LYNCHBURG, Ohio — With country music softly playing overhead, Terry and Jane McGinnis rock back and forth looking over at each other, telling old stories, letting out a hearty laugh here and there and shedding a few tears — all while sitting next to each other in two wooden rocking chairs in the middle of a gas station.
If you’re not looking for anything special, you might miss the hidden gem inside the Marathon gas station situated smack dab in the middle of a soybean field, just off US 50 in Lynchburg, Ohio — about an hour east of Cincinnati and on the way to Highland County’s camping Mecca, Rocky Fork State Park.
Pulling into the parking lot, the rain pours down, but with each passing swipe of the windshield wipers, a sign comes into focus. In the window it reads: Terry’s Deli and Deli Meats. Walking toward the double-door entrance, there’s another sign: Terry’s Pizzas and Subs.
The parking lot is filling up and it’s only 10 a.m. On the other side of the entrance against the building’s stone facade, a wooden sign full of pride prominently states: “American Owned By Terry & Jane McGinnis and Family Since 1978."
As you walk inside, the smell of pizza wafts past your nose while orders shouted out for hoagies is in surround sound. The lunch rush is slowly starting to trickle into the deli counter.
A wooden barrel chock full of onions sits on the ground and bright red, ripe tomatoes line the top of the deli counter. Just on the other side of the counter where on top, jars of pickled bologna are stacked neatly, employees make sandwiches, wearing shirts that say it all: “Terry’s Eat and Get Gas.”
Just above the kitchen window where the pizzas are baking in the oven, a red and green glowing neon sign with the words "Terry’s Family Owned Since 1978" illuminates framed mementos, full of smiles spanning more than four decades within the community.
That’s because Terry and Jane's story is about more than gas, groceries, subs and hoagies, ice cream and pizza topped with pepperoni and extra cheese. It’s about family, community and building a life and a lasting legacy for generations.
But first—it all started with a blind date in the summer of 1973 between a city boy and a country girl.
Strong Foundation Built on Love
As soon as the couple of more than 45 years enters the building, their grandkids run in sheer delight into their arms and pile on as they sit down in their rocking chairs, amid the stocked grocery shelves. The older grandkids give them hugs and kisses and the little ones climb into their laps giggling and begin to snuggle in.
Terry, 68, and Jane, 65, have five children and 16 grandchildren — and everyone’s here to pitch in and help just like every day at the store.
This Papaw's tuffs of white hair push out from underneath a gray, Smokey Mountains ball cap, indicating his age. But in his prime, he was a star athlete.
Terry played baseball for Elder High School. In fact, before he met the love of his life, Terry was being actively recruited by the Chicago Cubs. But he decided — with the persuasion of his parents — to trade in his lifelong goal of playing professional baseball for an education.
He received a full scholarship to Marshall University in West Virginia to play baseball, and coming from a family with five kids, that was a big help.
"I was on top of the hill," Terry said.
But just as that dream was about to come to fruition, it all came crashing down. The recent high school graduate was missing a credit in biology, a state requirement for the university, and the school revoked his scholarship.
"I felt like the world was against me," he said.
It crushed him.
But he picked himself back and enrolled at the University of Cincinnati.
For the next three years, while studying special education, he volunteered at Longview State Hospital, a mental institution in Cincinnati.
With Jane’s hand on his knee, Terry begins recalling his time with children who lived inside the confines of this hospital and the time he spent working with them.
After the first day at the hospital, he swore he would never go back. But he gave it one more shot and when he finished his work there, he received many accolades.
"Everyone said, 'You did a hell of a job.' And I said, 'No, they did a hell of a job,'" he said fighting back tears.
He takes off his glasses, rubs his eyes and apologizes, as he abruptly jumps up to leave for the bathroom. Jane’s eyes are filled with tears for her husband.
He returns to his rocking chair, smoothing down his white goatee as his daughter, Jessica Mclean, slides a box of tissues across the table for him. The work he did at the hospital is an emotional subject for the grandfather.
