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Chester County Press

Oxford Feed & Lumber

05/07/2019 12:54PM ● By Steven Hoffman

The Drennen family is not known for seeking the spotlight. In fact, quite the opposite is true.

But on May 2, the spotlight shined brightly on the Drennens and their business, Oxford Feed & Lumber, as the Oxford community came together to celebrate a very special milestone.

This year marks the 100th anniversary of the Drennen family’s involvement with the business. In 1919, Lawrence C. Drennen was hired as a bookkeeper at the Oxford Grain & Hay Company, which operated out of the historic red brick mill near the railroad tracks in the heart of Oxford.

“Our family considers that to be the start of our involvement with the business,” explained Larry Drennen, Jr., who now runs Oxford Feed & Lumber with his brother, Chris, and their father, Larry, Sr.

After getting his start as a bookkeeper, Lawrence C. Drennen became a partner in the Oxford Grain & Hay Company by the 1940s. That was around the same time that his two sons, Donald and Larry, joined him in the business.

Today, Oxford Feed & Lumber is the oldest continuously operating business in the Oxford area and the second-oldest Purina dealer in the entire United States. It has, through the decades, evolved into a family business—but the family isn’t just the Drennens, but rather all the vendors, employees, and customers who have played a part in the company’s long and successful history.

In the program for the centennial celebration, the Drennen family wrote, “Our family is extremely fortunate to have very loyal customers, dedicated and skilled employees, and supportive communities that appreciate the latest innovative products at yesterday’s personalized service standards. We are ever so grateful for these keys to our business longevity.”

At the centennial celebration, a number of local officials, including State Sen. Andy Dinniman, State Rep. John Lawrence, County Commissioner Terence Farrell, and Oxford Borough Mayor Lorraine Bell talked about Oxford Feed & Lumber’s dedication to providing quality customer service to residents in the area, as well as the company’s ongoing commitment to supporting the community year after year.

Bell said that the Drennens “give to the community, and they give from their hearts.”

County Commissioner Terence Farrell agreed saying, “It really is amazing. You’ve given so much to Oxford.”

Farrell noted that when he first purchased an apartment building in downtown Oxford, he didn’t just get supplies from Oxford Feed & Lumber, he was also able to get valuable construction advice for the projects that needed to be completed. It’s that kind of service that Oxford Feed & Lumber has been built on, year after year, under business conditions that are constantly changing.

Everyone was in a festive mood at the centennial celebration, which was just one of a few different events that took place last week to honor customers, employees, and vendors of Oxford Feed & Lumber. As guests arrived, one member of the Drennen family or another greeted them and thanked them for coming.

In addition to a number of guest speakers, the centennial celebration featured a dinner that was catered by the SawMill Grille and beverages provided by the Bog Turtle Brewery and Wayvine Winery. Buzz Tyson, the executive director of the Lighthouse Youth Center, delivered the pre-meal prayer. Ben Sessions, from the Oxford Arts Alliance, played music throughout the evening. Dave Martin, of Bradley Caldwell Industries, shared the emcee duties with Oxford Area Chamber of Commerce executive director Chris Grove.

Martin explained that he started doing business with Oxford Feed & Lumber around 1998. Not long after, the Purina Company brought the idea of opening up an America’s Country Store to the Drennens. It took about 18 months of planning, but the store became a reality in 2000.

“Things haven’t stopped happening here since,” Martin explained, referencing the fact that the company expanded to add a second feed location in Unionville in 2005. That’s when the Drennens bought Hess Mills and renamed it Unionville Feed and Pet. In 2007, they opened a pet food boutique store in Jenner’s Village. Then, in 2012, they purchased Ace Hardware Pocopson and the Unionville feed store was consolidated into that location, which is now called Brandywine Ace, Pet, and Farm.

Grove and Brian Wenzka, the executive director of Oxford Mainstreet, Inc., both talked about the Drennen family’s dedication to the Oxford community, and about the company’s commitment to providing superb service to its customers.

“Most of us know the Drennen family,” Wenzka said. “If you know the family, you know the character of the family.”

