A life of service — Lehman’s Hardware founder remembered for helping others

PHOTOS PROVIDED

At left, over the past few years, Jay Lehman enjoyed restoring antiques and even after retiring from the store he founded, he was seen at Lehman’s and around the town that he loved.

Group photo: From back, Glenda, daughter, Galen, son, Duane and Wendy (daughter), Kevin (son) and Jenn; front row: Sherri, Galen Lehman’s wife, Emma Lehman and Jay Lehman on a family vacation in Chicago. 

KIDRON When a new acquaintance asked Jay Lehman what he did for a living, he answered simply that he worked at a hardware store.

The soft-spoken hard-working Kidron man who founded the iconic Lehman’s Hardware 65 years ago on the square in Kidron is remembered fondly as wearing blue jeans, a work shirt, and carrying a hammer. He was prepared to help anyone, or fix anything at any time.

He died July 26 at age 91.

“He told us he was ready,” said his daughter, Glenda Lehman Ervin. “We were too. It’s an end of an era for Lehman’s and for my family. But he lived a long fulfilling God-fearing, satisfying life, and touched a lot of people all over the world.”

At age 25, Jay Lehman bought the small hardware store in his beloved hometown of Kidron, which he called “God’s country.” But in the early years of store ownership he answered a call to service that took him to the other side of the globe.

Lehman already was familiar with traveling. Before purchasing the store, he had volunteered as a mechanic and truck driver in Germany after World War II for a team that built refugee housing.

When Lehman’s son, Galen, was only a year old, he and his wife, Ella Mae, moved to Zaire. Lehman’s Hardware was smaller at the time with only six employees. Jay Lehman’s brother, Dave, and his father, Ezra, ran the store in his absence.

Lehman spent a decade in West and East Africa. He also spent nearly a year in France, working to organize the Mennonite World Conference in Strasburg in the early 1980s. In his lifetime, his travels for volunteering and pleasure took him to 70 countries. He was known for planting thousands of trees – everywhere he lived and worked. In Africa, Lehman organized safaris and trips for church and secular groups under the wing of Mennonite Central Committee. Jay and Ella Mae’s second child, Glenda, was born in West Africa. Kevin was born in Nairobi. Youngest daughter Wendy was born in New York City. After the family moved back to Kidron, all four children graduated from Central Christian School.

“And then the business really grew,” Ervin said.

Galen Lehman worked at the store starting in high school. Several years ago, Galen took over as CEO. Ervin is vice president of marketing.

In its 65 years, the business has brought in hundreds of thousands of visitors to Ohio, has employed hundreds, and has provided income for local Amish vendors.

Read the complete story in the Aug. 5, 2020 e-edition.

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