History & Staff

We have years of experience caring for families, from all walks of life. Each family comes to us because they know we are leaders in our profession, dedicated to excellence in service, and have the highest integrity.

Our History

Thoma/Rich, Lemler Funeral Home has its roots in Wells County dating back to the early 1850s when Henry Thoma left his farm in Ebersdorf, Germany, at the age of 17 and sailed for America. He landed at Ellis Island in New York on June 7, 1849, and was processed through as an immigrant to the United States. He moved on to Findlay, Ohio, where he learned the cabinetmakers trade and served as an apprentice for three years. At the same time, he attended school at the Presbyterian Academy in Findlay. In October of 1852 he moved to Bluffton, Indiana.

As was the custom in Europe, furniture making and undertaking was a combination business. If you could make a cabinet, you could also make a coffin. In January of 1853 Henry Thoma and Jacob Tribolet embarked in the joint venture of furniture and undertaking business under the firm name of Tribolet & Company. When there was a death in the community, the family would come to Mr. Thoma, many times with a notched hickory stick indicating the height and width of the person who died, and he would make the coffin in his cabinet shop. It was also the service of the undertaker to deliver the coffin to the home, place the body in the coffin, and then assist the family in making the funeral arrangements. The funeral conveyances were exceedingly primitive, many times using a spring wagon instead of a hearse. In 1855 Mr. Thoma made with his own hands the first horse drawn hearse used in Wells County.

Thoma/Rich, Lemler Funeral Home still has this hearse, along with other horse drawn vehicles used by the Thomas'. In 1861 Jacob Tribolet left Bluffton to join the Civil War and the business partnership was dissolved. Henry Thoma continued the business under his own name. There came a son, Herman W. Thoma, and then a grandson, William H. Thoma. Henry Thoma died in 1913. His son, Herman Thoma, born in 1872, succeeded his father in the business and was among the first of the Indiana undertakers to pass requirements of the state license law in 1898. He died in 1946.

William Thoma was born in 1901. A graduate of DePaul University in 1922, he was licensed the same year after study at the Worsham School of Embalming, Chicago, he then became an active partner in the firm. Howard Rich attended the Indiana College of Mortuary Science and became a member of the firm in 1956. In 1961 Mr. Rich became a partner, and the firm’s name was changed to Thoma/Rich Funeral Home. From 1853 until 1964 the establishment was located at 116 S. Main Street in Bluffton, Indiana. The building was a combination of three store fronts, housing the furniture business with the funeral operation tucked in the middle. By the 1960s it became evident that funeral customs were changing. The shift from the traditional church funerals was declining. Larger, more convenient facilities were required to serve the public needs at the time of death.

William Thoma and Howard Rich built an all-new 80 x 100 foot traditional colonial style building at 308 West Washington Street. The home was built to provide expanded facilities for funeral direction and greater comfort and convenience for those who call upon its services. William Thoma died in 1974. He was the last member of the Thoma family. Howard Rich purchased the remaining stock of the business from the Thoma family and continued to operate the firm under the Thoma/Rich name.

In January of 1991 the firm expanded its services to the community with the purchase of the Monument Center. This acquisition allowed the firm to better meet the community’s memorial needs. In late 1991 the firm launched a building project to house the Monument Center. This brand new facility with one of the largest granite displays in Northeast Indiana was completed in June of 1992 at 2980 East State Road 124, Bluffton.

In January 1992 Thoma/Rich, Lemler Funeral Home entered into a Partial Maintenance Agreement with Fairview and Elm Grove Cemeteries. This agreement called for the firm to be responsible for general cemetery operations, ground maintenance, grave opening/closing, and monument foundations. This proved to be a good arrangement for the cemeteries and the firm. In 1996 the firm entered into a Full Lease and Maintenance Agreement with Fairview and Elm Grove Cemeteries. This provided for a seventy-five year lease of the cemetery grounds to the funeral home and full operational responsibility for Thoma/Rich, Lemler. In 1997 Thoma/Rich, Lemler contracted with Granit-Bronze Company to construct Wells County’s Northridge Mausoleum at Fairview Cemetery. The 128 crypt community mausoleum and 56 niche columbarium shelter was competed in the spring of 1998. This facility provides the citizens of Wells County with a beautiful alternative to traditional ground burial. Jeffery D. Lemler received an Associate Science Degree in Funeral Service from Vincennes University. He completed a one-year apprenticeship and returned home and joined the firm in September 2000. In October of 2001, Jeff Lemler purchased Jeff Hewitt's stock in the company as he entered retirement. In January of 2014, Jeff & Jamie Lemler purchased all remaining stock in the funeral home, making Thoma/Rich, Lemler Funeral Home the only family owned and operated funeral home in Wells County. Today Jeff & Jamie and staff are serving today’s families with today’s innovations, but always with caring, personal service in the Thoma tradition.

