|Volume LVIII||May 2011||Number 2|
A Modern-Day Renaissance Man
Finding a passion makes us men. Striving for perfection in every aspect of life makes us Freemasons. When a man embraces his Masonic journey and makes the most of it - we reserve one title for him:
Bro. George Kehm, Oakdale Lodge No. 669, businessman, family man, man of faith and man of his word, lives up to that ideal.
"There are two things a man can miss in life: if you don't experience living on a farm and if you don't become a Mason," Bro. Kehm said. His life has been enriched by both.
Bro. Kehm, named after his father, George, was the youngest of five children in a close-knit family. At age 8, Bro. Kehm was milking cows and by age 12, he helped his father with the thrashing on their farm and neighboring farms. At age 14, in a moment of accomplishment and pride, Bro. Kehm drove the tractor thrasher for the first time. As he grew older, he took evening classes at the University of Pittsburgh while working during the day.
At age 20, Bro. Kehm began working in operations for Texaco, where several of his bosses, including Tom Rathburn, A.J. Hawkins and Bob Fisher saw his potential and helped him grow within the company. "I owe so much to so many people," he said.
As a 25-year-old, Bro. Kehm went with some friends from church to check out Oakdale Lodge, and he and his friend, Bro. Jimmy Cooper, both joined.
A year later, Bro. Kehm became a hero. As a Texaco employee, he had almost finished helping to pump a barge when someone was careless with an open flame. The result was catastrophic as the barge exploded, shooting fire 20 to 30 feet high. Bro. Kehm threw two injured men from the barge into the river. Later, he visited them in the hospital. Both suffered from severe burns, but they had Bro. Kehm to thank for their lives. He was lucky to sustain no injuries from the incident.
After the explosion, he entered into sales with Texaco. While many people strive to give 100 percent in their careers, Bro. Kehm gave 200 percent. Within his first year, Bro. Kehm won a national sales award. The next year, he was promoted to fuel representative.
As a fuel rep, Bro. Kehm had the opportunity to visit many facilities, see how they were run and evaluate how they could have been managed more efficiently. To succeed at Texaco, Bro. Kehm would have had to commit to traveling and moving. Partially because he wanted to remain close to his parents, who had been instrumental in his life, Bro. Kehm decided to move on from Texaco. "They made me a great offer to stay, but I resisted," Bro. Kehm said. "I was very close to my parents. They were a huge help to me."
1960 was a big year for Bro. Kehm. He moved out of his parents' house when he married his wife, Eleanor Ann. He tried out for the Pittsburgh Pirates and learned that his fast pitch was slightly below speed for the major leagues. He also founded his own business. Bro. Kehm's friend, Bill Yeckley, was selling two used 1,000-gallon Chevy trucks. Yeckley held the trucks for six months while Bro. Kehm earned $6,500 to buy them, and with the purchase on Nov. 1, 1960, he started Kehm Oil Company.
"I was very, very, very fortunate. You have to be in the right place at the right time," he said.
At first, Texaco paid Bro. Kehm to haul their products. He started supplying service stations with gas, and homes and commercial companies with heating oil. At the time, he put in 10- to 14-hour work days. When a service station in Oakdale was for sale, Bro. Kehm's sister wrote him a check to purchase it and expand his business. "She always watched out for me," Bro. Kehm said. "She was like a second mom to me."
To further Kehm Oil Company, "My parents were fantastic to me. They gave me 4.5 acres to build the facility," Bro. Kehm said. When he accidentally built one of his buildings five feet too close to a road, Bro. Kehm's father, at age 76, showed him how to roll back the entire building.
Kehm Oil Company has evolved greatly over the years. In 1982, Texaco pulled out of the greater Pittsburgh market, and Bro. Kehm purchased all 17 of its service stations. He wisely paid off the buildings in just 18 months. At the same time, he started Golden Oil Company as a holding facility for Kehm Oil Company's growing needs and distribution.
Kehm Oil Company now consists of three buildings, including a lube facility constructed in 2000, on the 4.5 acres of farmland that Bro. Kehm's parents provided. The facility also includes a storage capacity of 60,000 barrels of fuel and 300,000 gallons of bulk oil. In 2011, Kehm Oil Company will supply other facilities with about 360 bulk loads of oil and make approximately $50 million. "We have a very nice place here," Bro. Kehm said. "I keep everything very neat and very clean. ... We hose the trucks down every night. If you don't hose your truck off, don't bother to come back the next day."
A total of 45 employees make Kehm Oil Company, along with service stations and four TJ's Deli Marts (named for Bro. Kehm's daughter, Terri, and son, Jerry, member of Oakdale Lodge No. 669) productive. The company now delivers heating fuel to residential and commercial customers and loans necessary equipment to the businesses it works with. It stores gasoline and diesel fuel; fuels barges, which typically require 40,000 gallons of fuel or more; distributes motor oil to all of the Ford dealers in the greater Pittsburgh region, including areas in Pennsylvania, Ohio and Maryland; and provides petroleum products for Shell service stations.
