Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Don Leeak - my dad

Don Leeak was born at his parent’s home in Lansing, Michigan of homemaker mother Minnie Knisley/Leeak and father Francis Leeak—a car mechanic. He lived in the same house at 1043 Ontario Street and attended Lansing Public Schools until he graduated from Lansing Central High School in 1941.

During the summer of 1941 he worked construction and was persuaded by the owner of the company to attend college and pursue an engineering degree. In 1943 after spending two years at Michigan State College as an engineering undergraduate he went off to the Army for training as a B-17 and B-29 pilot during World War II.

Upon returning from WWII in late 1946 my dad resumed his engineering studies at Michigan State, with the help of the G.I. Bill, and graduated with a bachelors degree in civil engineering. During that time he met and married my mother Marjorie Langin-- a chemistry major attending Michigan State.

My brother Dave was born in 1949 and followed by me in 1952. Another brother, Daniel, died as an infant before going home from the hospital.

My parents bought a fairly new cape cod house, built after WWII, on the south side of Lansing before I was born in 1952. The house was originally finished as a two bedroom house without a garage and had an unfinished attic and basement. Over the years my dad built a garage behind the house, finished half of the basement into a rec room, and finished the upstairs into two bedrooms occupied by my brother and me.

The 1950’s and 60’s were the days when one of the largest civil engineering projects in the history of our country was underway—the design and construction of the interstate highway system. After graduation from college Dad went to work for the Michigan State Highway Department. In the decades that he worked for the highway department Dad worked as a civil engineer designing roads, bridges and completing preliminary rout investigations for new highways.

In the late ‘60’s he left the highway department to work for the Michigan Department of Natural Resources (DNR) where he worked until his retirement from the State of Michigan. His time at the DNR was spent designing fish hatcheries, campgrounds, and other recreational facilities around the State of Michigan.

During his childhood he spent a lot of time with his parents at Houghton Lake and later at Higgins Lake in Roscommon County about 120 miles north of Lansing. As a child I heard many stories about family hunting and fishing trips to Roscommon County and Higgins Lake in particular. His parents eventually bought property on the southwest side of Higgins Lake where they went camping and later built a cottage. He and my mother bought a cottage a half mile from my grandparents in the late 1950’s.

All of our summer weekends and vacations were spent at the lake front cottage at 211 Sammoset Blvd. on Higgins Lake. For several years in the late 1950’s and early ‘60’s my mother, brother, and I stayed at the cottage all summer with my dad coming up for weekends and vacations. It was there, with the help of my dad, that I learned to swim, fish, hunt, camp, sail, and appreciate all that the outdoors has to offer.

During the late 1960’s my Dad got interested in sailing. He was eventually to start a sailboat dealership in the Lansing area with his friend Guy Niesen. During those years we had a number of different sailboats on the lake and a lot of summer activity at the cottage centered around sailing.

My Dad loved Higgins Lake and Roscommon County. So it was only natural that
when he retired from the State of Michigan Department of Natural Resources in 1978 that he and my mother would move to the cottage at Higgins Lake. They lived there year around for eight years before moving to the Village of Roscommon into a house he had built on the south branch of the AuSable River.

I think the happiest period of my dad’s life were the eight years that he worked as an engineer for and later as the manager of the Roscommon County Road Commission after retiring from the State of Michigan. He got a lot of satisfaction and happiness from the work he did there, the people he worked with, and the projects he was able to be involved with.