Our Valued Staff

  • Jeff  Lemler

    Jeff Lemler, Funeral Director / Owner & Certified Funeral Celebrant

    Jeff was raised in Wells County and a 1994 graduate of Norwell High School, he went on to study agriculture at Purdue University and worked with the Hippensteel Funeral Home in Lafayette. After graduating from Purdue, he went to Vincennes University and obtained his Funeral Directors License. Jeff returned to Bluffton and joined Thoma/Rich in September of 2000 and became a partner in the operation in the fall of 2001.

    In July of 2004 he married Jamie (Kain) and they live in rural Bluffton. They have a son, Braden and a daughter Macy.

    In January of 2011, Jeff graduated from Insight Institute as a Life Tribute Professional and founded Northeast Indiana's first Funeral Celebrant Program. Under this program, Jeff has had the privilege of serving families that are looking for a truly personalized funeral option.

    “Every person has a story. A story that is written every day of their lives. As a Celebrant, I have the honor to tell these remarkable stories, and pay tribute to a life well lived!"

    Jeff has been very active in the Honor Flight of Northeast Indiana, helping World War II Veterans make the trip to Washington, D.C. to experience their monument. He serves as the President of the Guarding Group, a division of Bluffton Revitalization, along with serving on the Strategic Planning Committee of the Wells County Foundation. He holds memberships in both the National Funeral Directors Association, Indiana Funeral Directors Associations, along with his membership in SAL, American Legion Post #111 of Bluffton.

  • Jamie Lemler

    Jamie Lemler, Owner / Business Operations Administrator

    Jamie is the daughter of Norm & Sally (Jackson) Kain of Bluffton and granddaughter of James S. & Mary Alice Jackson. She graduated From Bluffton High School where she was active in athletics and cheerleading. She graduated from University of Indianapolis with her Masters of Science in Occupational Therapy. She worked at Lutheran Hospital in Fort Wayne starting in 2001. In 2017, Jamie joined the family business full time and has a very active role in the daily operations and works as the business administrator. You will see Jamie during visitations and serving families on funeral services and coordinates our extensive aftercare program. Jamie and Jeff have a son, Braden and daughter, Macy and therapy dog Chole.

  • Joel Robbins

    Joel Robbins

    Joel E. Robbins was raised in Wells County and is a graduate of Community Christian School. He is currently completing his degree in Funeral Service Education from Vincennes University and working towards obtaining his Indiana Funeral Director's License.

    He is the son of Eric and Cindy Robbins and is one of five children.

    He was active in athletics and was the captain of his varsity basketball team. He was an active member of the Wells County 4-H Program. He married Saretta (Lambert) on May 21, 2010. Joel has a background in sales/business management and farm management. In his leisure time he enjoys coaching the Wells County basketball team and horseback riding/camping. Joel is proud to be a part of the Thoma/Rich, Lemler family and enjoys assisting families in any possible way.

  • Braden J. Arnold

    Braden J. Arnold

    Braden J. Arnold was born and raised on the Arnold family farm in Rockcreek Township, Wells County.

    He is the son of Dick and Lorrie (Stoffer) Arnold and is one of six children. He graduated through Wells Association of Christian Home Educators and enjoyed playing basketball and baseball in high school. He studied graphic design at Ivy Tech, and will be enrolling soon in the Funeral Service Education Program at Vincennes University.

    In his free time, Braden enjoys helping on the family farm, road trips, sightseeing and camping at National Parks.

    On July 22, 2017, Braden married Lexi (Koppelman) Arnold. She is a stylist at Achieva Salon in Bluffton and they reside in Bluffton.

    Braden is proud to be a part of the Thoma/Rich, Lemler family and enjoys assisting families in any possible way.

  • Brian  Steffen

    Brian Steffen, Monument Specialist

    Brian is a graduate of Ivy Tech with an Associates Degree in Business Management and Business Marketing. Brian was hired by Thoma/Rich to maintain and manage the Monument Center and Bluffton Cemeteries, Inc. Brian enjoys leisure time activities like bike riding, basketball, jogging, walks with his wife, and is a member of the Apostolic Christian Chuch.

