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Hard work, honesty and fair treatment

                                                                                                                                                                                                                     Photo submitted
Customers may remember the Friends and Sterling Huff doing business at JL Friend True Value and Hardware, at the corner of highways 32 and 63, from this October 1974 photo.

By Shari Harris
Co-Publisher

The Friends have been involved in the lumber business in Licking for more than seven decades and through four generations. It started in the early 1940’s, when John David and Zelma (Candy) Friend began a sawmill operation on Prescott/Hartville Rd. near where the city maintenance shed is currently located. Over the decades, the family business has undergone many changes, both in area of emphasis and generations. Through it all, they have been a vital part of the growth of Licking and remain a steady presence in the community.
John and Candy had two sons, James Lee and David Dale. Jim married Audrey (Kimrey) Friend and they purchased J.D. Friend Lumber Company from his parents in 1963. David attended college and went into the oil business.
When asked what year he started working with the sawmill, Jim said it would have to be 1933, when he was born in their family’s home, located where Town & Country Supermarket is now. When he was in second grade, they moved to the west side of town. He said he always remembers working at the mill. He hauled logs, head sawed, delivered lumber and when they added a planer in 1950, he built a lot of windows. The windows and doors made with the planer added to an expanding list of building supplies sold by the Friends. In 1951, Jim graduated from high school and went into the family business full time.
Jim and Audrey’s children, Brian Friend and Beth (Friend) Mares, have childhood memories of the sawmill as well. Beth states, “My earliest memory was of playing in sawdust piles…on Hartville Road.”
After the second-generation purchase of the company, Sterling Huff, who had been managing the store, stayed with Jim and Audrey in that same position. Jim and Audrey purchased land from Lloyd Alley when the new highway went through in the mid-‘60s and built J.L. Friend Lumber Company in the current location.
                                                    Photo by Shari Harris
Audrey and Jim Friend were the 
second generation of the family 
involved in the lumber 
business in Licking.
Items would come to Salem by rail at that time and then were trucked to Licking where they had to be unloaded by hand. Over the years, many people from the Licking area have worked at the hardware store and lumberyard. Don Ramsey and his family worked in the yard, as did Aron Breedlove, Arthur Johnson and Herman Harris, to name a few. At the end of 1978, Brian Friend was the third generation to join the family business full time.
Jim focused on building and in the 1970s he formed Licking Construction and Development Corp. and began taking on large construction jobs. Jim believes he did about 200 jobs in and out of state, including eight nursing homes, three or four schools and many houses and housing units, including the senior housing subdivision in Licking. Don Hadley was superintendent for him on many projects, and he teamed up with Gerald Harris Construction Company several times. Local construction also included the old city hall, which was built the same time as the hardware store, four different housing projects, Friendly Village Shopping Center, the Fox Fire Station, Licking Residential Care, houses throughout town and he helped with an addition to the First Baptist Church. Brian Friend built houses at the Crow addition. Mark Duncan and Scott Huff managed the construction company for the Friends. The large-scale construction ceased in about 2010. Local construction projects continue, but are managed as a part of the lumber company.
The hardware store also underwent changes over the years. In 1970, it became a True Value Hardware Store. In 1993, when Radio Shack and U.S. Cellular franchises were added to the store, Beth (who had taught after college) and husband Bill Mares began helping more with the business. They joined Linda (Uher) Friend (Brian’s wife), who keeps them organized and Audrey Friend, who did the bookkeeping until it was time to computerize the work, then Brian and Linda’s daughter Megan (Friend) Roark, a fourth generation for the family, joined the team. Becky Harris is another vital part of the hardware store; she has been there 30 years and does their ordering. Greg Green is a familiar face there as well and works with contractors as the estimator.
                                                                                                                                                                                                              Photo by Shari Harris
The third transformation of the family business – Friend Lumber Company – is owned by the third generation, Brian and Linda Friend.
The hardware store and lumberyard have been owned by Brian and Linda Friend since 1997 and is now Friend Lumber Company. The family has expanded their enterprises in several directions, owning three different farms with cattle operations managed by Brian and Linda’s son Evan Friend, Friend Fitness operated by Brian and Linda’s daughter and son-in-law, Kelsey and Chad Gillaspy and Sugar Maple Estates which was formed to build and manage rental properties in Farmington, Licking and Houston. Kelsey and Chad also work at the lumberyard, as does Evan, who manages the rental properties in addition to his other duties.
When asked what the business means to the family, Jim states, “It’s made us a good living. We’ve helped a lot of people. I miss it since I don’t do it much now.” Brian likes that, “being in a small community, you get to know your customers.” The ability to remain living in a rural area while still making a living has been important to him. Beth appreciates that “it’s a sense of family...family relationship.”
The longevity of Friend Lumber has been fortunate for the family and the community. Over the same decades it has been operating, many other businesses have left the community. Car dealerships, grocery stores, clothing stores and many others have not been as fortunate. Brian related some of their success to the fact that they are a lumberyard and a hardware store, not exclusively one or the other.
The Friends are grateful for the support of the community and the surrounding area, which has been vitally important; many local employees not mentioned also contributed to building the business. They serve about a 50-mile radius of customers whose loyalty to the store is key.
Family also figures largely into their survival; John and Candy Friend’s belief in “hard work, honesty and fair treatment for and by their fellow man” has been carried down through the generations. With the added diversification of the fourth generation, it looks like Friends have established a business foundation that will keep them in Licking for many more decades and generations.

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