Feature Stories, Newspaper Writing, Sample Work

At Ashmann’s, Just ‘Ask Lenny’

100_0783Brief version published in the 8/9/09 issue of the Suburban Journals/Collinsville Herald
Extended version is as follows:

            He’s the go-to guy. He’s the one to ask about how to treat a wasp sting, how to test blood sugar and how to relieve a sunburn or rash. “Let me ask Lenny” is a common phrase heard throughout the aisles of Ashmann’s Pharmacy in Collinsville.
            Lenny Locus, owner of Ashmann’s for the past 11 years, has been a fixture in the store since 1967. It’s not his hard work or long hours that most notice – it’s that he is a people person.
            “I’m accessible and can relate to people,” Locus, 60, said as he alternated between filling prescriptions and answering questions from customers. “If you have trouble, you come back,” he said after helping a customer operate a blood glucose monitoring system at the Main Street pharmacy.
            Born and raised in Collinsville, Locus was a frequent customer at Ashmann’s and knew the Ashmann family well by the time he graduated from Collinsville High School in 1967. “I used to come into Ashmann’s all the time,” Locus said. “When I was getting ready to graduate and was looking for a career, I talked to Joe Ashmann and he encouraged me to look at St. Louis College of Pharmacy.”
            Locus took Ashmann’s advice after exploring his options. “It seemed like the ideal thing because I enjoy people, science and chemistry,” Locus said.
            Completing pharmacy school ultimately became one of Locus’ proudest moments and one that brought him closer to his wife, Sandi, and his boss, Joe Ashmann. “It would have been difficult to get through pharmacy school without Joe and Sandi,” Locus said. “When I look back, I think that I might not have been able to make it without them.”
            After 31 years as an employee, Locus bought the pharmacy. Now, people come to him for help, yet he’s humble and light-hearted, often greeting customers with a permanent smile and a giggle now and then. Although his career is fitting, he said he contemplated the psychiatry field at one point. “I realized then that every good pharmacist is one [psychiatrist] already because you listen to people’s problems all day long,” Locus said.
            Problems come and go for Locus as well, as indicated by a twitch in his eyebrow. The twitch appears as he stresses over time consuming Medicare accreditation paperwork, slow payments from the State of Illinois and the possibility of a restless reindeer accompanying what Locus described as the “real” Santa Claus in the store during the annual holiday events.
            He also has experienced stress within his family life, coping with his wife’s two bouts with cancer and the reality that even though there is no longer any evidence of cancer now, it could come back at anytime. “Luckily, we’ve got a good family support system,” Locus said.
            That support system extends into the workplace. Sarah Smith, a pharmacy technician at Ashmann’s said her job is more like a family than work. John Koalblas, a customer who said he has known Locus since he was “shortly out of diapers,” said that Locus is a close friend, the primary reason he keeps coming back. “To me, there is no other store in town,” Koalblas said.
            “It is satisfying that people come here first,” Locus said. “They know that they have access to me and that I have the knowledge to help them.”
            The people in his life – family, customers, and friends – have shaped his helpful, people-oriented approach over the years, Locus said. From the time he played in the woods with his two brothers, Joe and John, to the time when he decorated his hubcaps with pink bows celebrating the birth of his daughter, Lisa (Halbrooks), Locus said he has been able to find the humor in life and within people. “My wife calls me a ham,” Locus said. “I like to tell jokes; I’ll admit that.”
            It may have been the jokes of a young cashier with a wide smile that brought the two together 38 years ago at the same pharmacy they now own. Locus said he was “attracted to her instantly” when Sandi Locus used to come into the drug store. “She had a big class ring around her finger every time,” Locus said. “Then, one day it wasn’t there, so I asked her out. We dated ever since, got married and lived happily ever after,” he said with a boyish smirk.
            As his daughter grew up, married, and had children, Locus said that “happily ever after” evolved into fishing and camping with his grandson, Matthew, and watching his granddaughter, Madison, explore volleyball and basketball. “Having grandkids is one of those joys in life I didn’t see coming – I didn’t realize it would be as much fun as it is.”
            Fun is clearly something Locus enjoys, whether it includes laughing at his daredevil grandchildren’s antics, joking with customers, or embarrassing his daughter, Lisa, while she works part time at the pharmacy.
            “What you see is what you get with my dad,” Lisa Halbrooks said. “You never know what he is going to say, but that is why people keep coming back – he acts the same way at home as he does at work.”

– Shannon Philpott


2 thoughts on “At Ashmann’s, Just ‘Ask Lenny’”

  1. Enjoyed reading this one. I assume you were able to find that newspaper somewhere yesterday. Your Mom is going to have to buy a bigger scrapbook for a very talented daughter’s writings.

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