Local locksmith hangs up the keys after 53 years


After 53 years, longtime locksmith Jesse Kovener decided it was finally time to lock up shop and hang up the keys on Kovener’s Lock and Key Service.

“I would like to thank all of my customers for their support over the years,” he said. “It has been a pleasure and a privilege to serve my lock problem customers for 53 years.”

The 95 year-old found an interest in being a locksmith during his time at Dunlap Company as a project manager, where he oversaw 13 JCPenney stores. He worked for the company for 37 years, and during that time, a man named Monk Tewell from Columbus talked him into starting his own locksmith services.

Kovener received his diploma from the National Locksmith Institute in Little Falls, New Jersey, on April 29, 1969. His first job was rekeying some locks on a house in Seymour the following year, and then Kovener’s Lock and Key was born.

“Since then, I have covered a lot of territory over the years,” he said.

After he retired from Dunlap Company in 1984, Kovener took his locksmith services full time, traveling as far north to Greenwood, south to Clarksville, east to Lawrenceburg and west to Washington in Indiana.

In his line of work, he said he has discovered some interesting finds out on the job, recalling a locked compartment he recently opened on a safe that has sat in his garage for at least 20 years.

“I got the safe from Washington, Indiana, and when I opened it, I found 125 postmarked envelopes for Seymour for the first airplane ride out of Freeman Field in 1938,” he said. “Nothing was in the envelopes, but they were all bundled up and stamped.”

Each envelope was stamped with a Jackson County Farmers Club stamp. Kovener decided to donate some envelopes to the Seymour Museum Center and Freeman Army Airfield Museum.

Another interesting time he fondly remembers was when he found an unopened bottle of whiskey underneath a counter and behind a safe at the Lynn Hotel in Seymour.

“It’s got a lot of age on it, that’s for sure,” he said. “The man who kept that bottle is still alive today.”

Kovener said the job has been challenging at times, too. One of his most recent challenges was managing 104 different keys for a condominium.

“Whenever a tenant would move out, I would put a new lock on,” he said.

Kovener also managed the locks for Seymour Community Schools and said how the prices of locks can range up to $500.

“All locks are different, and the tumblers inside of the locks can be of different sizes,” he said. “You have to make sure they line up with the key.”

Opening up his chest full of different size tumblers, Kovener said it has become difficult for him to grab the smaller sized tumblers, and now, it takes him longer than normal to solve a lock problem.

“I have generated a lot of equipment from people who came before me, and I plan to sell it all once I retire,” he said.

Kovener said he still has an old key machine used for safety deposit boxes that is no longer made in his shop located behind his house. Over the years, he has built up an inventory of tools, equipment, machines and thousands of keys.

Besides being an expert locksmith, Kovener is a 1947 graduate of Shields High School and a veteran of World War II after serving in the U.S. Air Force in Germany.

While he may have joined after the war officially ended, Kovener was there cleaning up the mess scrapping German equipment and putting it on barges for it to be sent along the Rhine River.

Kovener was then transferred to the payroll department but was able to travel to five different countries during his service.

During his time overseas, he was able to ride a cable car up to the top of the Switzerland Alps, see a field of colorful tulips harvested in Holland, look up at the Eiffel Tower in France and catch a glimpse of the Pope at the Vatican in Rome.

Even though Kovener was across the ocean, he was still able to propose to the love of his life with a little help from his brother at the time.

Daughter Debbie Tatlock said Kovener’s brother took an engagement and proposed to Elsie Kovener for him. She then waited three years until he was released from his service to get married on Jan. 6, 1952.

Elsie died two years ago an hour after they celebrated their 70th wedding anniversary.

“She made a promise to wait until they had celebrated to pass, and she kept that promise,” Tatlock said.

While Kovener still has some jobs to complete by Jan. 1, he said he is excited to get back into painting, a hobby he has always enjoyed.

Kovener said he also will be spending time with his new furry friend, named Peanut, who likes to follow him around the house.

“He sticks to me like a leech,” he said. “We are attached at the hip.”

Kovener also will be celebrating his 95th birthday Saturday with a new addition to this now five-generation family, his great-great-grandson, Jesse Williams.

Even though he is putting away the toolbox for good, Kovener said it has been a good run.

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