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Published: Monday, 10/23/2006

ONU plans sculpture in honor of founder

Lehr Lehr

Undeniably short and downright scrawny by some accounts, the founder of Ohio Northern University will be a respectable 7 feet tall when his bronze likeness is unveiled on the campus in Ada next fall.

With a $75,000 gift from an anonymous donor, Ohio Northern has announced plans to commission a bronze sculpture of Henry Solomon Lehr, a Civil War veteran who founded the university in 1871. The sculpture is to be about 1 1/2 times life size.

"It's going to be easily visible from Main Street. That's the idea," explained John Lomax, a professor of history at ONU who proposed the statue.

Mr. Lomax said Mr. Lehr stood 4-foot-11 and weighed 123 pounds when he entered the U.S. Army at age 23. By all accounts, he never weighed much more than that and was always photographed with a beard.

"He had a very erect bearing," Mr. Lomax said. "He always stood up very straight. He maintained a military bearing all the way to his death."

William Robinson, executive assistant to ONU President Kendall Baker and chairman of the sculpture committee, said the university wants the sculpture to be a realistic likeness of Mr. Lehr. It will be the first such commissioned sculpture on campus, where the administration building, Lehr Memorial Hall, was named for him.

ONU has begun advertising for proposals from artists, which are due by Dec. 1. It hopes to award the commission by Feb. 15 and have the sculpture completed and installed next October.

Mr. Lomax said the idea to memorialize the university's founder with a sculpture sprung from the construction of the James F. Dicke College of Business building two years ago.

A walkway was built between the Dicke building and one of the oldest buildings on campus, the 1915 Hill social science building.

"In the middle of the sidewalk they put a round garden that's not too far from Main Street, which is the front of the campus," Mr. Lomax explained. "I thought that needs a statue. I kept waiting for a statue to show up, and it never came."

It seemed appropriate, he said, that a sculpture of ONU's founder be placed between the newest and oldest buildings to symbolize how Mr. Lehr's original vision for the college has continued to today. That vision, he said, included teaching the liberal arts as well as professional training "with a strong dose of citizenship mixed in."

Contact Jennifer Feehan at: jfeehan@theblade.com or 419-353-5972.

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