Ernest and Verna Moyer started their business, Moyer’s Chicks, in Quakertown, Pa., in 1946. Through their business and their lifestyle, they instilled in their children – Ivan, Leon and Eileen – lifelong values of generosity, humility and compassion.
Their story is one of generosity and love across family, community and the world at large, spanning decades and impacting generations.
THE DREAM OF COMMUNITY
While still in their late teens, Ernest and Verna began assisting with a small Mennonite mission station outside Quakertown, an hour north of Philadelphia, initiated in part by Verna’s older brother Linford Hackman.
They married in 1936 and Ivan was born two years later. As their commitment to this mission work intensified, they and other like-minded Mennonite families decided to move there to start a new community infused with a gospel-centric lifestyle.
This plan was put on hold when Ernest and other community founders, World War II conscientious objectors, were sent to Civilian Public Service assignments in 1945.
Ernest kept the dream alive during his 15 months of service in Luray, Va. While visiting a Mennonite hatchery nearby, he had the idea to start his own hatchery once he returned home. He volunteered there for two weeks, receiving practical training.
“That was the sum total of his preparation for owning a hatchery,” his son, Leon Moyer, said with a chuckle.
Within a year of returning home, Ernest bought some land, built a home for his family and started his hatchery business. He famously made his first delivery of chicks in his 1941 Oldsmobile sedan during a snowstorm in January 1947.
Unbeknownst even to Ernest at the time, the hatchery would become so much more than a lucrative business, it would be a means for helping his community and missionaries abroad.
In 1950 Ernest became the lay pastor of the Rocky Ridge Mennonite Mission, and continued in this pastoral role into the late 1980s. In 1951 he also cofounded Quakertown Christian School, at which he served as board chair in its early years.
Everence Stewardship Consultant Franco Salvatori served as the Pastor of Rocky Ridge Mennonite Church from 2010-2020, where the family still attends, and had a chance to know the family and their generous tendencies.
“It is not an overstatement to say that the Moyer family embodies the biblical idea of stewardship,” he said. “While I may have been serving as their pastor, they were truly the ones teaching me about what it looks like to live your lives one hundred percent surrendered to God’s commands and the leading of the Holy Spirit. Their open-handed posture toward all that God had provided was humbling and has inspired me to want to live in the same manner.”
The Moyers were no strangers to trying new programs to help communities, and the family regularly engaged in mission work across the country and abroad.
In 1953, Ernest connected with Mennonite missionaries in Puerto Rico and began a partnership in which Moyer’s Chicks shipped them about 500 chicks every other week to eventually 10,000 weekly. They delivered the chicks in cardboard shipping boxes to what is now John F. Kennedy Airport, where they would be flown to the unincorporated U.S. territory.
Ernest also flew to Puerto Rico about four times a year to assist with agricultural and community development projects – and, eventually, opened a satellite hatchery on the island in 1960, which continued on into the 1980s. Occasionally the whole family traveled with him, providing opportunities for the kids to see their parents make life-long connections with Puerto Ricans and other missionaries.
“It made our family aware that the church was not just in our hometown,” said Eileen Knechel, Ernest’s daughter. “The church was a community around the world, and we had relationships with various people in many different countries, and we were all one.”
Meanwhile, business for Moyer’s Chicks was booming, with a growing customer base in both the U.S. and Canada. The company planned profit-sharing events for employees when capable – and even in less profitable years, the Moyers supported their employees with food and other assistance.
Between his mission work, his business, his family and being a pastor in his church, Ernest found a way to handily share his time with everyone.
“They did not leave us disappointed or feeling that somehow the church or business took their time away from us,” Ivan said of his parents.
A LEGACY OF GIVING
With Ernest and Verna at the helm of a growing family, generosity showed up in their modest actions: In the breakfast sandwich packed by Verna whenever her son-in-law had to drive a long distance for the company. In the unfailing level of trust Ernest had in the people around him. And in their quiet mornings of prayer and conversation in the living room to start their day.
It was no surprise, then, that giving would be second nature for their children. To them, sharing of their time and resources with the community and the world around them was all they knew, said Leon Moyer. In time, Ivan, Leon and Eileen also would pass these values to their children.
Cindy Moyer, one of Ivan’s children, said that passing on a legacy of giving was instrumental for her parents and grandparents. Cindy, her siblings and cousins were all taught that the spirit of sharing manifests beyond material possessions.
“God blesses us in a lot of different ways, like time, energy, skills and money,” Cindy said. “There have also been times in my life when I saw my family give of their time, energy and encouragement to community events and ministries they care about.”
Randy Nyce, Managing Director of the Everence office in Souderton, Penn., has worked with the family through gifting some property as part of their business succession planning.
He described the family as humble, servant leaders whose lives “exude a generosity of time, talent and treasure with the call of Jesus at the center.”
“I’ve been encouraged by the example that they have shown and look to them as examples for how to live my own life,” Randy said. “Yet, I know that their public witness is only a small portion of their generosity and service since so much of it happens quietly.”
Matt Novak, a retired Everence Financial Planner, worked with the Moyers during his time at Everence. He described being struck by their dedication to stewardship.
“2 Corinthians 9:7 states that God loves a happy giver,” Matt said. “The joy of giving and serving exudes from the Moyers, which is awe-inspiring and helps me become a better steward.”
HATCHING NEW PLANS
None of Ernest’s children felt obligated to return to the hatchery after going to school – Leon lived abroad for many years in Haiti and Bolivia, involved in mission work – but ultimately, they all returned to the family business.
Jeryl Knechel, Eileen’s husband, was quickly brought into the fold, as was Ivan’s wife Evelyn and Leon’s wife Karen.
Jeryl said Ernest and Verna were a big inspiration for his lifelong spiritual journey.
“They were always the same people, whether it was Sunday morning or Monday morning,” he said. “They always had a heart for people, to help them, encourage them or pray for them.”
Under the direction of a new generation of Moyers, the business continued finding ways to give back.
About 20 years ago, because of his previous international involvement in grass-roots poultry development projects, Leon joined a USAID farmer-to-farmer program.
Leon has since been asked to go on several two-week assignments to Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan and Ethiopia, assisting in developing best practice guidelines for these private poultry enterprises.
The Moyers also built relationships in Nigeria, exploring a potential joint business venture in the 1980s – which resulted in another life-long connection with Yakubu Gowon, the former Nigerian president.
Leon explained that, while the business venture didn’t pan out as originally planned, they had a part in helping Gowon start a movement calling Nigerians to prayer through the interdenominational group Nigeria Prays, a 25-year-old initiative that is still active today.
The business venture was a “dismal failure,” Leon said, “but that pales compared to what was accomplished because God wanted to put us in touch with people.”
Nowadays the family – having sold the hatchery and retiring in 2020 – is still active in the community, serving on boards and continuing their volunteer work in other ways. Ivan meets with a local group of community leaders from around the world. Leon and his wife help immigrants settle in the community. And Eileen and Jeryl donate hours of time and machinery work at Spruce Lake Retreat, a Christian retreat center and camp in northeast Pennsylvania.
Over the years the Moyers have seized opportunities to connect with people all over the world.
“It gave me a lot of hope,” Leon said of past “failures” as he described. “That what we see from our vantage point is not what God sees, and building those relationships is what’s most important.”
This article originally appeared on Everence’s website on January 2. Used with permission.