Salute to soldiers, service

The family of Joe the Plumber took what might have been just a business event and turned it into something special and uniquely American.

Instead of hosting a retirement party for one of its workers and the company’s 80th anniversary celebration, Lohmeyer Plumbing had a ceremony Friday — Veterans Day — largely focused on honoring military veterans among their employees and their own family.

The event featured the raising of the American flag on a new flag pole by the Young Marines group. Columbus Mayor Jim Lienhoop proclaimed Friday as Lohmeyer Plumbing Day, and retired two-star General Mark Pillar of Columbus also spoke to nearly 100 guests in attendance.

While it was the 11th day of the 11th month, this special observance took place about five hours after the city’s official Veterans Day observance concluded outside the Bartholomew County Courthouse.

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The highlight was the raising of an American flag for the first time on a new electronic flagpole by 10 members of the Young Marines organization, ranging in age from grade school to high school.

The company had planned to have an open house after moving into its new location at 4555 Progress Drive early last year, said Betsy Elwert, a fourth-generation member of the family business.

But after moving a block north of the former location, a wave of brisk business kept the focus on taking care of day-to-date operations, she said.

When they finally got around to picking a time for a public celebration, someone in the family noticed the chosen date was near Veterans Day — and the idea of tying the occasions together was born, Elwert said.

For owner Joe Lohmeyer, a prime reason for Friday’s event was a desire to honor retiring longtime employee and Vietnam War veteran Conrad Hittle, who served from 1965 to 1970 in the U.S. Marines.

The Lohmeyer family has always placed a high value on patriotism and military service.

Many of those values began when Louisville native Fred Lohmeyer (1896-1975) joined the U.S. Navy during World War I.

Following his military discharge, he married Columbus native Pearl Hoeltke Lohmeyer (1896-1970). One year later, daughter Anna Lohmeyer Fushelberger (1920-2006) arrived, followed by Henry “Bud” Lohmeyer (1922-1999).

When Bud was 14, Fred Lohmeyer was ready to stop working as a contractor for other plumbers. So father and son established Lohmeyer Plumbing Co. from the basement of the family home at 1323 Cottage Ave.

Since the Great Depression was in its final days, things were still tough and the parents grew and sold flowers to supplement their income as Bud worked and continued his schooling.

But after World War II broke out, Bud Lohmeyer followed in his father’s footsteps by joining the Navy in 1942. He would complete his pilot training in May 1944.

A few years after returning to civilian life, Bud married Lois Schwartzkopf Lohmeyer (1927-2006) in 1948, and the couple had four sons: James, John, Jerry and the youngest, Joseph L. “Joe” Lohmeyer.

After getting his college degree in business in 1976, Joe Lohmeyer had no desire to join the family business. But out of concern for his father’s failing health, he got his plumber’s license and took over the company that same year.

While plumbing may not be a glamorous profession, what Joe Lohmeyer and younger members of his family — such as daughter Elwert — came to appreciate is that it is a well-paying and stable career.

And demand for services isn’t about to slow.

In fact, the plumbing field is expected to grow by more than 20 percent during the next six years, according to the Occupational Outlook Handbook.

While plumbers certainly get their hands dirty, workers in the profession are not at risk of losing their career to machines and cannot have their jobs outsourced for cheaper labor overseas, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.

During the 40 years that Lohmeyer Plumbing has been under Joe Lohmeyer’s watch, he has grown the Columbus company from a small shop to one that employs nine¬† plumbers, uses eight service trucks and maintains about $100,000 worth of inventory, Ewert said.

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World War I: Louisville native Fred Lohmeyer serves in the U.S. Navy before moving to Columbus.

1936: Lohmeyer Plumbing founded in basement of family’s Cottage Avenue home.

1942: Fred’s son and business partner, Bud Lohmeyer, serves in World War II as a Navy Pilot, and returns to the family business after the war. Bud and Lois Lohmeyer had four sons: James, John, Jerry and current business owner Joe Lohmeyer.

1965 to 1970: Before becoming a longtime employee of Lohmeyer Plumbing, Conrad Hittle serves as a Marine during the Vietnam War.

1966: After his father retires, Bud Lohmeyer takes over the family plumbing business.

1976: Due to his father’s failing health, Joe Lohmeyer becomes sole owner.

1986: Lohmeyer Plumbing Co. moves to first location on Commerce Drive, just north of Lowell Road.

2000s: One of John Lohmeyer’s son, Steve, serves four years in the Indiana National Guard.¬† Steve’s brother, Chris Lohmeyer, joined the Special Forces and remains on active duty today.

2015: Lohmeyer Plumbing moves to its current home, about a block north of its former location.

2016: Lohmeyer Plumbing celebrates 80th anniversary in Columbus on Veterans Day.