"The thing was, I was down on myself because of everything I lost. But guess what? They helped me more than I helped them. From that day on, I never felt sorry for myself," he said. "They saved me.”
Then, he met a girl who changed everything.
Terry, who lived in Price Hill, visited some neighbors who had moved to St. Martin in rural Brown County. At a gathering, he met a woman who insisted that he meet her daughter.
The next morning, Terry met her daughter, an 18-year-old recent Ursuline Academy graduate. Her name was Jane.
"Out here there's not much to do, so we just sat around and you talked,” Terry said of their first dates.
On occasion, the lovebirds would catch a movie in downtown Cincinnati.
That was it. She was the one. The rest is history.
Before finishing his degree in special education, Terry, who was 21 at the time, left school to move to the country to be by Jane’s side, and they continued to date for the next three years.
On Christmas, he surprised her inside his one-bedroom apartment with a Christmas tree. And with the tree, was a proposal to spend the rest of her life with him. She said, “Yes!”
With 13 kids, Jane’s parents didn't have a lot of money to help them with their wedding, Jane recalled. So, her mom made her bridesmaids' dresses, and she bought her wedding gown at McAlpin's for $80. In October 1975, they were married at Terry’s church, St. Martin’s in Cincinnati. Terry wore a black tuxedo with a black bowtie and a white-ruffled shirt; his jacket adorned with a white carnation. Jane donned a long-sleeved, high-neckline, white, lacy dress and a gold cross necklace, along with a white veil.
It was just the beginning.
Four decades later, there’s a sparkle in each of their eyes when they talk about each other or even catch the other’s eye while telling stories of their lives together over the years, having celebrated their 45th wedding anniversary this year.
After a honeymoon in Florida, the couple moved to Wilmington for the next five years and worked together at Bob and Carl’s grocery chain, where Terry rose to managing the store and Jane managed the deli.
Terry was frugal, pinching every penny and saved everything Jane made for their future. And soon, that would pan out for them and their future family.
"I was a fanatic—you don't spend all your money," he said.
Every Friday, Terry paid the bills with his check and put Jane's paycheck into a savings account.
Jane’s father, a real estate agent, called them with some property in Highland County to take a look at since he knew their dream of moving closer to her family, buying some land and building a home.
It was raining and Terry went to look at the five acres for sale, but, he said, it was a swamp and not worth buying.
On his way through the area, he passed by a tiny store called Wallingford's. He stopped in but when he walked inside, everything was black.
"Is this place even open?" he questioned to himself.
Just then, a woman appeared from the darkness, asking if she could help him. After he jumped out of his skin in fright, he pumped his gas and made his way back to Wilmington and his newlywed.
A year later, Jane’s dad showed her a little store on US 50 that piqued her interest. It was the same store that Terry, then 26, had walked into before—and now, Juanita Wallingford, the woman who helped Terry that day, was selling her store.
"I said, 'Well, buy it,'" Terry remembered telling Jane.
And he distinctly remembers why. It’s because of his dad and the word “if.”
His father had always wanted to be a businessman, Terry recalled. In fact, there was a hardware store around the corner where they lived in Price Hill that his dad wanted to purchase. However, Terry’s sister was born with a heart condition and was in and out of hospitals for two years. For Terry’s father, taking care of his daughter trumped his dream of owning his own business. She passed away just before Christmas.
A few years later, Terry and his father were sitting around the table chatting after breakfast and the hardware store he had always had his eye on, had sold the week prior. And it sold for three times the amount it did years earlier. Terry said if he had bought, he could have sold it for a profit.
"That stuck in my head all of my life,” Terry said. "I never want to say if in my life. I wanna say, 'I tried, I failed (or) I tried, I succeeded.' I just want to say we made or we failed—one or the other."
So, two weeks after Jane saw the store, and with every penny they had saved, they were the proud new owners of Wallingford's, a two-pump gas station, with only one working pump, a “little, teeny” deli and a “little bit” of a grocery store.
