Auntie Anne's goodwill

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As a traveler, you may have seen at one time or another an Auntie Anne's pretzel stand because they're common at airports (as well as shopping malls). The story of why Anne Beiler founded the company will give you something to think about the next time you're hungrily eyeing a pretzel at an airport gate.

Two decades ago, Anne, then 38, began selling pretzels at an Amish food stand. Her goal was to earn a little extra cash to help support herself and her husband Jonas while he went to school to become a family counselor.

In their Amish-Mennonite community, Jonas was going against the grain by training to become a counselor. The community didn't believe in therapy, preferring that every person figure out their emotions quietly and separately.

Here's how reporter Joseph Shapiro makes this point in an NPR story this week:

Thirty years ago, the Beilers' infant daughter was killed. The Beilers, like many people in the Amish–Mennonite community at that time, kept their grief hidden, even from each other. Only when they started attending counseling several years later, was their marriage saved.

As noted, Anne started her pretzel business to get some extra cash. Little did she know that her pretzels would turn out to be wildly popular, and that her business would expand to more than 900 franchises worldwide and give about $1 million a year to charities.

Meanwhile, over time Jonas and others have persuaded many people in Amish–Mennonite communities that counseling can be helpful without upsetting the community's traditions.

The change is most noticeable in the town of Nickel Mines, Pa., where a year ago this week a local worker stormed into a one-room schoolhouse and shot 10 young girls, killing five. Counseling sessions are being said to be making a big help for the grieving parents in making life bearable again.

Yes, this story is unrelated to travel. But I've shared it anyway because I know that the next time I'm at an airport, I'm going to look at the Auntie Anne's pretzel stand a little bit differently.

Earlier: Godspeed to a traveler's hero.

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