A 'peachy keen' memorial for Gommel

By KRIS REILLY, Editor

Anyone who ever asked Ernie Gommel how he was doing was likely to hear two words: “Peachy keen.”

The phrase was repeated often on Saturday as roughly 150 people gathered at the Lucerne Valley Community Center to remember the Lucerne Valley Market and Hardware founder, who died Nov. 10 at age 91.

Bill Lembright, a longtime market staffer, friend of Gommel and member of his church group, explained the reason for the phrase.

“Gommel always hated hypocrisy and empty chatter, which included greeting people with ‘How are you?’ when they really didn’t want to know how he was and didn’t expect an answer,” Lembright said. “When he was asked ‘How are you?’ he started answering ‘peachy keen’ just to say something different. But then he decided he meant it, and it helped him to actually be peachy keen. That seemed to communicate to many people, especially when he would follow up with, ‘Are you peachy keen?’ And then he would listen to the answer, and he really wanted to know.”

Microphones were passed around the room, and dozens of people reminisced about Gommel’s humor, his toughness, his work ethic, his distaste for government bureaucracy, his dislike of handshakes because “friends don’t shake hands,” his Christian faith and his belief that God led him to Lucerne Valley 37 years ago to serve the community.

Gommel didn’t like having pictures taken of himself, didn’t enjoy birthday parties and didn’t want a memorial service.

“I know Ernie’s looking down on us and he doesn’t like it,” Victorville-based businessman Joe Brady said, “but this is one time when he doesn’t get final say.”

The standing-room-only crowd featured friends, customers, current and former employees, local leaders and a few notable out-of-towners, among them State Assemblyman Tim Donnelly and County Supervisor Robert Lovingood.

Cliff Earp of Apple Valley, a board member of Hitchin Lucerne, Inc. (which owns the market), said a few words about the store’s future.

“Lucerne Valley is very lucky to have what’s here,” Earp said. “You won’t find a market like that in any town of less than, I’d say, 25,000 people. ... I just want to let you know that Linda (Gommel), Bill and Jan (Lembright) are committed to continuing. I know a lot of people are wondering, ‘What’s going to happen to the store?’ Well, the store is there. The seed’s been planted. It’s a pretty darn good tree and it’s got good roots. ... We have good commitment, good staff and good support.”

Nonetheless, many in the crowd seemed to think that the store won’t be quite the same without the man in the blue jumpsuit roaming the aisles.

Holding back tears, local resident and charity volunteer Diane Holland said: “Nobody knows what this market has done for Lucerne Valley. I know, personally, because I’m involved with a few things. And I know the staff is still there, it’s still going to support this community, but by God, I’m going to miss peachy keen.”