It was August 1978, and two months later, 23-year-old Jane gave birth to their first child, Bridgette.
New business owners and new parents were also new homeowners of a small trailer on the same property. Jane held down the fort in Lynchburg alongside “Mrs. Wallingford” while Terry maintained his full-time job at Bob and Carl’s. Jane remembered that after a long day of working and then driving back from Wilmington, Terry would sit inside their trailer and listen. When he heard the slight grumble of the gravel next door, alerting him that a customer pulled in for gas, the exhausted husband and new father would head outside to assist them.
Over the years, going above and beyond for his customers would prove to make a lasting impression.
Too Much Bacon and Pricey Cigars
Terry has stories for days, and as he begins telling his next memory, the grandkids gather around and sit and listenso —mesmerized with him and his words as he tells the story of 15-cent cigars and the mistaken cases of bacon debacle.
"It's not your typical store," Terry laughed.
It’s chock full of characters, some of which even came with the store, Jane and Terry joked.
"I could keep you here all day and night telling you stories about the community," Terry chuckled.
The couple has built their gas, grocery, pizza and ice cream empire with the support of their family and their community. And that is what his secret recipe for success has been for 43 years.
“Respect, dedication, love of helping others, hard work, all while having fun doing what you love to do,” Terry said.
Jane chimed in with, “(and) definitely a strong wife and five awesome kids.”
Aside from an awesome family, it’s their community that has helped them grow. And one person in the community who Terry will never forget is Bob Johnson.
He came in every day, Terry said, never buying anything, but rather just standing around smoking a cigar and talking to the local farmers who also came in most every morning right on schedule.
One day standing up against the wall, he asked Terry, "Young man, how much are your cigars?"
Terry told him that they were 15 cents. He scoffed and told him he could get them a nickel.
"Well, 15 cents is the best I can do, Mr. Johnson," Terry responded.
Three months later, Terry found out that Johnson was turning 61. So, he wrapped a gift, tied a bow on top and knocked on his front door.
Terry handed Johnson the present and walked away, but not before he could ask him what was inside. Terry stood there patiently while Johnson opened it, and bursted into the biggest belly laugh Terry had ever heard.
Inside the box, there were five cigars cut into thirds.
"I said that's 15, 5-cent cigars," Terry said with a hearty laugh.
And from that day on, Terrys said, Johnson bought his cigars from his store.
The community was also there for Terry and Jane when they needed them the most.
One day, to Terry's dismay, his meat distributor had delivered 10 cases of bacon while he was out of the store. It was nine cases too many and he could not afford that amount, and the check the employee wrote was going to bounce. Terry called but they would not come back to retrieve the rest of bacon.
Soon, word spread throughout the community, including his cigar-smoking pal, Bob Johnson.
In walks Johnson, asking how much the bacon costs. It's $1.29. But he wants to know the price of a 40-pound case, and he buys a full box. Then another neighbor comes into the store for a case of bacon.
"That day, I sold all 10 cases of it, and I had enough money to put in the bank and cover that check," Terry said.
"It's a two-way street and that's why I told Jane, I want to raise my kids in this community. I knew I wanted to stay.”
Beyond being a place in town where everyone can rely on being open for gas and food—and a good laugh with Terry—it’s also a business that gives back to its community that’s opened its arms and hearts to the McGinnis family from the day they opened their doors as owners.
"The community made the store. They just came in here and let us do our business and they backed us. It's very special,” Terry said.
That is why it is so important to Terry and Jane to give back to their community by sponsoring area youth baseball, soccer and softball teams, as well as starting a Hoagie Fund for local schools.
One day every month all of the money sold from hoagies goes to the schools and its students. In fact, in the 20-plus years of that program, the family has given $500,000 in scholarships to students at Lynchburg-Clay and Fayetteville schools.
More than money, Terry gives his time to anyone who needs it.
