Leroy Charles Higgins
Leroy Charles Higgins, l0l years, 2 months, 27 days old, passed away on February 20, 2023 at Cox Health, Springfield, MO.
Leroy was born on Thanksgiving Day, November 24,1921 in Stewartville, Minnesota to Ernest Higgins and Lily (Wallace) Higgins. He was the third child of six children.
It was a struggle farming in Minnesota and Leroy remembers his older brother, Gilbert, saying "Lotta work ado". Before their fourth child arrived, Ernest and Lily moved back to Wisconsin, so Leroy grew up near Stevens Point, Wisconsin. His parents did a variety of jobs to survive. They had a large garden and Ernie delivered milk and dairy products to the doorsteps of folks on his route. He was a painter and did other handy jobs. Lily made donuts and Gilbert took them to Stevens Point and sold them for 25 cents a dozen.
Leroy and his siblings invented toys they made for themselves by finding old buggy wheels and scraps of metal in the local dump. He was especially skilled at making a button on a string sing and hum. In later years, he shared this same toy with his great grandchildren.
Leroy graduated from 8th grade in 1937. Later that year he and his younger brother, Maurice, started jumping trains and went to see the U.S.A. They loved going west and south. They returned home to do heavy jobs on the farm, then they were off again for more adventures. They survived by offering to work at any job in exchange for food and shelter. The brothers were naturally sociable and made many friends. They learned how to do unusual jobs from mining with dynamite in Kingman, Arizona, to herding sheep onto train cars in Casper, Wyoming. As they got older, they also learned to work for pay. Leroy got a dollar a day for working in the mine and loading sheep. This was Leroy’s life after 8th grade until 1943.
World War II started and all three brothers served their country. All three returned home after serving. Leroy joined the Navy in August of 1943 and was stationed in the Pacific Ocean on the USS Midas (ARB-5), Auxiliary Repair Battleship. He was in charge of and maintained eight welders. At one time, he made repairs on the USS Missouri. The ARB-5 came in quickly to repair ships that were having troubles and then quickly got out of the way. During furloughs, the sailors visited the people in the Philippines and relaxed.
In 1946, after the war, Leroy came back to Wisconsin. His (soon-to-be) sister-in-law, Joyce Stein, introduced him to her beautiful friend, Charlotte Kaudy. He was immediately in love. They were married on May 3,1947 in Wisconsin Rapids, Wisconsin.
Leroy and Charlotte farmed in Wisconsin and were blessed with three lovely daughters, Sandra, Susanne and Diana. They had goats which they milked and Leroy worked at the cheese processing plant near the railroad. However, he never stopped dreaming of finding a farm farther away from the cold northern winters of Wisconsin.
In 1954 he and Charlotte packed up all of their belongings, piled them on their farm wagon and pulled it from Wisconsin to Lincoln, Nebraska. There they left Sandra and Susanne with Leroy's sister Pearl and her family so that the girls could attend school while he, Charlotte and little Diana explored the farmlands in Oklahoma, Missouri and Northern Arkansas. Eventually they found the perfect farm on Hunter Creek in Douglas County, Missouri.
On the first Sunday in December 1954, Leroy left Lincoln, Nebraska at 2:00pm. He was driving his1949 grey Ford tractor with the red front loader and pulling the hay wagon with all of the family's belongings. He drove and slept until 9:00am Thursday, when finally, he arrived at the new farm. He put the geese in the chicken house with a large tub of water and a bunch of corn. He parked the tractor and wagon full of belongings in the barn. As it happened, a worker from the new electric company was there working on the meter. He took Leroy back to Ava where he caught a bus to Springfield and then on to Lincoln. Soon he returned with his family to their new home, which became his forever home.
With his tractor Leroy was able to make friends quickly. He plowed fields for close neighbors and even folks on the other side of Ava.
Gradually, Leroy and Charlotte acquired and raised a herd of beautiful Holsteins. There was a lot of hard work milking cows and farming. They were thankful for the neighbors who helped with the silage, and in turn they returned the favor for the neighbors.
While raising their daughters and milking cows, they also raised a large garden. During the summer months relatives from far away would come to visit and enjoy the sweet corn from the garden. They also enjoyed swimming in Hunter Creek.
In the early 1960 Leroy planted three acres of cucumbers in a field across Hunter. The neighbor children helped Sandra, Susanne and Diana pick cucumbers early in the mornings. He paid them by the bushel. In the afternoon, he drove the load of cucumbers to Springfield in his Dodge pickup to the pickle factory.
When the girls grew-up they eventually sold the cows and did some traveling. They returned to Wisconsin and then on to Arizona and California to visit family and friends. They also visited Yellowstone National Park.
After awhile they realized they needed to farm again. They soon had a sizeable beef cattle herd. This required hours of labor putting up hay for the winter, which they did well into their 70s.
From the road it is impossible to miss seeing the two spring-fed ponds Leroy dug. He acquired friends by having those ponds stocked with fish, as Charlotte acquired friends while working at the community center in Ava.
