Willard Frances Leaf, a full-blooded Swede, passed away on March 25, 2014 at the age of 96 at Neilson Place in Bemidji.
Memorial Services will be 11:00 am Saturday, March 29, 2014 at the United Methodist Church in Bemidji with Rev. Gay Albers officiating. Visitation will be from 4 6 pm Friday at the Neilson Place Chapel in Bemidji with a Masonic Service at 6 pm and also one hour prior to the service at the church under the direction of the Cease Family Funeral Home of Bemidji.
Will was born August 5, 1917, to Emil and Selma Leaf. Along with his older brother, Ted, he was raised in Lake City, MN, by his mother during the depression. He had many stories of being a child of the depression. He, along with Ted, would follow the ice wagon, hoping to get ice chips to suck on. It was their ice cream. Upon graduation from high school, Willard joined the CCCs. (Civilian Conservation Corp). For 6 years he worked at various camps from Knife River to Lake City. Will was able to type and was able to stay longer than the normal 2 years. In 1942, Will was drafted into the Army and was sent for training to California. A number of the training maneuvers took place in the Mohave Desert. Half way through his training he was upgraded to a T-5 Technical Sergeant. He was then shipped to Mississippi where he and others were integrated into the 99th Infantry, better known as the Checkerboard Division. This was the first attempt at racial integration in the military. Will was coaxed by a friend into taking a Warrant Officer test to increase his rank. He passed, but also had to have a review of his health history. Due to an ulcer he had in his youth, he was no longer considered for further duty and was mustered out of active status at the ripe old age of 26 years. With the help of the GI Bill, Will attended the University of Minnesota in the School of Forestry. Some field work was done at Itasca State Park. He graduated in 1947 and went to work for the IRRRB (Iron Range Rehabilitation Resource Bureau) for 1 year. Red Lake Forestry was his next job, through the BIA. It was there he met his bride-to-be during a blind-date dinner arranged by his future brother in-law. Willard and Jean (Hill) were married on October 8, 1949, within 9 months of meeting.
Summers were spent working at Red Lake and winters were spent at the Northwest Angle where they lived in an isolated camp with no running water. When it was time to start a family, they moved to Cass Lake, MN where Will worked for forestry. Six years later they moved to Bemidji where he began his life-long career with the BIA in the Realty Department. He was a devoted husband and amazing father of 4. Family activities included fishing, golf, hunting traveling, bike riding, and many cribbage games. He believed in giving of his time and resources. He was a member of the United Methodist Church, American Legion, Eagles Club, Masons, Lions, and (dearest to his heart) the AAD Temple Shrine Club where he participated in fund raisers for the Shriners Hospital for Children.
Will is survived by his wife of 64 years, four children: Steve of Colorado Springs, Janice (Peter) Moberg of Nary, Eric of Sioux Falls, and David (Debra Thorne) or Bemidji. 7 Grandchildren and 3 great-grand children. He is preceded in death by his parents and a brother.
In lieu of flowers, the family prefers memorials to the Shriners Hospital for Children or Sanford Hospice of Bemidji, or plant a tree in his honor. Condolences may be left at ceasefuneralhome.com.