Emilie Ann Lenhart passed away peacefully Friday, January 6, 2023, at Mercy Health Defiance Hospital. She was 84.
She was a tireless, fierce and intelligent woman. She embraced everything she did with warmth and compassion. She raised seven children, along with her late husband, Dr. Ben Lenhart, and supported her kids in pursuing their passions. She made brave choices and loved every minute of life.
As a resident of Defiance, Ohio for the last 55 years, she ranged far and wide in civic matters. She was the driving force in several successful historic preservation campaigns. She helped established the Holgate Avenue Historic District. She opened the first bed and breakfast in Defiance, the Frank Baker Inn, which she owned and operated for 17 years, hosting bridal showers and reunion parties among other events. A lifelong Catholic, she served on the school board at St. John's Catholic School and sang in the church choir for over 30 years.
Born May 5, 1938, in Iron Mountain, Michigan, she came from a family of farmers and teachers in Wisconsin. The town they lived in when Emilie was born didn't have its own hospital so her parents, John and Lorraine Fischer, drove to nearby Michigan for the delivery. Emilie was the oldest of seven siblings. She won a math scholarship to attend Mount Mary Women's College in Milwaukee, Wisconsin's first four-year, degree-granting Catholic college for women. In 1958, she married Benedict Lenhart, a student at nearby Marquette University Medical School. Emilie and Ben had their first child, Julie, in April 1960 and both graduated on the same day a month later, a coincidence that was captured by the local newspaper that same day with their newborn daughter.
They moved to Ann Arbor where Emilie taught high school history while Ben completed his medical internship and residency at the University of Michigan and at St. Joseph Mercy Hospital. Their next move was to the Akron area, where Ben joined a medical clinic, but they had to move again within a year when Ben was called to serve as an Army doctor at Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio. During their two years there, Emilie began coursework toward her master's degree in literature.
The family moved to Defiance in 1968 to be near Ben's family and to be close to the farm where he grew up in St. Michael's Ridge. Ben restarted his medical practice while Emilie pursued her master's degree and taught college writing at Bowling Green State University. They bought and restored their longtime home at 516 Holgate Avenue, part of the original estate of William Holgate, the founder of Defiance County. From their new base, the couple reared their seven kids and became big boosters for the community. The lessons Emilie taught, she did not say out loud. She was always reading books. She was always discussing events. She was always taking joy in nature and the outdoors. Her example opened the world to her kids.
She is survived by her children: Julie, Grass Lake, MI; Jennifer, Smithtown, NY; Benedict and his wife, Carol Priest Lenhart, Hillsboro, VA; Betsy and her husband, Willard Sunderland, Cincinnati; Peter and his wife, Deb Diehl Lenhart, Grand Rapids, MI; Chris and his wife, Michelle West Lenhart, St. Paul, MN; and Sarah and her husband, Mark Webster, Fort Wayne, IN. She also is survived by her 15 grandchildren; her brothers, Norman and James; her sisters, Mary Therese and Ann Marie; and many nieces and nephews. She was predeceased by her parents, John Fischer and Lorraine Christianson Fischer; her husband, Benedict B. Lenhart; and her brothers, John and Paul.
A funeral mass will be held at 11am Wednesday, January 11, 2023, at St. Michael's Ridge Catholic Church. A graveside service will follow in the church's cemetery.
In lieu of flowers, please send a donation to Holy Cross Catholic School in Defiance.