Zoar Community Association earns chamber award

Zoar Community Association earns chamber award
Lori Feeney

Craig and Shirley Stambaugh of Walnut Creek are just two of the many volunteers who make it possible for ZCA to operate with so few paid employees. Craig Stambaugh also is a member of the ZCA Board of Directors.


The Zoar Community Association has been named Organization of the Year by the Tuscarawas County Chamber of Commerce. ZCA and other award winners will be honored Feb. 1 during the 64th annual Chamber Awards at the Performing Arts Center.

ZCA is a volunteer organization dedicated to preserving the history and future of the small village settled in 1817 by Germans fleeing their homeland in the pursuit of religious freedom.

Just as Zoar has a lengthy and storied history, the ZCA has its own tale to tell. According to the book, “The Little Town That Thought It Could” by Dorothy Nixon Hodgdon, ZCA was founded on Jan. 11, 1967. The primary goal at the time was to prepare for the historic German village’s sesquicentennial or 150th birthday.

At the time, the association consisted of 35 members, mostly Zoar residents. Today, the ZCA has 175 members from all over the nation and Germany.

ZCA manages multiple museums and historic buildings and a gift shop in Zoar — along with Fort Laurens in Bolivar — with only three full-time and 10 part-time paid employees including docents. Volunteers donate hundreds of hours during the village’s fundraising festivals and as tour guides throughout the season.

Jon Elsasser, president of the ZCA Board of Directors, said the recognition is a testament to the volunteer efforts of countless individuals, beginning with Hodgdon.

“When you look back, it has been people like Chuck Knack, Dick Lebold, Donna Gardner, Jo Brown, Sandy Worley, so many people over the years who worked really hard to make ZCA and Zoar what it is,” Elsasser said.

Zoar native Lisa Geers, a member of the ZCA, former board member and frequent volunteer, nominated the organization. “If it weren’t for this passionate group of people, this historic village likely would not be what it is today,” she said.

Geers also pointed out ZCA’s efforts to keep history alive through its school programming. “A fairly new educational event called Zoar & The Presidents attracted more than 400 school children from around the area in 2022,” she said.

Geers also mentioned the flooding events that caused the Zoar Levee to begin failing and effort to obtain a National Historic Landmark District designation from the Department of the Interior.

“The Save Historic Zoar initiative worked tirelessly to get the landmark distinction,” she said. “It was a significant factor in getting the levee repaired and saving the village and the important history that lives on here.”

Elsasser agreed. “The flood of 2005 was the worst,” he said, “but we also had flooding in 2007 and 2011. That’s when the ZCA Board of Directors realized something was wrong with the levee and started working hard to save the village.”

Three options had to be considered by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the government organization that built the levee in the 1930s. One option would be to allow the levee to breach and flood the village. A second option was to repair the levee, and a third was to move the entire village to higher ground.

“We sought the National Historic Landmark District designation based on two facts,” Elsasser said. “One is that the story of Zoar is significant as being the longest-lasting communal society. Coupling that with the extent of preservation efforts made Zoar worthy of being a National Historic Landmark.”

The job of saving the village did not end there. “We did a lot of lobbying,” Elsasser said. “A lot of people wrote letters, and we had a lot of articles appear in newspapers and magazines, which drew a great deal of attention to Zoar. We received a huge amount of help from the Ohio History Connection and Bob Gibbs, who was our congressman then.”

The final decision was to repair the levee, with work by the Army Corps ongoing today but expected to be complete in the spring.

ZCA continues its efforts to preserve Zoar and its history in several ways. One is by purchasing historic homes and renovating them. This was done with the Tin Shop House and most recently with the purchase of the Cowherd’s House.

In 2014 ZCA took over management of Fort Laurens, the site of the only Revolutionary War fort in Ohio. A recent announcement by the OHC is credited with an uptick in attendance there, according to Tammi Shrum, site director for both the fort and Historic Zoar Village.

According to Elsasser, OHC has committed to improving the museum’s exhibits and to building at least a portion of the fort. “It could be part of it or it could be the whole fort,” he said. “There are studies being conducted, and then as part of rebuilding the fort, there will be a period of archaeology that has to be conducted.”

Why ZCA was chosen

“There were multiple nominations in this particular category,” said Scott Robinson, president and CEO of the chamber. “ZCA was selected by our panel of volunteers based on what they’ve accomplished and what they hope to accomplish in the future. ZCA is a great example of an organization that’s worked hard over the years to preserve their history and also to look to the future and set a direction for the long-term health of the village.”

Shrum said she was thrilled to hear the news of the award. “We’ve received other awards in the past, but this one is a little bit different because it’s coming from the business community. A lot of the other awards have been from the history and tourism world, so it’s nice to be recognized by our business peers,” she said.

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