In 2004, three feet of water flooded two of the company's buildings. While the top of Bro. Kehm's desk was still visible, the water saturated even the top drawers. The damages came in at a whopping $2 million. While others expressed doubt, "It never crossed my mind that the business wouldn't survive," Bro. Kehm said. On Sept. 17, just days after the flood, they started cleaning up. By Feb. 18, 2005, the facility was ready for operation again. However, a buildup of salt in the furnace caused by the flood and lack of use started a fire the following Monday. It was fairly contained to the furnace and nothing Bro. Kehm couldn't overcome.
That's the kind of leader Bro. Kehm is -positive thinking, hardworking and expectant of those around him to put forth their best effort.
"It's awful hard to get people to work," he said. But he credits Kathleen Popivchak, secretary/treasurer, for the important role she's played in the business for the past 37 years. "Kehm Oil Company may not have survived without her," he said. Kathleen works six days a week and always arrives at 6 a.m. She is known for getting the job done. "You always give work to people who are busy because they're the ones who get it done," Bro. Kehm emphasized.
He sets the bar high when it comes to work ethic. His official title is owner, president AND truck driver. Bro. Kehm drives an average of five days per week and estimates that he's driven 5.5 to 6 million miles in an 18-wheeler during his lifetime. On weekdays, Bro. Kehm arrives at his office at 5:50 a.m., and on Saturdays, he pushes that back to 7 a.m. He normally leaves around 6 p.m. and checks in every Sunday after attending church. "From 1960 to May 2008, I probably hadn't missed three days of work," Bro. Kehm said. In 2008, he suffered from a back infection and underwent surgery. "My back is better now than ever before."
"People tell me, 'you work too hard.' I tell them, 'show me someone who's ever died from working too hard. ... Find a guy who's 80 and can do what I can do, and I'll do what he's doing.'"
His work ethic must be hereditary because Bro. Kehm's son, daughter and son-in-law, Alan Conoshuto, P.M., Centennial Lodge No. 544, Carnegie, all work for him. "If anything, I expect more out of them than others," he admits. "I always told them I'd educate them by paying for their school and build them a house." Now, his children and five grandchildren (Colby, Cameron, Chloe, Erica and Maggie) live by Kehm Oil Company in houses built on the farm where Bro. Kehm grew up. Bro. Kehm cannot help but praise his grandchildren for their accomplishments. They are creative, smart, talented and accomplished at young ages.
Family remains important to Bro. Kehm. Kehm Oil Company only closes one day a year: Christmas. However, one year, Jerry told Bro. Kehm that there was a problem and that a Shell station in Cincinnati, Ohio, needed two loads of oil the day after Christmas. Bro. Kehm had his son stay with his young children and got everything ready himself. He left for the city at 2 a.m.
That level of service is what makes Kehm Oil company so unique. "Everyone has fuel. Everyone has this or that, but we give service," he said. Kehm Oil Company has a party room that can seat 150 to 200 people. Every spring, Bro. Kehm invites all of the local Ford dealers for a gathering, just to show appreciation for their business. He also hosts an annual Christmas party for his employees.
Even with such an active business and family life, Bro. Kehm has found ways to make community service a priority. Besides Oakdale Lodge, Bro. Kehm also belongs to Syria Shrine and Royal Order of Jesters Court No. 2. "Freemasonry grows with you and helps you along," he said. "Tom [Sturgeon] and I are great friends. I look up to him even though he's younger than I am. He has accomplished a lot."
Bro. Kehm has been active in his lodge. He installed the air conditioning and heating in the lodge building, and put his excellent memory to use by helping a fellow brother memorize the rituals. In 2005, a flood swept through the lodge hall. So the next stated meeting could proceed uninterrupted, Bro. Kehm hosted the meeting in his party room.
"If I have one regret, it would be that I didn't spend more time with the fraternity," Bro. Kehm admits. "Masons play hard, and they work hard. They give an awful lot. ... I would have liked to go on and become Worshipful Master."
Nevertheless, Bro. Kehm's impact on the community is significant. He served on the board of directors for the Pennsylvania Petroleum Marketers and Convenience Store Association. As the president of the Parkway Authority, Bro. Kehm led a team of people in planning the construction of schools in eight local school districts. The project was completed on time and within budget. He also served as the president of the board of trustees at Oakdale United Presbyterian Church for 26 years, a position Jerry now holds. The church has a special place in Bro. Kehm's heart because as a child, he was the first person baptized there.
In regard to "free time," Bro. Kehm indicated: "I'm down to 24 hours in a day." However, he still likes to follow sports, especially baseball, golf and football. He belongs to The Club of Nevillewood, and goes golfing with friends and his son two or three times a week when the weather is nice. He and Jerry still have a winning team.
Despite his busy schedule, Bro. Kehm always remembers what it means to be a Mason - to be a Modern-Day Renaissance Man.
"You need to have some people who really enter into your life and help you," he said.
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