworking business in a small building behind their home in Archbold. Leona, who probably intended to be the traditional housewife and mom, took a correspondence course in accounting and took on that job for the Sauder Woodworking Company until she passed away in 1974. The company suffered two serious fires, one in 1938 and a very devastating one in 1945. Erie’s uncle William Sauder died in that fire. Having lost everything in the fire, Erie was hesitant to rebuild. But the local bank and other businessmen in the community encouraged and supported the rebuilding process. Today, Sauder Woodworking is the largest maker of ready-to-assemble furniture in the United States and ships its product to many countries around the world.
As Erie’s sons, Maynard and Myrl, took on more responsibility in the business and Erie was looking towards retirement, his genuine love of his community and its history came to the surface. He worried that future generations wouldn’t understand the hard work and sacrifices that our pioneer ancestors made in coming to settle in this swampy area in northwest Ohio, known as the Great Black Swamp. Erie believed that people would understand history from interacting with knowledgeable and welcoming guides in historic buildings far better than just reading it in books. In 1969, he purchased an initial 15 acres of the Grime farm to establish his living history village, which opened to the public on June 14, 1976. In February of that year, he married Orlyss Short, a widow from Stryker, Ohio, and she became his partner and a volunteer costumed guide in the historic village. Erie could often be seen working with his maintenance crew out in the village, but he was never too busy to stop and answer questions from guests of all ages. He especially enjoyed seeing the thousands of school children come on their class field trips.
Erie Sauder’s generosity extended far beyond his local community. He was one of eleven businessmen who formed the Mennonite Economic Development Association (MEDA) in 1953. After World War II, Russian Mennonites fled to Paraguay. MEDA’s initial mission was to help these refugees establish new lives there. In the process, Erie made 18 trips to that South American country and worked with the natives there by teaching them basic skills that could lead them to self-sufficiency. Erie often said that his work there was the most fulfilling of his entire life.
Erie continued to dream and build at Sauder Village into his 90s. When the Sauder Heritage Inn opened in the fall of 1994, Erie and Orlyss moved into a small apartment at the Inn where they lived until he died on June 29, 1997. Sauder Village is his living legacy for the community and the region.