  • Nancy Moore - Baker

    Nancy Moore - Baker

    Nancy has lived in Bluffton since 1966 and is a 1978 graduate of Bluffton High School. After high school, she began a 29 year career as a dental assistant, working 23 of those years with Dr. Michael Graham. In 2007, she joined the staff of Family LifeCare in Berne, serving as their HR Coordinator. She started employment with Thoma/Rich, Lemler in June of 2014. Nancy married Dwight Baker in 1991 and resides in Bluffton. Nancy was a 14 year member and past treasurer of Bluffton Beta Phi Chapter of Tri Kappa. She currently is a member of Light and serves on the BHS Athletic Hall of Fame Committee. Nancy enjoys being able to assist families during visitations and services and is proud to be part of the Thoma Tradition.

  • Rev. Lyle A Breeding

    Rev. Lyle A Breeding

    Rev. Lyle A. Breeding
    Lyle was born and raised in Plymouth, Indiana. He graduated from Plymouth High School in 1975. In 1980 he married Patricia (Hougey) and they have two daughters. Jennifer teaches at Belmont Middle School in Decatur, Indiana and Elyse works at Egenuity in Monroe, Indiana. Lyle worked in the commercial printing industry until 1992 when God called him into the ministry. Being Ordained in the Wesleyan Church Lyle ministered at Plymouth Wesleyan Church from 1992 – 2004. In 2004 he moved to Bluffton and became the Senior Pastor at Sonlight Wesleyan Church where he still serves in that capacity. Lyle and Pat are happy to call Bluffton home and he is glad to be able to help minister to families during their difficult times along with the rest of the staff at Thoma /Rich, Lemler.

  • Joe  Smekens

    Joe Smekens, 1943 to 2018 ~ In Loving Memory of our Friend

    Joe Smekens is a lifelong resident of Bluffton, Indiana. He is a 1961 graduate of Bluffton High School. He attended Milo Bennett School of Linotype after high school and began his employment with the News-Banner in 1963. He was employed at the News-Banner in Bluffton for a period of 45 years, serving in many roles, including 22 years as managing editor and seven years as sports editor. He began employment with Thoma/Rich, Lemler Funeral Home in October 2008. Joe and his wife, Barbara attend St. Joseph Catholic Church and First Baptist Church in Bluffton. They are the parents of five children, Denise (Tom) Oswalt, Julie Fetters, Diane (Chip) McArdle, Angie (Scott) Harris and Brady (Kristina) Smekens. They also have 13 grandchildren and five great-grandchildren.

  • Andy Wolf

    Andy Wolf

    James Andrew (Andy) Wolf is a lifelong resident of Wells County. He is a 1971 graduate of Bluffton High School. He earned a Bachelor degree in Management from Indiana Wesleyan University in 2012. He retired from American Electric Power (AEP) in 2012 after 40 years of service where he worked as an electrical equipment repair facility supervisor. He currently is owner/operator of Wolf Services, which specializes in stone and dirt hauling, and light excavation. He began employment with Thoma-Rich Lemler Funeral Home in April of 2013. Andy and his wife, Brenda, attend St. Peter Lutheran Church in Adams County where he has served as head deacon. Andy also serves on the Lancaster Township Advisory Board as well as the Harrison-Lancaster Fire Territory Board and Six Mile Cemetery Association. They are the parents of five children, Jim Stults, Troy (Ali) Stults, Chris Wolf, Lindsay (Jason) Maiden, and Landon Wolf. They also have nine grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.

  • James Phillabaum

    James Phillabaum

    Jim has lived in Bluffton since 1946. He was elected to the Bluffton City Council in 1976 and continues to serve on the City Council. He has also seved as the President of the City Council and on the Bluffton Board of Works and Safety. Jim holds a degree in accounting from International Business College and professional designation of Associate of Risk Management from the American Institute of Insurance. He is a member of Bluffton First United Methodist Church and has served on several church boards.
    Jim was employed by North American Van Lines, at the corporate level, from 1971 until his retirement in 2002. At the time of his retirement he held the position of Vice President of Insurance Subsidiaries and Manager of Corporate Insurance and Risk Management. He currently works part time as a Life and Health Insurance in addition to working at the funeral home.
    Jim married Joyce (Joy) Wenger from rural Bluffton in 1963. They have two daughters Jill and Jada and a son John. They also have two grandchildren Megan and Nathan.

  • Chloe Lemler

    Chloe Lemler, Grief Therapy Dog - In Training

    Chloe Lemler is a five month old registered Labradoodle. She came to live with the Lemler family when she was just 6 weeks old. She is a loving puppy that has quickly became the center of their family! Chloe is currently taking some basic obedience classes, but is still a very active puppy. When these basic classes are complete and she gets a little older, she will begin her extensive training to become a certified Grief Therapy Dog and will make appearances at the funeral home. Until she is ready, Braden and Macy have a lot of things for her to do!