Wenzka noted that the Drennens were early supporters of the formation of the Business Improvement District in Oxford Borough. Initially, the Business Improvement District was to stop at the railroad tracks, but the Drennens asked for the district to be expanded so that they could be included as well. The Drennens have been supportive of Oxford Mainstreet, Inc., and the various community events that it plans.

Wenzka explained that the Drennen family also stepped up to be the first sponsor of the Connective Festival, which took place in downtown Oxford for the first time in 2018.

“Oxford is what it is, and is a better place, because of the Drennen family,” Wenzka said.

Bell pointed out that no one can remember a time when Oxford Feed & Lumber wasn’t situated at the very heart of Oxford Borough.

While the centennial celebration marked the 100 years of the Drennen’s family’s involvement with the company, Oxford Grain & Hay has served the community for much longer than that. According to Larry Drennen, Jr., they have records showing that the business was operating on the same site as far back as 1865. For a little perspective, Oxford Borough itself wasn’t incorporated until 1833.

Very early on in Oxford Borough’s history, much of the northern half of Oxford was owned by the Dickey family. S.R. Dickey, a nephew in the family, began dealing grain, hay, lumber, and farm supplies around 1865, so Oxford Grain & Hay not only has ties to one of Oxford’s most prominent families, it was also one of its most important early businesses.

There’s really no separating the business and the town and the business and the family. And in this case, the family doesn’t just include the Drennen family members, but all the vendors, employees, and customers who have played a critical part in the success of the business.

“They give to the community, and they give from their hearts,” Bell said. She issued a proclamation declaring May 2, 2019 as Oxford Grain & Hay Day in Oxford. Speaking directly to the Drennens, she said, “Thank you for everything you do—in such an unassuming way. We’re so lucky to have you.”

Tyson took a moment to talk about how, when he first came to the Lighthouse Youth Center more than two decades ago, the Drennens were quick to welcome him—and offer him whatever help he needed. When the new home for the Lighthouse Youth Center was built a few years ago, the lumber for the project came from the Oxford Feed & Lumber.

State Rep. John Lawrence said that the Oxford Feed & Lumber is one reason that “Oxford is a town with a proud past and a bright future.”

He explained that Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf signed a proclamation recognizing the company for its 100 years in business. The proclamation also designated May 2 as Oxford Grain & Hay Day in Pennsylvania.

State Sen. Andy Dinniman talked about how the company is deeply respected in the community, and built up a reputation for trust and good service through the years. Dinniman also joked about the popularity of Otis, the cat who has called Oxford Feed & Lumber its home for years. A few years ago, the entire Oxford community pulled together to search for Otis when he disappeared for a few days before returning on his own.

“Otis,” Dinniman said, “is the most well-known cat in southern Chester County.”

Brad Schu, a representative of Purina Mills, marveled at the longevity of the business. He noted that 1919 was so long ago that the Grand Canyon National Park had just been established and women had just secured their right to vote in the U.S. Schu noted that only about 3 percent of family businesses survive when they are passed from the second generation to the third generation. It’s no accident, Schu said, that Oxford Feed & Lumber has defied the odds and continues to succeed.

“They take care of people. They live it every day,” Schu said.

An illustration of that point is Larry Drennen, Sr., who has now been involved with the business for 71 years, and still comes in to work most days of the week. He’s following the example of his father, Lawrence C. Drennen, the bookkeeper who started the Drennen family’s involvement with Oxford Grain & Hay, who lived to be 98 and came in to work almost every day.

Chris Drennen now has 37 years in the business, and when Larry Senior’s brother, Donald, retired more than two decades ago, Larry, Jr. devoted himself to carrying on the family tradition.

Fourth-generation family members who are now part of the business include Lauren Bohnert, Alicia McGarvey, Lindsey Drennen, Jeff Stricker, and Allison Denlinger.

With the acquisition of several new stores, a commitment to utilizing technology and innovation to provide the best possible experience for customers, and an unwavering commitment to service, Oxford Feed & Lumber isn’t looking back to the last 100 years, but looking forward to the next 100 years.

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