GRAFTON — It was the quietest day in Village Hall that Joe Price could remember.
Council members and staff alike were devastated at the sudden death of Council President John Lescher on Wednesday morning, he said.
“I think we were all truly shocked,” Price said. “This was unexpected.”
Lescher, 71, had been undergoing chemo and radiation therapy for throat cancer. Price said Lescher’s prognosis was good, he thought he was “the person that was going to beat this.” Only missing the past two Council meetings, the village was reeling at his unexpected death.
“He was just a positive role model for everybody,” Price said. “(He) always would encourage me, just call me up and give me friendly advice. Called me up to talk, always wanted to know ‘Are you doing OK?’”
A councilman for Ward 3 since 1985, according to the village website, Lescher was elected Council president in 2016. He was up for re-election this year — Mayor David DiVencenzo remembers the phone calls he received from Lescher reminding him to pull his petitions.
DiVencenzo said Lescher was like a father figure, and credits Lescher for his position as mayor. The veteran councilman drove DiVencenzo to the county Board of Elections to pull petitions before his 2011 election and said what he learned from Lescher made him a better community leader.
“He said ‘Look, you need to be mayor.’ He kept on me. It was time for elections and he said, ‘Come on, we’re going for a ride,’ and drove me to the Board of Elections,” DiVencenzo said, laughing.
All flags at the Village Hall will be flown half-staff in Lescher’s honor, the mayor said.
“When there was contentious issues, John had a wealth of knowledge from being around 30 years,” he said. “He’s seen about everything, so he’s going to be greatly missed.”
A retired village firefighter, Lescher was a proud father and grandfather. DiVencenzo said before council meetings, he would give members updates on his grandchildren, sharing their latest stories.
He is survived by his wife, Susan, daughter Mandy and six grandchildren. His son, John, died in May. DiVencenzo noted Lescher was close to his son and was still mourning his untimely death.
Lescher also was a Vietnam veteran. He served in the Army infantry from 1971-72 carrying a radio in the 101st Airborne Division. And as time went on, he made it his mission to make sure no veteran would be forgotten.
Heavily involved in the local Veterans of Foreign Wars post, Hinkson-Hysell Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 3341, Lescher was a founding member of the Soldiers of History, a veterans group dedicated to educating residents on America’s military service. When performing, each member wears either a replica or authentic uniform from the conflict they represent — from the French and Indian war to modern conflicts.
The group used to perform in Cleveland’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade in full uniform, representing service members in historic and current conflicts. As its members aged, they were no longer able to march in the larger parades, but still participate in information sessions and programs. He also created the Soldiers of History museum at the post — and always was on hand to let kids try on his own Vietnam fatigues or helmet or talk about the artifacts crammed in the small room, post commander Rick Logue said.
“He was very conscientious about all veterans, but about primarily Vietnam veterans because he was a Vietnam vet,” he said.
Logue, a Navy veteran, has known Lescher “off and on” for the past 30 years, working with him on the Village Fire Department and living just blocks away. In his younger days, he said, Lescher liked to have a “good time” but has always wanted people to be informed about the wars the country had been involved in, and get the “honest picture put out.”
He said Lescher would tell kids about parts of serving in Vietnam and that one of his “greatest joys” was keeping that history alive. Logue said Lescher had suffered some health complications due to Agent Orange exposure in Vietnam.
Logue said members of the post and the Soldiers of History will provide the honor guard and gun volley for Lescher’s funeral. The post plans to dedicate its museum in Lescher’s honor, the commander said, and follow his rule that nothing is thrown out or sold — if it is no longer displayed it will be returned to the families.
“In my opinion, he was just one hell of a patriot,” Logue said. “Very, very proud of our country.”
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