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“Mr. Wilmore” 

Leonard Fitch is a local legend 

MENTION THE NAME LEONARD FITCH to most any longtime resident of the Jessamine County community of Wilmore and you’re likely to evoke a tender smile and memories of some of the soft-spoken 83-year old storekeeper’s lifelong acts of kindness. 

“He is the most loved man and revered man in this town,” says Wilmore Mayor Harold Rainwater. “He’s a special, godly man. He makes you believe in mankind; that there’s more good than there is anything else.” 

Fitch operates the local IGA Foodliner, which his family has owned since 1956. His father owned a grocery, a dairy and other businesses in northern New York state, but had studied at Asbury College and later relocated to Wilmore at the urging of friends there. 

Leonard enjoyed working on the dairy farm as a youngster, and wanted to be a veterinarian. But from age 16 until graduation from what now is Asbury University, he worked in the grocery. And now, 68 years later, he’s still behind the meat counter or elsewhere in the store on most days, moving about with the help of an upright walker. 

“I decided real early that this is where my heart was,” he says. 

Yet his heartbeat echoes well beyond the grocery. It’s often said that he has conducted more funerals in the community than all the local pastors combined, and many who know him whisper of his quiet generosity to those in need. On Thursday evenings he hosts a Bible study in a stockroom at the grocery. He’s been a member of the city council for 52 years. 

“Leonard has the biggest heart of anybody I know in town,” says IGA customer Kathy Milans, recalling his many charitable gifts, and food drives for families during the Thanksgiving and Christmas seasons. Hundreds of children stream into the store each Christmas for a visit with Santa, treats and a stuffed toy provided by volunteer helpers. 

Blue Grass Energy consumer-member Teresa Murphy recounts that when many items were in short supply during the Covid-19 pandemic, out-of-towners often found what they needed at Fitch’s IGA. 

Recent months have been difficult. Leonard’s wife of 63 years, Emily, the mother of their four children, passed away in January. She was a teacher and helped with bookkeeping at the store. 

Business isn’t what it once was, and only one checkout lane is open on some days. But loyal customers still show up to shop and to greet Leonard with a hug or handshake, and he’s on a first-name basis with most. 

“Hey, Donald, how’s that leg doing?” he asks a customer, then waits to hear the latest medical report. 

Breakfasts, fresh doughnuts and plate lunches around midday await regulars and visitors at tables in the deli, where many have gathered for years. Maybe they come for the food, or perhaps they’re just hoping to spend more time with Leonard Fitch. 

“He is ‘Mr. Wilmore,’” says Rainwater. “He’s everything that Wilmore embodies, everything we say we are, and everything we’d like to be. 

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