Jack Lehman was a quiet man with an unassuming presence who had a hand in an amazing number of projects and efforts to improve Fort Wayne. Rather than enumerate them all, which might be impossible, let us consider his contributions through the prism of his work with the English, Bonter, Mitchell Foundation.
Lehman was instrumental in establishing the foundation in 1972 as a tribute to Dr. Calvin English, Lincoln National Life Insurance Company’s first medical director, named for the doctor’s wife, Mary Tower English, and two other relatives.
Lehman, the CEO of Fort Wayne National Bank, took on the role of chairman of the foundation’s distribution committee and advised Mrs. English on how to use the foundation’s resources for the betterment of Fort Wayne.
Under Lehman’s guidance, the foundation began to support capital drives in the arts, education, economic development and social services. It has helped with building projects at the University of Saint Francis, the Fort Wayne Museum of Art, IPFW, Ivy Tech, Indiana Tech, Manchester University, Erin’s House and the Embassy Theatre. It funds the enormously popular Omnibus lecture series at IPFW.
There were few foundations here when English, Bonter, Mitchell started, said Mary Ann Ziembo, a member of the foundation’s distribution committee. This was a pioneer for what foundations can do.
Now, along with many other foundations (see breakout), English, Bonter, Mitchell helps provide the resources for good organizations to do good things.
Jack took the job very personally, recalled Margaret Sturm, who administers the foundation for PNC Bank, Fort Wayne National’s successor. This was his community.
You would not always have seen Lehman out front with the shovelers and the ribbon-cutters. Jack always took the back seat, said Ziembo. He was doing this for Fort Wayne.
Lehman encouraged people and organizations to come up with clear goals and solid projects and then got them the funding support to make dreams into realities. He told them, get your ideas together, then come to us,’ Ziembo said.
I think he weighed every single initiative, she continued. He was a visionary. He had a great gut.’ He could say, this is going to make it, or this is not going to make it.
Jack would listen, Sturm said. He was the best listener I ever knew. He didn’t need to speak a lot.
After the projects were funded, he continued to help and advise the groups.
In many cases, he served on their boards.
His work with English, Bonter, Mitchell, of course, was only a portion of Lehman’s civic involvement. He was president of the Fort Wayne Philharmonic board and chairman of the Memorial Coliseum trustees. Long before the TinCaps, Lehman was one of those who helped bring a minor league baseball team to Fort Wayne.
Lehman stepped back from those and other community leadership roles in more recent years, but even as his health failed, he continued to be involved with English, Bonter, Mitchell until his death Saturday.
We visited with him Thursday, Sturm said. We brought him materials from the upcoming meeting.
Talking with a writer Tuesday afternoon, Sturm and Ziembo paused as it hit them: To his last breath, Jack Lehman cared about making Fort Wayne a better community.