Over the years, he has tutored and mentored multiple special needs children within the community in his spare time and some have even worked for him. He has helped them through their studies and sometimes, personal struggles. And while he didn't finish his degree in special education before moving out to the country, he said, it wasn't necessary.
"You don't need a degree. You can teach these children as long as you have a good heart," he said.
A Family Affair: 3 Generations of Hard Work
As the ice cream machines begin to churn in the back of the store and the shake mixer roars with anticipation, Terry and Jane’s daughter, Jessica Mclean, stands inside the tiny dairy bar with her 1-year-old daughter on her hip. Her other daughters, who are teenagers, are nearby and already at work for the day.
In fact, of the 57 employees at Terry’s, nine of those are “kin.”
"We like our family," Jane chuckled.
Being able to see them every day, Terry said, "That's the best blessing."
All five of the McGinnis children—Bridget, 42; Terry Jr. “TJ,” 40; Jessica, 37; Nicole, 35; and Deirdre, 33—grew up in the store, sleeping under counters while their parents worked and today, they all work for the store in hopes that one day Terry and Jane can retire and leave it to them to run. Plus, the grandkids—Trinity, 15; Tia, 16; Zoey, 14; and Olivia, 13, also work with their family.
Over the years, the couple has raised a tight-knit family and grown their business, adding to it puzzle piece by puzzle piece.
First was the one-pump gas station and “teeny, tiny” deli, as Terry put it. At one point, he added a video store, but that has since closed. The more they grew, the more their family grew. And by baby No. 4, it was time to find a bigger house.
Jane found a large Victorian home not far from the store, but Terry had other plans. They bought a larger house, just a mile from the store, that needed a lot of work. And they put in the work. They gutted it, and as their family continued to grow, their new, larger home was filled with love and a lot of laughter. They still live in the home today.
Now, Terry owns more than 100 acres in Highland County, the business and eight homes that they have renovated and rented out, including a farmhouse across the street from the gas station.
The hard work doesn’t bother them.
"We thrive on it, honestly," Jane said.
These days, Terry enjoys woodworking in his barn but he also still slings pizzas and takes orders at the store. Jane opens the store every morning bright and early, but now, when their kids come in to work with the younger grandkids, the grandma takes them home and watches them for the day.
Terry jokes that it's because Jane isn’t very good at taking orders.
She laughed and agreed wholeheartedly.
"That is the truth," she said.
Looking back to those early days, Jane recalled being naïve.
"I had no idea what we were doing. All I know is he wanted to buy a store, and I'm young: 'I don't care, Terry, whatever...' I would never dream this."
Terry, however, had dreamed it for them both.
"You've gotta learn for yourself. I didn't know nothing about any of this. You have to learn. You either make it or you don’t,” he said.
And they definitely made it. Moreover, they made it into something they love.
"I found something I love doing, I never feel like I did a job in my life,” Terry said.
One day – in the very distant future, Terry clarified – they will pass it down to the next generation.
"At a certain time in your life, you have to say, 'Here you go, kids, take it over.'"
But not just yet.
Crazy Ideas and Crazy Shakes
The hustle and bustle of the weekday lunch rush begins creeping in and the smell of baking cookies begins drifting from the back corner and throughout the store. The freshly made treats are for some "crazy" towering cups of frozen concoction.
But first, pizza.
In 1980, Jane wanted to start selling hot pizzas.
"There's nobody up here, Terry. How in the hell are you going to sell pizzas up here? These country people don't know what a pizza is," Terry said with a chuckle, remembering how his father reacted to the idea.
"He thought we were crazy," Jane said with a big grin on her face.
But the pizza was a hit and still is.
Then, it was Jane and Terry’s 37-year-old daughter, Jessica Mclean’s turn to be a little crazy.
In the far back corner of the store is where the newest addition to the McGinnis dynasty sits: Terry’s Ice Cream and Dairy Bar, including a sit-down bar inside the store. That is, when they aren’t experiencing a pandemic. For now, they are serving ice cream treats at the walk-up window in the back of the building on the patio.
