29 November, 2022

James Fehl: A Man Who Continued to Do Good

by | 6 September, 2022

By Kay Moll 

(Kay Moll shared these thoughts about former Standard Publishing editor James Fehl, 87, when she spoke at his funeral service on Aug. 27. See our obituary for Mr. Fehl from last week.) 

The apostle Peter wrote to people who were suffering and challenged them to “commit themselves to their faithful Creator and continue to do good” (1 Peter 4:19). James Fehl, who passed away on Aug. 21, 2022, in Lebanon, Ohio, did just that. 

JIM FEHL

Jim’s story is a remarkable one. He was born in Deer Park, Ohio, on Dec. 8, 1934. He was baptized by Harvey Bream at the Montgomery Road Church of Christ in Montgomery, Ohio, in 1949. He dedicated his life to full-time Christian service in 1951. 

After he graduated from high school in 1952, Jim enrolled in Cincinnati Bible Seminary. During orientation, he contracted polio and spent three months in an iron lung and then three years in Cincinnati hospitals, recovering from the effects of polio. 

One of the first calls that Ralph Sims made as the new minister of the Montgomery Road Church was on Jim. He recalled that when Jim was first taken out of the iron lung, he could move only his left hand, which he would “crawl” painstakingly up his chest toward his face. 

By 1955, Jim had recovered enough to think about returning to CBS, although this time it would be in a wheelchair. The cost was prohibitive to someone who had just spent years in hospitals. Ralph Sims applied to the Ohio Bureau of Vocational Rehabilitation on Jim’s behalf. The OBVR paid for his tuition, books, and fees for four years. Jim’s room and board and incidental expenses were paid by the Montgomery Road Church, which established “Jim’s Fund,” to which the congregation gave sacrificially throughout his college career. 

Back then, few buildings or churches were equipped with elevators or ramps for people with disabilities. Jim would wait at the bottom of the steps of the classroom building at CBS, and the first four guys to come along would pick him up in his wheelchair and carry him to the second floor. When class ended, the process would be reversed. Although many might have found being dependent on other people and their schedules extremely frustrating, Jim’s classmates remember his cheerful spirit. 

Jim graduated from CBS in 1959 as salutatorian of his class. After a year of graduate school, he accepted a position at Standard Publishing as a member of the editorial department, believing this was God’s call to ministry. In 1960, he began as an editorial assistant in the Youth Department, later transferring to the Adult Department. In 1967 he became editor of the Standard Lesson Commentary, Standard’s lesson manual for teaching adults. He held that position until his retirement in 1994. 

His capable editing took sales of the SLC to 326,000 copies in 1994. When he retired, it had been listed on the Best Seller List of the Book Store Journal for the past three years. It was second on the list of nonfiction bestsellers in Christian Retailing in 1994.  

As part of his retirement celebration, Standard Publishing presented him with an album of letters from people influenced by his ministry. Most, if not all, of those letters mention Jim’s faithfulness, his joyful spirit, and the impact of his life. 

Brett DeYoung, then director of education at Southeast Christian Church in Louisville, Ky., said that he had spoken at a seminar on Christian education in Detroit, Mich. The participants represented a wide variety of racial and economic groups and were from both large and small churches. Brett found that the common curriculum being used was the Standard Lesson Commentary. 

Wally Rendel, then minister of the Southern Acres Christian Church in Lexington, Ky., wrote, “Just two weeks ago, in a sermon on servanthood, I shared with my people about some of the health challenges and adversity you have faced in life and how God has worked through your life and ministry at Standard to touch millions. Your perseverance, positive faith and triumphant spirit have enriched our brotherhood.”  

Ben Merold, who was the minister of Harvester Christian Church (St. Charles, Mo.), expressed appreciation for Jim’s work and then observed that Jim had made a lot of preachers sound a whole lot better than they really were! 

In addition to his work at Standard Publishing, Jim served faithfully in local churches as a Sunday school teacher, choir member, committee member, deacon, and elder. 

JIM AND DONNA FEHL

While a student at CBS, Jim met Donna Overton. When Donna was a junior in high school, she attended an event for high school students at CBS. Jim, in his wheelchair, sang as part of the program with longtime friend Jerry Mueller. Donna said she looked at Jim and thought, I’m going to marry that man someday. And she did! Donna would later say that she was struck by Jim’s smile. Obviously, she looked beyond the limitations of his wheelchair to see the person inside. 

After Donna graduated from high school, she entered CBS. She began playing the piano for the quartet with which Jim was singing, and then they began singing together in another quartet. Jim and Donna were married on Aug. 13, 1960. 

They made an incredible team. Their son Adrian observed that one was seldom seen without the other. He said that was a result of necessity on Jim’s part but also of devotion on hers. Before they married, Jim told Donna he didn’t anticipate he would live much past 45 because of the long-term effects of polio. He lived to be almost 88. They celebrated their 62nd wedding anniversary a couple of weeks before his death. His long life and fruitful ministry are a tribute to the God he served, but also to the way Donna loved and cared for him. 

The Fehls had four children, Emery, Stephanie, Adrian, and Mel, whom they raised to know and love the Lord. Jim’s example taught his family how to deal with disappointment. He loved sports. He started caddying at age 9. In high school, he had a job as a pinsetter in a bowling alley. He lettered in baseball at Deer Park High School, playing center field all four years. He played on the All-City team at Crosley Field.  

Polio took participation in sports away from him, but his love of sports never diminished. His children learned the rules of baseball and golf and bowling by watching with him. Since Jim had already put his faith in the Lord, his physical limitations simply amplified his faith. His children grew up seeing that faith lived out daily. They saw a man whose outlook was that he was blessed. He did not see himself as a victim or as someone who had less. 

At Jim’s memorial service, his son Adrian said, “When I asked him how he did not give in to the dark thoughts of self-pity, his response was one of the more profound things he ever said to me: ‘I committed myself to be in church whenever I could. And I was sustained by the unbroken contact of being with God’s people.’”  

He was also sustained by unbroken contact with God himself. Jim Fehl committed himself to a faithful Creator and he continued to do good. 

Kay Moll is a speaker and writer who served as director of Vacation Bible School ministries at Standard Publishing and as director of women’s ministries and missions at Christ’s Church at Mason (Ohio).  

Christian Standard

Contact us at cs@christianstandardmedia.com

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