Ky. Baptist goes from making buildings to making shoes

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SHELBYVILLE, Ky. (KT) – John Lawrence wasn’t counting on going into the shoe business after working construction for 25 years.

But after working a couple of years in the shoe-leather business with a good friend from church and longtime shoe business owner, the opportunity came just the same.

And Lawrence, a Kentucky Baptist and member of Farmdale Baptist Church in Frankfort, has a big heart for those in need and he saw the need with orthopedic shoes. So much so that he began taking classes to earn a state certificate bringing him just a notch below a licensed podiatrist. He still must take a board exam.

Lawrence’s love for making and building shoes is parallel to his love for helping people.

The way he could best do that was to purchase the T&G Shoe Repair from friend Doug Kirk in downtown Shelbyville, where a shoe business had operated for almost 90 years. However, because of Medicare and the American Act of Disability requiring there to be "at least 10 parking places in front of the business", the store had to be moved. It was renamed Shoe Magic in the Village Plaza Shopping Center in Shelbyville.

The grand opening was last week. The Red Wing Store features orthopedic insoles and technology to scan feet for the perfect size. His pastor, Steve Weaver, was the first customer at the new store last week.

"John likes to give and serve others," Weaver said. "I didn't know about the gift given to the shelter until I read it on Facebook. He gave a shout-out to our church and that encouraged me a lot. So many times churches are in the news for all the wrong reasons."

Lawrence found out immediately how he could help others through the shoe craft.

“I started helping this guy (Doug Kirk) in the shoe store and we ended up having people come in who were diabetics that had lost toes because of it,” Lawrence said. “I got interested in trying to help people in this kind of situation, to make their life a little easier.”

His compassion for people and passion for building were stitched together in creating shoes that would make a difference instead of using heavy equipment on a construction site.

“This has been a weird undertaking,” he said. “I wasn’t looking for another career. I was trying to help out a guy at church. I kind of enjoy that kind of work and just started helping him.”

In his family construction business, which they sold, he had an employment roster of about 60 with 50 trucks and 50 pieces of equipment. He traveled a lot and worked 70 to 80 hours a week.

“When we sold the business it was a big shock but more to my wife than anybody else,” he said. “I said, ‘I’ll go help Doug.’ My wife came with me. When I came in, I knew everybody in the store. I told Doug, ‘If you can teach me how to repair shoes, it would be fun.’ I really got wrapped up in it.”

Lawrence said he suffers from gout. Kirk measured Lawrence’s feet and ordered him a pair of shoes that were the right size. He saw the difference shoes that fit correctly can make. He also said building shoes for a young woman from Madison, Indiana, who lost part of her foot in an accident had a monumental effect on himl;o[.

“We built her shoes up 1 ½ inches. She was missing 75 percent of her foot,” he said. “You couldn’t tell much was wrong with her. She didn’t want to take her shoes off in front of anybody. But I was able to make some measurements and make something fit. She cried. That’s when I told Doug, ‘This is what I want to do.’’’

Kirk, who was ready to retire, sold the business to Lawrence. He had to move the store and found a room full of stitched and leather shoes, about 200 in all, that needed a home. He knew a friend from a former church where he was a member in Frankfort who ran a soup kitchen.

“They were good shoes but maybe 1970s or 1980s style and I wasn’t going to be able to sell them,” Lawrence County. “But they were good shoes. He agreed to come up and get them. Then I found another room with 120 boots in them, including some steel-toed boots.”

Some of the men who came to pick up the shoes and take them to the soup kitchen and shelter had been saving money to buy steel-toed shoes for possible jobs.

“I told him to take whatever he needed,” Lawrence said.

They came with two trucks and also loaded up some coats and bibbed overalls.

When Lawrence was a member at Memorial Baptist in Frankfort, they made a regular trip to eastern Kentucky and gave shoes to the needy. It made a lasting impression on him.

“What we did, we’d go every year to Lynch, Kentucky, the week before school started and they’d have a thing for kids,” he said. “There was a lady who cut hair until the line was completely empty. We had taken up shoes all year long and we’d wash the kids feet and give them a new pair of shoes.”

He tried to donate the shoes to the mission, but they didn’t have room for them, he said.

"John is such a good person," his pastor said. "For me to find out accidently or second hand about what he was doing in the community and speaking up about our church was so encouraging," Weaver said.

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