In the 1980's without any way to cool the house during the summers, Leroy noticed the cool stream of air coming from the wet-weather spring on the side of the hill. He dug around and realized it was a small cave. Being industrious, as usual, he dug out and built a small room which he lined with concrete and closed in with a roof and door. After that, he spent hot afternoons on a cot in the cave house, thus the origin of man cave. Whenever the grandchildren come they love to see the cave house. Eventually Leroy and Charlotte got a heat pump that cools in the summer, consequently the cave is now home to spiders and bats.
Before acquiring the heat pump, he dug out and built a basement under the house. Originally it was just a small basement for storing canned goods and processing home-made root beer. He dug out the dirt and used it to build up the edges of the pond. He also put in new timbers to help support the floor. Gradually he had a full basement under the house.
Meanwhile, every year he raised a large garden of peppers, green beans, squash, corn, tomatoes, and more. Charlotte no longer canned the vegetables because they acquired a large freezer and she froze all the extra food for winter eating.
On October 24, 1990, Leroy purchased and installed an outdoor wood burning water circulating Hardy Furnace. Every year he stockpiled wood for the winter. After his heart attack in 2005, he was grateful for his son-in-law, Verl Smith, who kept him supplied with wood, and his grand-son-in-law, John Rode, who stepped in to help. To this day, the Hardy is puffing along thanks to his grandson-in-law, Darren Wright.
In 1998 Leroy wanted to protect Hunter Creek from erosion so he started using USDA and DNR programs to help him achieve his goals.
His conservation practices were noticed and he was designated a Demonstration Farmer in July 1999 and hosted a Watershed Project Field Day on the farm. More than 70 people attended. Leroy demonstrated his tree planting practices and allowed the people to view his trees and see how they were stopping erosion. By 2008 he had planted thousands of trees and still at the age of 86 his granddaughter AdriAnn and her husband John and their children along with Verl and Sandra and Leroy's neighbor, Eugene Ritter, came to help Leroy and Charlotte plant more trees on the hill across Hunter creek. Now in the winter the walnut and pine trees that took root are visible from the road. One day recently Leroy's grandson-in-law, Darren Wright, took him across the creek to inspect the trees. Despite failing eyesight, he never stopped caring.
Leroy and Charlotte had many friends. He especially enjoyed going to steam tractor shows with Ray Fritz. They shared memories of farming in the cold north where they lived in their younger days. Ray and Vi Fritz's family have been special to Leroy and Charlotte. Their daughter Darlene is a dear friend of Leroy and Charlotte's first granddaughter, Angela. It was Angela (Epps) Wright and her husband, Darren, who came to care for Leroy as he was 99 and needed a little help approaching 100. With the family’s care, he achieved 101 plus.
Leroy's 100th Birthday celebration spread out for over a week. Everyone who came had their pictures taken with Leroy in front of a huge 100th Birthday Banner Angela hung in the sunroom. All of the pictures were posted on a special Facebook page for everyone to enjoy. Many family and friends also posted greetings. Also on Old Ava Facebook page Leroy received over 200 likes, over 100 comments, and many shares.
The year between his 100th and 101st birthdays was a time of slowing down. He caught Covid 19 in June despite being vaccinated. He survived, but never fully recovered.
More people came for his 101st birthday. He was able to see and hug his youngest great grandchild, Kennedy Parks and his youngest great-great-grandchild, Millie Byrne. Of course, there was another huge banner and more pictures.
Leroy was preceded in death by his spouse of 74 years, Charlotte (August 9, 2021), by his parents, by all three sisters, Valerie Smith, Pearl Wallace Decker and Doris Hunt, and his brothers Gilbert and Maurice Higgins, and two nieces and a nephew.
He is survived by his three daughters: Sandra Smith (spouse Verl Smith of Ava, Mo), Susanne Hester (spouse, Larry Hester of Springfield, MO), Diana Parks of Ava, MO.
Seven grandchildren: Angela Wright (spouse Darren Wright), Karri Gutierrez (spouse Steven Gutierrez), AdriAnn Rode (spouse John Rode), Jason Smith (spouse Jennifer Smith), Joseph Parks (spouse Mary Parks), Jennifer Parks (Andrew Jones) and Franklin Parks (spouse Kylie Parks).
One step-grandson Richard Hester (spouse Rebecca Hester).
Sixteen Great Grandchildren (listed chronologically):
Gregory Pope, Courtney Pope (Jon Byrne), Chloe McKee (Alex Salgado), Bailey Smith, Troy Smith, Elijah Smith, Matthew Gutierrez, John (Jack) Rode, Michael Gutierrez, Jayce Smith, Macaleb Gutierrez, Hailey Jones, Cohen Smith, Cameron Jones, Penelope Parks and Kennedy Parks.
Four step-great grandchildren:
Spencer Rode, Dean Hester, R. J. Hester and Tristan Hester.
Three great-great grandchildren:
Gunner Burns, Maisy Byrne and Millie Byrne.
And many nieces and nephews. He loved them all and they all loved him.
A memorial celebration of life service will be held in April.
Cremation services are provided by Ava Family Funeral Home.
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