Iowa town joins local Amish in mourning loss of three children, young father

The calls began pouring in soon after the news that three local Amish children and one of the children's young father had died after their van rolled over on a snow-and-ice-covered highway last week, says Delhi United Methodist Church Pastor Keith Pitts.

Many in the northeast Iowa town of about 500 are struggling with the deaths and wondering what they can do to help, said Pitts, whose congregation is raising money to help the families.

"We're a small community. Everyone knows everyone ... and the Amish are part of that community," he said.

While faith and culture separate them, Delhi non-Amish and Amish will mourn the losses together, said Shirley Helmrichs, a Delaware County supervisor who grew up near Delhi.

Delhi, a small northeast Iowa town of about 500, is rallying around an Amish community that lost three children and a young father in a crash Friday. This photo of an Amish horse-drawn carriage was taken in 2020 near Kalona.
Delhi, a small northeast Iowa town of about 500, is rallying around an Amish community that lost three children and a young father in a crash Friday. This photo of an Amish horse-drawn carriage was taken in 2020 near Kalona.

The tight-knit Amish "will wrap their arms around each other with nothing but love and support," Helmrichs said. "And many of us who are outside their Amish community will do the same."

Ervin J. Borntreger, 22, died along with his son, Marlin, 1, and nieces, Rebecca and Emma Borntreger, 2 and 4, respectively, from injuries they sustained when the van's driver, traveling west on U.S. 20 in Grundy County, lost control near Wellsburg at 6:50 a.m. Friday.

More:Vans like one in fatal Grundy County crash prone to rollovers

'He became a friend of mine'

The 15-passenger van, carrying 13 people, entered the median and rolled before coming to a stop in the eastbound lanes, ejecting four passengers, the Iowa State Patrol said. The nine other passengers were taken to area hospitals. None had been wearing seat belts, and the children weren't in car seats, a State Patrol spokesperson said.

Helmrichs said about 50 Amish families live near Delhi in Delaware County, just east of Buchanan County, one of the centers of Iowa's Amish population. Their Anabaptist Christian beliefs emphasize simplicity and self-sufficiency, and they eschew many modern technologies, traveling by horse and buggy, for example, instead of driving cars and trucks.

It could not be confirmed Monday whether the family in Friday's accident had a non-Amish driver transporting them, but Helmrichs said the Amish often turn to others to take them to places they otherwise would have difficulty reaching.

The Amish community is filled with craftsmen and women, many operating small businesses that have become important to Delhi, she said. Community members farm, run general and hardware stores, keep greenhouses, sell baked and handcrafted goods and roofing steel, and provide carpentry, roofing and other building services.

Ervin Borntreger built windows, some of which Delhi United Methodist Church recently had installed.

"He became a friend of mine,' said Pitts, the pastor, who called Borntreger quiet, hard-working and a devoted father.

Iowa State Patrol: Grundy County van rollover kills 3 children, one adult, injures others

Grandson, great grandchildren will be first to be buried in new cemetery

Pitts said the Amish community often supports Delhi school and church fundraisers, and Delhi supports theirs. The Amish community has four small schools in the area, Helmrichs said.

Ervin Borntreger recently volunteered a day helping United Methodist members work on a congregant's home.

"We're heartsick," Pitts said. "People are wrestling with the loss.

"The best thing we can do is pray and support the families," he added, saying other area churches and towns and Heritage Bank in Delhi are helping with the fund-raising effort.

Helmrichs said her friend Amos Christner, a founder of the Delhi Amish community, recently established a cemetery for the community. His three great-grandchildren and Ervin Borntreger, his granddaughter's husband, will be the first to be buried there, she said.

Community members will "each take a turn filling the graves" during the burial, Helmrichs said.

Donnelle Eller covers agriculture, the environment and energy for the Register. Reach her at or 515-284-8457. 

This article originally appeared on Des Moines Register: Delhi joins Amish community in mourning loss of three children, father