The UN mourns the passing of founding descendant and longtime administrator, Dr. James Lehr Kennedy


The Ohio Northern University is saddened to announce that Dr. James Lehr Kennedy, the great-grandson of our Founder Henry Solomon Lehr and an influential university leader in his own right, passed away on Tuesday, February 15 at his home in Columbus. , Ohio. .

As we celebrate our 150th anniversary, the UN community will always be grateful to Jim and the legacy he generously fostered. His vision, commitment and innovation have shaped the University in a way that will always have a positive impact on our campus and the world.

Ohio Northern President Dan DiBiasio described Jim as “truly a friend to the entire UN. His love for this institution and the pride he felt in his special family bond meant the world to him, and he meant the world to us.

Jim’s great-grandfather founded the UN in 1871. As a child, Jim spent many summers with his grandmother, Sara Lehr Kennedy, in Ada, Ohio, where he discovered his great-grandfather and the educational institution he built. As an adult, he served on the UN’s governing body for 23 years and became a life member of the UN donation society named after his great-grandfather, the Henry Solomon Lehr. Society. In 2017, the UN awarded him an honorary doctorate in business.

Like his great-grandfather, Jim dedicated his life to making the world a better place and he lived a life of humility and kindness. He was an entrepreneur who built three successful businesses; an inventor who developed the industry standard for a disaster warning system; an artist who created beautiful works in glass; and a philanthropist who helped many projects, including the UN Engineering Building, come to fruition. His accomplishments were fueled by his insatiable curiosity and firm belief in the power of ideas.

The James Lehr Kennedy UN Engineering Building, which opened in the fall of 2019, serves as a grand visual and functional representation of Lehr’s ideology. Designed and built to encompass open spaces, natural light, clean lines and cutting-edge technology for collaboration and inspiration, the building places the UN at the forefront of engineering education. Jim was the building’s primary benefactor with an eight-figure donation commitment, and the building now and forever bears his name. In addition, he created, donated, and personally supervised the assembly of the “Tower of Inspiration,” a magnificent glass sculpture in the building’s atrium.

Jim holds a Bachelor of Science in Economics from the College of Wooster and a Masters in Economics and MBA from The Ohio State University. He founded the multinational company Twenty First Century Communications, which he later sold, and also founded two additional companies, Next Future, LLC and Crystal Remembrance. He was a part-time lecturer in economics at Ohio State for 12 years, instructing over 6,000 students.

A frequent visitor to the UN, Jim recently commissioned his company Next Future Films to produce an extraordinary feature-length documentary on the journey of the UN from its founding to the present day. This past holiday season, he donated a Christmas tree for the campus which started a new campus tradition of a tree lighting ceremony.

Jim once said he felt blessed to be able to support the institution created by his great-grandfather 150 years ago. His humble words remind us that we can all make a difference. “As a UN administrator, I saw the continuum,” he said. “Many people have supported the University over the years, helping it to thrive and become what it is today. It’s a permanent legacy that’s bigger than anyone else.

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