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Friends of Michigan Vet's Homes
PO Box 150251
Grand Rapids, MI 49505
4200 Saladin Dr. NE
Kentwood, MI 49546
Life Story / Obituary
Lonnie Darwin Lehr was not the man who passed away, July 17th, 2013. Dementia had taken that man from us long before his final day. Gone was the creative spirit, the musical talent, the wonderful humor, the dancer, the athlete, the loving father and grandfather and all those other qualities that made him such a richly unique individual; beloved by all who knew him. No, the Lonnie we all knew had departed much too soon, but his departure could not and will not ever take our treasured memories.
He was born, December 12, 1940, in Doniphan, Missouri. The next 15 years would be spent in vagabond style. His parents, Darwin (Abe) and Barbara, nee Black, Lehr, would leave St. Louis, Missouri for Michigan, following family members who had settled there. All told, those 15 years would show Lonnie 18 different places of residence, and each would add another facet to his delightful personality Although he was quite shy, early on, he soon adapted and made friends very quickly. In the 6th Grade, he attended 5 different schools which might explain how he became so flexible.
An excellent student, he achieved all A's until he discovered bands in the 9th Grade in Grand Rapids. His early schooling, Kindergarten through half of the 6th Grade, began in one-room country schools.
A carefree, fun-filled country boy's life was changed dramatically in the Spring of 1950 when his wonderful Mom needed surgery, and was given anesthesia improperly. The resultant 2 year Coma, followed by her death in the State Hospital in Traverse City, MI, had a profound effect on Lonnie. He retained his ready humor and his positive nature, but seeing his Dad weeping and suffering a near break-down awakened a deep compassion and sense of responsibility that 9 year-olds usually do not have to deal with. Although her death was never talked about again, Lonnie was aware that many things could remind his Dad of his loss and the intense pain he suffered. So, he began a self-imposed vigilance while riding anywhere with Dad and his siblings, Don and Barb , watching for anything that he thought might hurt his Dad. Whenever he saw any of these, he would call his Dad's attention to anything that would cause him to look away, and not see the hurtful reminder. Whenever his Dad would have to leave Lonnie, Don and Barb alone, sometimes throughout a work day, Lonnie would be left in charge, and he performed his task superbly, caring deeply for the two younger ones. Cautioned sternly against ever using the Gas Range, Lonnie became expert at making Lettuce and Miracle Whip sandwiches, and preparing cold left-overs. This compassion and sense of responsibility became an integral part of him, a part that he never lost.
Lonnie excelled in nearly everything he attempted. Beginning Little League in Roscommon, MI with The Texaco Kids, the Coach recognized quickly that the skinny little kid had a great arm, so he became an outstanding third-baseman, and, more importantly, a fine pitcher. This skill followed him through the Little League Years, where he recorded a number of "No Hitters", and into High School at Ottawa Hills High where he shared pitching duties with Mickey Stanley, one of the heroes for the Detroit Tigers in the World Series of 1968 when they defeated our beloved St. Louis Cardinals.
He was a 200+ Average Bowler and played a fine round of Golf, however he never once succeeded in defeating Abe, which was a daunting task for many area golfers as well.
He enlisted in the Army and was a proud member of The 2d Armored Division "Hell On Wheels", stationed at Fort Hood, Texas. He loved the Army, and often said that he should have re-upped and made a career out of it. He could also bore you to tears with his Army stories. He never forgot the Buddies with whom he served.
He adored his children; Cindy, Carmen, Matthew and his Stepson Mark, and also his grandchildren. And, they loved him. He loved his siblings; Don, Barb, Steve and Mary. And they loved him.
He was an excellent Carpet-Layer for many years and a highly talented Model-Maker working in Styrofoam. He created an unbelievable model of a Full-sized Corvette for a company display, all out of Styrofoam.
But then, there was his music. His music was how he saw himself, how he defined himself, how he expressed himself. In 1951 a co-worker of his Dad, played the guitar. Lonnie watched and listened in complete awe, and was hooked before he ever held one.He convinced his Dad to buy him a Guitar.
Later his Dad took a job in Grand Rapids and was unable to take the kids along. Lonnie went to stay with his Uncle John and Aunt Louise Lehr, and Cousin Bill. This arrangement would be one of the most enjoyable times of Lonnie's life. Lonnie and Bill both loved being together, and they shared two passions; girls and guitars. Bill and Lonnie were inseparable.
When his Dad decided to re-marry and reunite the family in Grand Rapids, Lonnie chose to stay behind in Reed City to complete the 8th Grade. The little town remained in his heart as his "Home" for the rest of his life. After moving to Grand Rapids. He enrolled at Ottawa Hills High School where he quickly became friends with some other aspiring "Rock Stars". He had been bitten by the band bug, and scholastics lost it's luster, although he did stay just eligible enough to pitch baseball.
"The Rockbillies" were formed with Lonnie playing Rhythm Guitar. They were the first band from Grand Rapids to release a Rock 'n' Roll Record, and they released a few more, one of which climbed to #1 in Grand Rapids, and quite high on the charts in Chicago where the band appeared as guest artists on a Chicago TV show. The also made numerous appearances on WOOD TV's version of American Bandstand in the late 50's. The band continued to develop and evolve into "Bob and The Bandits", and finally into the '60's as "The Bobby Bond Trio". They appeared numerous times at the leading nightspots of that day. Lonnie was, indeed, a well-known, much-loved integral part of the 50's/60's and into the 70's music scene in Grand Rapids.
The family enjoyed following his musical adventures very much. But, what will stay with them as most treasured memories will not be the stage or TV appearances, but the times during Holiday gatherings, when Lonnie would sit down at his piano (self-taught, all by ear) and play nearly any song that was suggested, and he and his brother Don would harmonize by the hour. Lonnie always maintained that he couldn't sing. He was wrong. He sang very well, he just didn't solo, but for certain, there's a band in Heaven that just acquired a darned fine Piano-playing, Bass man who can sing along with anyone.
LEHR – Mr. Lonnie D. Lehr, aged 72, of Grand Rapids passed away on July 17, 2013. He was preceded in death by his parents, Darwin and Barbara Lehr. Lonnie is survived by his children, Cindy and Robert Wojczynski, Mark and Michelle Fowler, Carmen Lehr, and Matthew and Keely Lehr; 8 grandchildren; and siblings, Don Lehr, Barb and Jim Doyle, Steve and Becky Lehr, and Mary and Pete Dean. Friends are invited to meet with the family on Tuesday from 1-3 PM, with a Celebration of Life Service to follow, at Heritage Life Story Funeral Homes, 2120 Lake Michigan Dr. NW. Contributions in his memory to Friends of Michigan Veteran's Homes or Saladin Shriners would be appreciated. Please visit www.lifestorynet.com to read his lifestory, archive a memory or photo or sign the guestbook online.