LeRoy Garris was blessed with a long happy life. Born in Tulsa, Oklahoma, to Fern and Albert Garris, “Pete” (his mother’s nickname for him) was the eldest of four siblings, Joella, Wayne, and Willa. The family lived on various farms in Oklahoma and Arkansas. Money was tight and schools seldom close by; LeRoy managed to complete the ninth grade before needing to find work to help support the family.
At seventeen he enlisted in the US Navy and soon found himself in WWII’s Pacific theatre. He was first in his marksmanship training and served as the Beachmaster’s personal bodyguard. He participated in three island invasions and rose to the rank of Seaman First Class. At the war’s end he returned to Tulsa.
In 1949 he met and married the love of his life, Ilene Gibson Duff. Ilene, LeRoy, and her young son, George, migrated to Midland, Michigan. In 1950, LeRoy hired on at Dow Chemical Co. as a boilermaker assistant’s assistant. Over the next thirty years he trained and worked as a certified boilermaker and master welder. The highlight of the family’s Michigan years was the birth of Allen LeRoy Garris in 1952.
Ready to escape the harsh winters, “Okie” retired at age 55. He and Ilene moved to Avant, Oklahoma, just outside of Tulsa where they enjoyed their many church friends, their large vegetable garden and lots of fishing. Due to increasing health concerns, in 2004 they moved to Las Vegas, Nevada. The move allowed them to be closer to their sons, daughters-in-law, grandchildren and future great-grandchildren.
The dry air and extreme heat of Las Vegas had little effect on their love of gardening. Soon they were sharing homegrown tomatoes, peppers, and melons with their new neighbors thanks to his tireless planting, tilling and watering. They also spent many hours together fishing on the banks of Lamb Park’s ponds. Most importantly they found a new spiritual home at Calvary Community Church and Abundant Grace Church.
No life of 90-plus years completely escapes grief and tragedy. LeRoy’s mother passed in 2004. Ilene, his soulmate and partner of 63 years passed in 2012, and his sister Joella passed in 2013. By far the most difficult, though, was one morning in November of 2014, when the family gathered to break the tragic news that his son, Allen, had passed suddenly the previous night of a stroke. No grief can compare to the loss of a child.
Finding himself alone, and at a total loss in the kitchen, LeRoy moved to Silver Sky Assisted Living in North Las Vegas in early 2014. There he slowly found relief for his loneliness among new friends and the hobby of model building. Many of his WWII planes and ships are still on display at Silver Sky. He weathered numerous health set backs in the coming years, not the least was asbestosis of his lungs brought on by his early work at Dow Chemical. But he usually rallied in part, as he often liked to remind us, because he was a “tough old bird”. But, even tough old birds finally have to fly home to their Lord. While we shed a tear at his passing we are happy to know he is finally home with the Lord, Ilene and Allen.