Behind the walls that Terry built with his own hands in 2013, is the shop’s biggest hit and absurdly tall specialty: the “crazy” shake — Mclean’s brain (freeze) child.
What did Jane tell her daughter when she broached the idea with her a few years ago after seeing some photos on Pinterest?
“You’re crazy! No one is going to pay $8 for a shake!” Jane said, echoing her father-in-law’s sentiments from years earlier.
Since “crazy" worked for pizza, Mclean, who has been working alongside her parents since she was a kid, thought she would give it a shot. And that’s how “crazy shakes” started at Terry’s Ice Cream and Dairy Bar three years ago.
And their popularity exploded.
Eventually, Mclean turned a storage room in the dairy bar into the “crazy room” specifically for making shakes, which take about five minutes to make each.
There are 18 different sweet flavor combinations of crazy shakes on the menu, including: Over the Rainbow, Buckeye, Unicorn, Red Velvet, Peanut Butter Lovers, Brownie, Candy Bar, Mermaid, Princess, Birthday, Donut, S’mores, Strawberry Shortcake, Caramel Explosion, Orange Cream, Cookie, Cotton Candy and Sour.
Toppings include a wide variety of items, including a tiara, bejeweled wand and candy necklace for the princess-inspired shake; two full-sized cupcakes and a slice of birthday cake on the birthday shake; donuts, rock candy and pink-sequin mermaid tail on the mermaid shake; and a coffee shake topped with two large donuts, sprinkles and cookies for the donut shake.
It all starts with spreading icing around the rim of the cup and coating it with crushed cookies, marshmallows, candy, or rainbow sprinkles, in the case of the an Over the Rainbow shake, which is one of their most requested shakes.
Then, it’s time to add the strawberry shake. On top of the shake, Mclean places a giant slice of rainbow-layered cake, a waterfall of whipped cream and a dusting of more rainbow sprinkles; a lollipop and rainbow sour gummy stick. And there you have, an "Over the Rainbow" shake.
But don’t worry, if you can’t handle a towering cake-donut-sprinkle-cupcake-candy-cookie-ice cream-whipped cream-topped shake, they do have a “normal” ice cream menu full of shakes, sundaes, ice cream, including Dole Whip, and signature desserts ripe for the picking… and eating.
And despite many small businesses falling victim to the domino effect on the economy from COVID-19, the McGinnis’s are not just surviving the pandemic, they are thriving and hiring.
"It’s helped us. Just because everything else is closed—this is outdoors. I mean, there's enough room for you to spread out. You can hang out with your family. It's what you make of it," Mclean said.
These days, they have been busier than ever, Mclean said, making about 200 shakes a day. And on the weekend, it’s more like 400 to 500 a day. Folks come in droves from all over the Tri-State, as well as neighboring states, to try their shakes with lines wrapping around the building some days.
Terry said he hopes to expand the dairy bar this fall, giving Mclean even more room for bigger and better shake creations.
Customers can be seen carrying stacks of pizzas out the door. The shakes are crazy. But there's something more special, something sweeter than any of that, that people keep coming back for.
It's the McGinnis family.
"It's about the atmosphere,” Jane said.
Everyone is welcome, all day, every day.
If you would like to swing by and grab a pizza, shake, fill up your tank, or perhaps even meet Terry and Jane, stop on in and say, “Hi!” But according to Mclean, make sure you have some time to spare because her dad will talk off your ear.
Terry's gas-pizza-grocery-deli-dairy bar is located at 1505 US 50 in Lynchburg, Ohio. The store, deli and gas station are open from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. during COVID-19. They open at 6 a.m. during normal operating hours. Terry’s Ice Cream Dairy Bar opens at 11 a.m., regardless of the numerous requests, begs and pleading at the walk-up window to open up earlier, Mclean said, and closes at 9 p.m.
While Terry relied on good word of mouth in the community for business, these days, Mclean uses social media to get the word out about the shakes and the rest of Terry’s establishment.