Lois Riley Leavenworth, beloved mother, grandmother and friend, died Saturday after a short illness, three days shy of her 89th birthday.
She was born in New Britain, Conn. on April 17, 1929 to Basil and Mildred Holcombe Riley. Lois attended local schools and graduated from New Britain High School in 1947. She earned an associate’s degree as a medical secretary from what was then Hillyer College.
Seeking adventure and independence, Lois headed West in the mid-1950s to Denver, Colo., where she worked as a psychiatrist's secretary for several years before meeting her future husband, James Edmund Leavenworth, a Michigan native.
Jim wrote in a remembrance many years later, "Some star guided me to a small bar in Denver, where Lois had dropped in for an unaccustomed and most infrequent glass of beer and we have been together ever since. She lights up the place she is in."
They were married in 1959 and the first of their four children, Sherman D. Leavenworth, was born that year.
The couple moved to Albuquerque, N.M., where Lois continued working as a medical secretary and Jim attended graduate school at the University of New Mexico. Their second and third children, Jesse C. and Kathleen R. Leavenworth, were born in Albuquerque.
The family moved to New Britain in 1963, and their fourth child, Matthew H. Leavenworth, arrived the next year. Lois began a long career at Grove Hill Clinic in New Britain, where she worked for several doctors in the Ear, Nose and Throat department, notably Drs. Wehrli, Jarboe and Weinberg.
She was a long and faithful member of First Church of Christ Congregational in New Britain and active in the city Art League and other civic and charitable organizations.
Most of her time, however, was devoted to work and her children. Her life was not easy, but she was strong, graced with an optimistic, rebounding spirit.
“A couple of times when the kids were young, things were very tough," Jim wrote. "Lois saved us all.”
She was always curious about other people and wanted to know their stories.
"I have never heard of anyone who disliked her," her husband of 47 years wrote. "She makes friends instantly - in the line at the supermarket, store clerks, receptionists."
Lois retired from Grove Hill in 1991 and she and Jim moved to Grand Marais in Michigan's wild and beautiful Upper Peninsula. For the next 27 years, their home on the shore of Lake Superior was a summer destination for their children and grandchildren. Grandma loved these years _ taking the kids to the beach, painting rocks, eating dinner at folding tables set up in the two-bay garage, teaching old-school manners.
Lois was a member of the United Methodist Church in Grand Marais, where she sang in the choir and served as treasurer. She also served the town's ecumenical community, particularly First Lutheran Church, and the regional Methodist church. Lois was a town trustee and board of education member and led many discussions and decisions on important issues. A member of the local Women's Club, she was involved in just about every fundraiser, bake sale, festival and celebration held in the small town.
Lois loved her Irish ancestry and the people, music and literary legacy of Ireland, particularly the poet William Butler Yeats. She read at least one Yeats poem each night before bed. She also painted and was particularly talented with watercolors.
Besides her children, she leaves grandchildren Riley, Kassie, Kerry, Kathleen, John, Megan and Abby Leavenworth and Mariah, Jessie, Cynthia and Augie Yerbich; daughters-in-law, Lynn, Lisa and Catherine Leavenworth; son-in-law Geno Yerbich; brother-in-law David Leavenworth; and a special stepdaughter and son-in-law, Gayle and Tom Hiester. Her friends are too many to count.
A memorial service will be held in Grand Marais on June 30 and in Connecticut on a date to be announced. The Bowerman Funeral Home in Munising, MI is handling arrangements in Michigan. Lois’ obituary and online guestbook may be viewed and signed at bowermanfuneralhome.net