Howard J. "Babe" Leidy, 84, of Blackwood Terrace, Gloucester County, the longtime owner of Leidy Market who also served as president of the Union Fire Company and founded the Deptford Township Fire Commission, died following complications from surgery on Friday, Dec. 17, at Cooper University Hospital.
When large chain grocery stores in the area forced Mr. Leidy's family-owned market to close in 1986, he expressed his disappointment at the change in the milelong stretch on Good Intent Road, which once was lined with businesses.
"And now we're the last one, which proves that people don't support their local businesses," he told The Inquirer shortly after the market closed.
His slight bitterness, though, was due to the fact that Leidy's wasn't just any mom-and-pop store.
In addition to selling groceries and fresh-cut meats, the Leidys ran the town's dispatch center from their store and their home, which was attached to it, before the county's 911 system started taking calls in 1983.
Most of the store's employees were volunteer firefighters as well, and when anything went wrong in town, Mr. Leidy became an emergency coordinator.
"He would take off his butcher's apron, wash his hands . . . and off he went," said nephew Luke Thelen.
The store was started by Mr. Leidy's parents, Albert and Helen, in 1934.
As a child, Mr. Leidy helped out by delivering groceries in a wagon, his family said.
A few months before his graduation from Woodbury High School, Mr. Leidy was called to military service. He served in the Navy for the last two years of World War II as a butcher on an aircraft carrier in the Pacific Ocean.
When he returned to Blackwood Terrace, he became the main butcher at Leidy's Market, capitalizing on the skills he acquired in the Navy.
Throughout the years, he worked almost every job in the store. He officially took over the business in 1968 after his father died.
Mr. Leidy married Georgiamae Arnold, another local resident, in 1966. She died in 1977.
Leidy's Market changed locations four times, the last time in 1952. Each time, the family built the store and its new house next to each other, Thelen said.
Mr. Leidy sold the store to another nephew, Paul Lipman, in 1979 but continued working there until it closed.
He continued to serve area residents as president of the Union Fire Company, of which he had been an active member since 1943, until the time of his death.
Mr. Leidy also was a charter member of the Deptford Ambulance and Rescue Squad, formed in 1958. As a Deptford fire commissioner, Mr. Leidy oversaw the hiring of the township's first paid firefighters and the purchase of the company's first ladder truck in 1968.
Mr. Leidy also is survived by daughter Pamella M. Laipple-Marcus; two grandchildren; two great-grandchildren; and three sisters.
A viewing will be from 5 to 9 p.m. Tuesday, Dec. 21, and 8 to 10 a.m. Wednesday, Dec. 22, at Earle Funeral Home, 122 W. Church St., Blackwood. A Funeral Mass will follow at 11 at Infant Jesus Parish-St. John Vianney Church, 2901 Good Intent Rd., Blackwood Terrace. Interment will be at St. Joseph's Cemetery, Chews Landing.