Community minded Lee Comer has made an impact on Danville and Hendricks County through his good business sense and generosity.
By Gus Pearcy
As a young boy, Lee Comer sat in the Royal movie theater and watched the shooting death of Old Yeller. It left an indelible impression on him so much so that he bought the building in 2000 so that future generations of Danville kids could experience the movies, like he did.
The classic movie theater had sat dormant for a number of years. Several attempts had been made to revive it as a community theater, a dinner theater and again, as a movie theater, but all lacked the necessary funding to repair the ailing structure. Comer purchased the building in disrepair and then paid for several structural necessities and a remodel back to its original state. By 2001, the Royal was back playing movies geared towards family. Then, by surprise, it became a live music venue that possessed excellent acoustics and several acts have performed there.
It’s just one of the impacts that Lee Comer has had on Danville and Hendricks County. His generosity and, by extension, the willingness of his family have created a better Hendricks County and a caring world. Lee’s wife of 45 years, Senior Judge Mary Lee Comer, is a volunteer.
His daughter, Amy Comer Elliott, started the organization Sports for All Kids that provides equipment for disadvantaged youth.
His son, Ben, is also community minded as a member of the Downtown Danville Partnership, which Lee has dubbed the “greatest thing we’ve had in the Town of Danville for a long period of time.”
Comer has gained a reputation as a “can do” town patriarch and he knows a lot about the history of the county because he’s literally studied the land all his life. In the world of real estate, title insurance is a necessity for the home owner and the mortgage holder. The insurance protects them from unforeseen claims. An abstract of title declares a property free and clear and establishes the ownership before a sale can legally go through. In 1902, two attorneys started the Abstract & Title Guaranty Co. From then on, the firm tracked all the sales of each plot of land in Hendricks County through the records in the courthouse. It was work that was familiar to Lee’s father.
“He actually worked for a competitor here in the county for a few years and decided he would buy a company,” Lee Comer said. “It would be unusual for him to see (the business) today in that we do no abstracts. And upon his passing, we were using typewriters. When Lee’s father and mother, Norman and Norma, bought Abstract Title in 1956 it was above the old Danville First National Bank on the northeast corner of the courthouse square. The second owner, James Nichols and his son, Vernon, moved it to the historic Hoosier Hotel on the southwest corner. The lawyers, who now make up the firm, have their offices in converted old hotel rooms on the second floor of the Abstract & Title Guaranty Co., Inc.
Norman Comer died in 1970. Lee’s mother owned the business in partnership for a few years after. Eventually, Lee owned the company outright. By then, the record keeping of titles had been computerized and the business was not so much recording as it was guaranteeing through insurance. When a problem arises with a title, the underwriters were on the hook for reimbursing the loss.
The Comer Law Office, on the other hand, almost came as an afterthought. Lee originally wanted to be a lawyer, but after a
10-month internship at a Danville law firm, he changed his mind and went back to help his mom and dad in the abstract company. Little did he know how well his law degree would end up working in the abstract and title company.
“It just happened,” Comer said. “In 1973, I had been an attorney for about a year at that time. And somebody had sent me a zoning matter to handle. I’d never done one in my life. Never thought about it. Ironically, my dad had been the secretary of the Hendricks County Plan Commission for a number of years, even though he wasn’t a lawyer. So I did that and the next thing you know, I had another one.”
Within a year, Comer was the attorney for the Prestwick addition and golf course, which was designed to be 10,000 condominiums. His future had been set.
Turns out that a law degree is very helpful in matters of real estate and title searches for when problems arise.
“It just seemed to be natural,” Comer added.
Being so niched into one industry does have its drawbacks. Abstract & Title has seen business drop off since the recession and the drop in real estate transactions. That means there has also been a drop in employees. But Comer and his son, Ben, deeply appreciate the efforts of their employees now and then. During the boom of the 1990s, Abstract & Title grew to seven offices, one in every community here and in neighboring counties. To boot, Ben sees housing picking up ever so slightly or at least not declining anymore.
Lee has gone into semi-retirement with an emphasis on grandkids and travel. But he continues to help his community and the county he loves in numerous ways.