Leonard L. Knight, 88, passed away May 25 at Harney District Hospital, surrounded by family.
Leonard was the middle child of seven children born in La Grande to James and Matilda (Pfel) Knight. He loved life and made friends with the people he met throughout his life. He attended school through the eighth grade in La Grande. At about that time, World War II began and the family moved to Portland. His ninth grade was divided between Portland’s Jefferson High School and Hood River High School. Leonard enjoyed playing football. He soon saw that those Portland boys did not play in the same way he had been coached in La Grande. He went to Hood River, found a dairy farm, and was hired for room and board and a small wage. He had found a home at school, playing football with a bunch of rough, tough boys.
When he turned 16, he moved back to Portland with his family and went to work at the shipyards where ships were being built for the war with Japan in the South Pacific.
At age 17, his mother signed the paper to allow him to join the Navy. He spent the next two years serving his country aboard the USS Crittenden in the South Pacific. Shipboard food was not to his liking. One day, while standing in the “chow line,” he was heard to say, “If I couldn’t do any better than that, I would hang it up.” He was immediately escorted to the captain’s quarters. He was now one of the ship’s cooks for the balance of his time in the Navy. Leonard had many amusing stories to tell about his cooking experiences aboard ship, but this same experience paved the way to a lifetime of getting up to his elbows in food preparation, whether it was at a hunting campfire, a back yard barbecue, the Senior Center’s kitchen, or the Lions Club fundraisers.
Following his honorable discharge at the end of World War II, Leonard went back to La Grande and worked for the Union Pacific Railroad. It was during his travels, maintaining the railroad’s telephone system, that he met and married Clara Williams, who had two little girls, Virginia, known as Jennie, and Nancy.
Leonard realized he needed more education if he wanted a career with the U.P. Railroad. He took a leave of absence from his job and completed the radio/electric course, graduating in the spring of 1953, and was back to work for the U.P. Railroad for the next 23 years. He kept the telephones working, and later, the microwave system in the northeast corner of Oregon.
In the next eight years, Leslie and Claire joined the family. Leonard was a good and loving father to all his girls. The daughters remember the family outings of fishing, picnics, and picking huckleberries during their years living in La Grande. Leonard and Clara divorced, and his family moved to Portland. He remarried, but that marriage was not to be, and he was divorced again. Within a few years, he renewed a friendship with Mildred Red and they were married at the Yellowjacket Lake cabin in 1976. They lived in their home in Hines until his death.
Leonard was not a shy man. He was active in several organizations. He was a 56-year member of the Elks Lodge, a past president of the Junior Oldtimers (a railroad organization), the La Grande Eagles Club and the Burns Lions Club. He also served on the Harney County Hospital board.
Leonard was the first to cook for the Senior Center. He worked part time and volunteered as needed. He and his job were a good fit, telling a few jokes and visiting with everyone who came to lunch. He made many friends.
Leonard loved the outdoors, but elk hunting was his passion. When elk season rolled around, all else was set aside. He hunted where the elk were, and always brought an elk home.
Leonard is survived by his wife, Mildred; daughters, Leslie Blanchard and Claire Agner; stepdaughters, Jennie Rockwell, Nancy Saltos, Teresa Johnson and Laurie Red, all of Oregon; Stepson, James (Barbara) Red of Henderson, Nev.; nine grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.
He was preceded in death by his parents; sisters, Loretta and Lois, and their spouses; brothers, Richard, Dewey, Clifford and Albert and their spouses; and son-in-law, Bob Agner.
A celebration of life was held June 1 at St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church in Burns. In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to the Burns Lions Scholarship Fund, Peace Lutheran Church, or to the Harney County Senior and Community Services Center, in care of LaFollette’s Chapel, P.O. Box 488, Burns OR 97720.