Jimmy Lehr's open pine casket was parked on the dance floor of the All Around Bar as about 100 family members and friends paid their final respects to the man who died Feb. 7 after having pulmonary disease and congestive heart failure. The unusual circumstances of the funeral weren't lost on those in attendance, but it fit Lehr's outsized, one-of-a-kind personality, with clergy easily mixing with beefy tattooed men and his wife and at least one ex-wife mingled.
The casket, built by friends in about 15 hours earlier this week, was surrounded by flowers and placed near where Lehr's fourth (and last) wedding, to Patricia, was held in 1996.
In a mix of Saturday night and Sunday morning, Lehr, 58, was eulogized by many, including bar owner Dave Karlson, several of Lehr's four children and 10 grandchildren, and third ex-wife, Cheryl Lehr.
Chaplain Janine Folks, who baptized Lehr a few years ago, said the longtime All Around employee "eulogized himself in life" by sharing stories with so many.
"I never met a more pure heart than this man," Folks said. "He was real."
Despite the unorthodox location, Folks said she was honored to participate - and she made a few modifications herself for the service.
"I've never done a funeral in camouflage pants," she said, adding she donned them in honor of the avid hunter and angler.
Howe-Peterson Funeral Home in Taylor worked with the bar and transported the body. Funeral home officials say it was a first for them but said everything was handled appropriately and according to law.
The blue-collar locale, which also served as the site for Lehr's Wednesday night wake, was his workplace since 1986, Karlson said. The bar's name fit Lehr's responsibilities over the years, which included stints as a bouncer, doorman and manager.
All types of people were welcome in Lehr's universe, a man Karlson described as "a gatherer of friends and people."
"I'm No. 3," Cheryl Lehr said at the start of her eulogy, adding that they remained close despite divorcing after four years. She said she was "honored" to make the wedding cake for Jimmy Lehr's marriage to Patricia, and helped her successor take care of her ailing husband last summer.
"I truly believed that because he was such a loving man, he was searching for a perfect partner. He found that in Patti," Lehr said.
Both Cheryl Lehr and Karlson spoke of Jimmy Lehr's past, which included a tough upbringing, wild behavior and struggles with alcohol. But he started to calm down and take control of his life in the late 1980s and early '90s, they said, particularly after an out-of-control night and a heart-to-heart talk with Karlson.
"This relationship," Karlson said, gesturing to the people seated around him, "meant too much to him and he didn't want to give it up."
Anne Marquette said the one thing she most often heard Lehr say was, "I'm Jimmy," particularly to newcomers walking in the bar's front door. Soon, most were friends, she said, even people he had to kick out.
"He had a way with people. ... There wasn't anybody who came in here who didn't know Jimmy," said Marquette, who worked as a server at the bar years ago and considered him "the brother I never had."
"This is where his heart was," she said.
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