ANDERSON — LeeAnn Lehman-Roberts believed in second chances. And, in some cases, third and fourth chances.
The owner of Frisch’s Big Boy restaurant, 500 Broadway, who died on Nov. 4 after a long illness, left behind a legacy of belief in others, according to those who knew her best.
“She’s definitely been an inspiration to the whole family and to many people,” said her sister, Cathy Wallace. “So many people at her showing came up and told us — more than we could have ever guessed — ‘You wouldn’t believe how LeeAnn changed my life. She believed in me when nobody else would.’”
Since purchasing Frisch’s 12 years ago, Lehman-Roberts provided employment to hundreds of graduates of Madison County’s problem solving courts, often taking them aside and offering advice and encouragement on the job herself.
“We feel like one of the hallmarks of our program is our second chances, but LeeAnn made us look sad in terms of the second, third, fourth chances she would give people,” said Chris Lanane, coordinator for the Problem Solving Courts of Madison County. “Whether they were problem solving court participants or other employees, you got a real sense that they were a family over there. She would counsel them like your mother would counsel you, above what we were trying to do. She just never seemed to get put out by the fact that she was put upon by our program to try and help people do better.”
Lehman-Roberts was involved behind the scenes with a number of charitable organizations and projects over the years. She served on the board for the Relay for Life, the annual walk to raise money for the American Cancer Society. She also sponsored dozens of youth league baseball and football teams, often providing extra money to cover costs for children who couldn’t afford equipment or other necessities.
Hinton said her sister often went out of her way to conceal her good deeds. Recently, as the family was going through her belongings, they found a plaque given to her by Madison County prosecutor Rodney Cummings honoring her work with the Problem Solving Courts. It was tucked away in a plastic tote in her basement.
“All these things she did, she never did any of them with an attitude of, hey look at me. She just did it,” Hinton said.
At the restaurant, she and her staff often arranged collections for Toys for Tots. During the holiday season, she arranged pictures with Santa and her sister, AnnaMarie Hinton, would print the photos on card stock to give away.
“She knew the people to call and would say, ‘Hey, this is what’s going on,” Hinton said. “I don’t know that anyone ever passed on something she asked them for.”
Another part of Lehman-Roberts’ legacy is the Frisch’s which many view as an Anderson institution. Roberts said his wife’s goal was to make sure the restaurant would remain a favorite dining destination in the city.
“She had a certain person that she wanted to end up getting it,” Roberts said. “But just as important, she wanted to make sure that it remained a Frisch’s. Those were her two goals there at the end, and it looks like both of those things are going to happen.”