Betty Jean Wright Leech 1921 - 2010 Oskaloosa

Paid family tribute

A Celebration of Life Service will be at 2:00 PM, Saturday, November 20, 2010, at the First United Presbyterian Church in Oskaloosa for Betty Jean (Wright) Leech, 89, of Oskaloosa. Mrs. Leech  died Monday, October 4, 2010 at her home and was anatomically donated to the University of Kansas Dept of Anatomy and Cell Biolgy.
Betty Jean (Wright) Leech was born Jan. 4, 1921, near Grantville, KS, to Mary Ritchie Wright and Robert Talmadge Wright.
Mrs. Leech was a singer, a community volunteer, non-stop doer and worker, an environmentalist and conservationist, inspired grandparent, gardener and a Democrat.
A 1938 graduate of Perry High School, she attended Washburn College, where she was a voice student. During World War II she entered a talent competition in a “Truth or Consequences” War Bond fund-raising radio show at Topeka Municipal Auditorium and won, earning a scholarship to study at the Juilliard School of Music (New York City), from which she eventually earned her bachelor’s and master’s degrees. She married William Crandall Leech, of Oskaloosa, in November 1950, just a few years after running into him in New York City, where he, her former high school music teacher, was studying law at Columbia University on the GI Bill. Mr. Leech, who served in Normandy and fought in the Battle of the Bulge, died in January 1993.
In her early years in Oskaloosa, Mrs. Leech helped found the Women’s Civic Group, which bought land for Oskaloosa’s first city park. The group helped landscape and equip the park, and it was deeded to the city in 1957. With her husband and many volunteers and leaders, she helped develop and improve Old Jefferson Town in Oskaloosa, doing everything from planting trees and removing crumbling plaster to creating a museum in honor of the life and work of Jefferson County native artist John Steuart Curry. She was the first woman member of the Oskaloosa school board.          
She worked hard, well into her 80s, preserving native prairie grasses and flowers on her Jefferson County farm, and planted 600 trees along the banks of Slough Creek to stanch soil erosion. In 1996, she was awarded Kansas Forest Stewardship Landowner of the Year by the Kansas Forest Service and Kansas Forest Conservationist of the year by the Kansas Wildlife Federation. She also waged a chemical-free war on Russian thistles and other noxious plants.
In recent years, she supported and eagerly watched the preservation by the Shawnee County Historical Society of the home of her great-grandparents -- Col. John and Mary Jane Ritchie, Topeka pioneers, active opponents of slavery and supporters of women’s voting rights – and the neighboring home of her grandparents, Hale and Anna Ritchie.
Like her ancestors, Mrs. Leech held a passion for humanitarian and world issues, supporting many environmental, political and human rights causes. In 1995 she was quoted in a New York Times article arguing that her monthly Social Security check was too high, given budget cuts Congress was considering that would hurt low-income Americans.
A mezzo-soprano, she was active in music in Jefferson County for decades. She taught voice lessons, mentored voice students from the University of Kansas, and sang for two generations of church services at the Oskaloosa First Presbyterian Church, where the choir was directed by her husband. While living in New York she sang with the Robert Shaw Collegiate Chorale, and made frequent trips back to New York over the years to see her sister and catch up on opera performances. In the final days of her life, she sang with and was sung to by friends at her bedside.
Mrs. Leech is survived by a son, William Wright Leech, of Roosevelt, N.J.; a daughter, Elizabeth Ann Leech, of Mercer Island, WA.;  and three grandchildren, Jonathan Hale Frazier, Jackson Oliver Edwin David Leech and Rosalie Margaret Frazier. She encouraged a great love of the outdoors in her grandchildren, leading them through muddy creeks, collecting noteworthy rocks, bones and more, and reading many, many books to them. Her sister, Margaret Maxwell, and brother, Richard Hale Wright, are deceased.
The family suggests memorial contributions to the Friends of Jefferson County Hospice, the Jefferson County Historical Society’s endowment fund, or to Shawnee County Historical Society’s Hale Ritchie house fund in care of Barnett-Chapel Oaks Funeral Home, P.O. Box 416, Oskaloosa, KS 66066.

This information was provided to the Journal-World as a paid tribute.