BOURBON — Off-the-wall riddle of the day: “What do the Smithsonian Institution and a pork chop have in common?” Off-the-wall answer: “Larry and Sharon Lemler — grand marshals of the 2013 Bourbon SummerFest parade.”
Meat processing and museum-making have been the passions of this very interesting couple for the last 54 years, making them ideal candidates for the honor to be bestowed on them Saturday, Aug. 10, as the small town festival begins.
“Hard work,” said Sharon, when asked what characterized the Lemler legacy.
“Partnership” would be another descriptor of this couple, which has worked closely together all these years. Both Lemlers attended Bourbon High School, where Sharon was in 4-H, softball, and active in the Cheer Block, and Larry was a band member.
The real story, however, begins with Larry’s father Daniel, an entrepreneur with his hands in many different pots, including farming, raising beef, coon dogs, and lumber. The work ethic began then and has continued to this day with all members of Daniel’s family, including Larry and his two brothers Noah and Irvin and their offspring.
Lemler Meat Locker, the business which Larry and Sharon run today together with son Jeff, is a perfect example of unending toil and dedication with a personal, hands-on approach. As the story goes, Daniel’s brother Willard owned an IGA grocery store in downtown Bourbon. He always needed supplies for the store’s meat counter. Daniel, because of this and home butchering his parents had done, always wanted a meat saw. One day a man approached Daniel with a meat saw for sale, and Daniel bought it. Bear in mind that he had no formal training in butchering, and had never worked in a meat processing operation, but saw the profit potential in the meat saw. He arranged purchase in 1947 of the current Lemler Locker building across from Willard’s store and remodeled it to conform to butchering requirements. He began the business hoping to provide employment for his nephew, just coming out of military service in World War II. The nephew decided after six months that meat processing was not for him, and Daniel took over the business himself, which is now in its 66th year of operation.
Move now to the enterprising Lemler sons. Irvin and Noah worked in the areas of farming and lumber, and took over those operations from their dad. Irvin began a maple syrup business, which is carried on by his family today. Noah specialized in the lumber business which his family continues to operate. Larry, who had helped in the meat locker growing up, just continued in that operation, realizing that he liked the work and needed nothing else. Wedding bells rang in 1959 as Larry and Sharon tied the knot, and Sharon became his daily worker and partner at Lemler Locker.
In the early days, animals were slaughtered at a different location and meat chunks (quarters) were transported to the Locker by hand. That was heavy, grueling work. The Lemlers devised a trailer with rails in it which allowed transportation of the quarters quickly and easily as the meat can then be slid right into the Locker on rails. This system is still in use today.
In 1965, Daniel “retired” from the business, and Larry and Sharon began running it themselves along with son Jeff, who grew up with meat processing. Always specializing in beef and pork only, Lemler Locker continues to expand, with a high demand for its top quality product. Some customers book slaughtering a year in advance, especially for the weeks right after the Marshall County 4-H Fair, when demand for services is high.
So much for the pork chop. Now, what about the Smithsonian? Sharon and Larry have an ongoing fascination with memorabilia from local schools, including Etna Green, Tippecanoe, and their own Bourbon High Schools. This passion resulted in an ever-growing desire to collect and display pertinent items. Beginning in the basement of their Shaffer Road home, the Lemlers began showing their collection to friends and interested residents. Realizing that elderly people could not easily navigate the stairs, however, they moved their growing museum to their garage.
Then, as people donated additional items, a second garage was built to house the additions. From there, another shed added more space, creating a Smithsonian-like atmosphere with multiple locations. Besides school memorabilia, a section was added for a butchering museum featuring antique equipment. Then, yet another section houses antique tools of all sorts. The “Lemler Museum” is not open regular hours, but visitors are always welcome to call and make an appointment to tour the facility. Conveniently, Larry and Sharon are always accessible at Lemler Locker in Bourbon.
Besides these two passions, the Lemlers enjoy taking vacations, and have visited every state in the U.S. except Oregon and Washington. They also do not drink coffee, which means that their work ethic must come from within, not from stimulant chemicals.
There are no better examples of local pride and hard work than Larry and Sharon Lemler — grand marshals of the 2013 Bourbon SummerFest parade.