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Leland Duane Smith

Updated: May 28, 2022

Leland Smith was born in Manchester, Iowa, New Year’s Day 1928 to Evelyn Bergren Smith and Arlie Truman Smith. He entered WWII in 1945, serving in the Navy on the USS Kidd and USS Columbia. After discharge in 1947 he enrolled in college on the GI Bill at Iowa State Teachers College, now the University of Northern Iowa. He met Leola Carter in an English class there and they were married October 20, 1950. He returned to active duty January 3, 1951, serving in the Pacific during the Korean War. He briefly worked in Washington DC as an FBI fingerprint technician before returning to college in Iowa, receiving his diploma in 1953.

He began teaching high school science in Mallard, Iowa that year. This was followed by seven years teaching in Clarion, Iowa, then finally in Jefferson, Iowa where he taught physics and chemistry (and often drivers ed during the summer) until his retirement in 1990. Working on his master’s degree while teaching, he applied for and was awarded five grants from the National Science Foundation to continue his education at colleges and universities around the Midwest, sometimes bringing his family along during summer breaks.

He received many letters over the years from former students thanking him for being such an influential teacher in their lives.

Leland loved retirement. As Leola didn't retire from elementary school teaching until later, he took over the cooking and cleaning duties. He became a cyclist, biking to towns around Greene County. He started doing needlepoint. As a member of the Mayflower Descendants of Iowa Society, genealogy became a serious pursuit. When he and Leola started spending winters in Arizona he took up wood carving and his carvings of animals, people and scenes are treasured by family and friends. He was an avid hiker and helped build trails in the hills around Mesa and Apache Junction. He and Leola traveled widely. He usually had a camera in hand and took many photographs, not very well but with enthusiasm.

He donated to many causes including to homeless veterans and animals, food pantries and international refugee support, fire and police fundraisers.

He and Leola moved to Des Moines in 2005 to be closer to specialized medical care. He lost her to ovarian cancer in 2009.

In 2018, Leland was diagnosed with mid stage dementia. His last winter in Arizona was 2019 but with help he was able to continue living independently in Des Moines until 2021 when he moved into memory care.

In March of 2022 he was diagnosed with terminal MRSA and entered VA hospice care. He died quietly on April 24, his daughter holding his hand.

He was preceded in death by his wife Leola of 59 years and his two sisters Wanda (Don) Mullan and Arleen (Fred) Pulver. He is survived by his two brothers Gordon (Geraldine) Smith and Carter (Myrna) Smith, his children Linda (aka Lindy) of Des Moines, David of Ames and Scott (Susan) of Yorkshire, UK, nieces and nephews.

There will be a celebration of life service on Monday June 6 at 2:00 pm at Merle Hay Funeral Home 4400 Merle Hay Road Des Moines, Iowa. Interment of cremains will take place at a later date. Although Leland loved flowers and was always thrilled to receive them, he would have encouraged you to donate to your favorite charity instead. He would have been honored to have this done in his name.

Go here to watch a livestream of the celebration of life.

The link will remain active with a recording of the celebration of life following the event.


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