If you have followed my posts, you may know that my father worked at McKelvey’s and I worked there during high school and college. During the time I worked there, William B. McKelvey was president of the store, which had already merged with the Higbee Company. Lucius B. McKelvey, who was William’s father was a name we heard from time to time, mostly in connection with the Lucius B. McKelvey Society, of which I know little, except that its membership was composed of long time employees of the company.
In the course of the writing of this blog, I’ve come to discover that Lucius B. McKelvey presided over the store during some of its greatest years. More than that, he was deeply involved in civic and business affairs in the city, and in charitable efforts.
Lucius B. McKelvey was the son of G.M. McKelvey, the founder of McKelvey’s. Born in Hubbard on October 5, 1879, he attended Youngstown city schools, playing on the first Rayen High School football team of 1894. He went on to study mining engineering at Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He engaged in mining for several years in Idaho but returned to Youngstown in 1903 when his father’s health was failing. His father died two years later, but he did not assume the leadership of McKelvey’s until 1917, continuing as president until his death.
Due to his business acumen, he was tapped for several roles. In 1920, he became president of the Youngstown Club, a position in which he served for over a decade. In 1922 he became a director of the Mahoning Water Company, and later its president. This included administering the reservoir on the east side that later bore his name, McKelvey Lake. In 1933 he became the president of the Youngstown Chamber of Commerce.
His popularity in the Valley may well have helped Herbert Hoover win the 19th district’s votes for president. He was friends with his rival Isaac Strouss, and served as one of his pall-bearers when Strouss died in 1925. He was an approachable presence in the store, know as L.B., and rarely called “Mr. McKelvey.” He made an effort to get to know new employees. On Christmas Eve, he would be the last to leave the store. He was an active member of Esther Hamilton’s Alias Santa Claus Shows, winning an award on at least one occasion as the best “candy butcher.” He not only raised money for Christmas baskets but personally delivered some of them. This was only one of a number of charitable efforts including raising money for polio victims, and for the Community Chest. He received an award in 1941 for efforts in China relief.
He was in poor health for several months before his death but thought to be improving when he suffered a stroke on the morning of July 24, 1944, dying a few hours later. At the time of his death, the Red Cross has been trying to arrange a furlough for his son William, who was serving in Italy in the war effort at the time.
Lucius B. McKelvey was far more than the approachable, hard-working president of the G.M. McKelvey Company for twenty-seven years. He was a leader in Youngstown’s business community in giving back to the city and seeking its development. He unsuccessfully labored to bring airplane manufacturing to the city and believed diversification of its industry vital to its future. He was comfortable relating to the man on the street, the customer in his store, the indigent, and the powerful. I wish I had known him…