Generations of Clay County residents remember the late John Lynch for the variety of talents he had to offer the community and the prominent businesses he ran for decades, one of which still carries his love of hard work, family and animals.
John was raised on North Harrison St. with his 7 brothers and sisters. His parents, Hugh and Etta Fischer Lynch, were avid animal and plant lovers who raised prize-winning Dahlias in the 1930's and made funeral baskets. Hugh worked as a coal miner to support his family and eventually his job got the best of him and he became too ill to work. To help with his family's expenses John got a job at Bolin's Grocery just a few years before he would open his own thriving operation.
In 1934 he opened Lynch Bros. Grocery Store at the corner of Pinckley and Alabama Streets. Truly a family operation, any family member who wanted to work at the grocery store could, and many did, including John's brothers Lester and Huey, his sister Helena, his wife Evelyn and brothers-in-law Albert Foreman and Tom Glenn.
Descendants of immigrants, John's parents instilled a strong work ethic in him because they knew that people had to know how to work hard if they were going to be successful. His love for grocering quite possibly came from his family. Before John worked at Bolin's, his Aunt Florene and Uncle Willy Fisher had a store in the front room of their house on Hendrix St. that he enjoyed visiting.
John's niece, Mary Lou Sartor said, "I've never seen a family so work-stricken."
During The Great Depression John used the grocery store to help families in the community by running credit tabs on groceries. Most people couldn't afford to pay him so, they paid him back in labor or barter and he gladly accepted it. He always gave kids candy because the entire Lynch family loved candy. It was like gold to them.
"He always was a candied ham, that's for sure," John's only child, Tom Lynch said.
It was also like gold to the kids who received it because it was such a precious commodity at the time. According to Tom, children of Lynch Bros. customers, now in their 60s or 70s, still talk about the candy that John gave them to this day. Mainly because it was the only candy they had. So, going to the grocery store became a highlight of their week.
In addition to helping people during the Depression, if John found a family in need at Christmastime he made sure they had food for the holiday and he always made sure that all of his employees and their families were taken care of.
Since the grocery store was so close to Forest Park, Tom would use the golf course as his babysitter while his dad was at work. John was very proud of his son's golf game and tried golfing with him for about three years. John decided it was all right for his boy to golf but for him to do so was frivolous.
Most things other than work were frivolous to John. Always with his nose to the grindstone working everyday of the week at the grocery store or farming the land at his home or on Twin Beach road. John rarely took time off except to visit with his wife's family in Kentucky a few weekends a year. In 1981 he took his first and only week-long vacation to Florida, the only week he could afford to take away from his jobs.
The corner grocery remained in business until 1978 when large chain stores moved-in and killed the era of little grocery stores but Lynch Bros. Grocery Store was one of the last one's standing.
John started selling a few mums at the grocery store and then started growing them at his house on North Kennedy's Crossing Road in 1963. What started as a hobby blossomed into a business where once again, the whole family pitched-in. Tom helped his dad with the planting and Evelyn helped with the picking.
Over the years he added more varieties and by 1983 he grew 300 varieties making Lynches mum farm the largest in Indiana. That same year Tom left his job with CBS and started helping his dad full-time. Tom built a greenhouse and expanded their gardening area from one-half acres to 4. In addition to mums, the Lynches sell fresh seasonal fruits and vegetables. When America got on a big health food kick, John traded the candy he used to give children for healthier treats like bananas and apples.
The farm is crawling with animals, cats, turkeys, cows and a dog. John began raising chickens, turkeys and cows. He rescued a lot of animals over his lifetime including every stray that came to his door. At age 91 he rescued the family's pet collie, Sassy, by performing the Heimlich maneuver on her after she choked on a hot dog. He resuscitated a cat that passed out in a cat food can and brought a newborn calf into his basement to keep her from getting frost bitten on her winter birthday. The cow did suffer damage to her ears and "Frosty" was never butchered.
"We were always astounded by the way animals responded to him. He talked to them in a whisper," Cindy Beck, Tom's long-time girlfriend, stated about John. "I saw him petting a hummingbird he had rescued and a red downey woodpecker that survived being hit by a car."
Tours would come through the farm with John leading them around showing them every attraction that the farm had to offer. Including his menagerie of animals. During the tour John was accompanied by his dog, Peaches. The sheepdog mix pup had been abandoned and was running across U.S. 40 when John found her. She became his constant companion, following him everywhere and patiently waiting his return from across the road or beyond. Peaches also served as a playmate to any children that were waiting for their parents to pick out mums. She loved the attention from the children and the parents enjoyed being able to conduct business without interruptions. Family members say that children who went on the tours were always fascinated by the furry sidekick and still talk about her today.
"Johnnie didn't really 'train' his pets but treated them as though he was raising children and just instinctively knew what the rules were," Cindy said.
John was also known as a very dapper dresser. No matter where he was or what the weather was like he wore a suit, tie and a dress hat. At 92 he still insisted on driving himself to appointments dressed to the nines.
"That was a part of Johnnie that made him so special," Cindy said.
John passed away on Dec. 27, 2003, at the age of 97.
"He loved life. He loved this community. He was just a happy man as far as appreciating life and nature and he fed everything," Tom said.
"He lived his life to the fullest in the way he wanted to live it," Mary Lou added.
John's legacy of animals, hard work, and of course, mums can still be appreciated today at Lynch's Greenhouse where Tom and Cindy are carrying on business as usual the same way that John taught them to.