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Celebrating Leda's life

Celebrating Leda's life

Date: February 10, 2018 | By Deanna Surbrook

Happy 105th birthday

Leda, what is the secret to living such a long life?

“Well, I guess, you just don’t die, Leda said.”

On Feb. 4, 1913, God blessed the world with a special angel, and I had the great honor of sitting down with her just a couple of days before her 105th birthday.

Leda is a lovely lady - charismatic, charming and downright witty. But she’s also one tough, independent and resilient woman. From covered wagons, to picking cotton, being a faithful wife and loving mother, caring for special needs’ children and lots in between, Leda has seen and experienced very much in her 105 years. And she’s far from being done yet.

And, oh, what a memory!

Leda, daughter of William and Esther Van Y, was born in Houghton Lake. At the age of three, her family moved to Saginaw, but they didn’t stay very long. The family then embarked on a much longer voyage to Missouri.

Even though automobiles had been on the roads for almost 15 years, her family couldn’t afford such a luxury. The family’s only choice was to travel by covered wagon for the almost 800-mile journey.

To this day, Leda remembers bits and pieces of the move, but what sticks out in her mind the most is that she was always freezing to death.

A wagon could only travel at around two miles an hour, which allowed for an average of 10 miles per day. With good weather, the journey would have taken about three months.

Leda was cold for a long time.

“The cold weather made it pretty uncomfortable,” remembers Leda. “I think it was fall when we left…then I remember the roads being really icy. I can remember sitting around the campfires with my younger sister, Freda, being all bundled up and still cold.”

After a short time living in Missouri, the family packed up once again and headed to Arkansas and later Oklahoma. Leda had a happy childhood, although it came with a lot of hard work – very hard work.

“I did field work,” Leda said. “I picked potatoes, strawberries, beans, pulling cotton, you name it.

“Papa would drop us off at around eight in the morning and we didn’t quit until the job was finished,” she added. “I can remember looking down a row of cotton and it looked like it went on for miles.”

School felt like a vacation, but it only lasted for six weeks in the summer and the fall.

“It was the most fun we had… being with the other kids,” Leda said.

Her favorite subject in school was geography. One day, her teacher allowed her to bring a geography book home with her, and Leda pored over it, dreaming of where she’d travel one day.

When she was 14, the family was on the move again and came back to Saginaw. Leda made it through the eighth grade and decided to drop out, a decision she regrets to this very day.

By this time, it was the early 1930s and Leda found work as a housemaid and caregiver for a woman with twins. She earned $5 a week but didn’t much care for her job, especially because she was also taking care of her oldest sister’s two children, free of charge.

In 1937, Leda met the love of her life, Norman Woodward.

“My sister and her husband were camping on Houghton Lake,” she remembers. “Norman was from Detroit and was camping next to them.

“I guess it was love at first sight,” added Leda, jokingly. “He was a really good guy.”

And that he was.

Leda had been married once before and was abandoned by her first husband while pregnant with their second child. Norman didn’t blink at the prospect of marrying a woman with two small children, Myron and Delores. After he and Leda married, Norman legally adopted the children.

The couple went on to have four more children – Darla, Don, Bonnie and Norman Jr. Leda can’t count how many grandchildren, great-grandchildren and greatgreat- grandchildren she has – a lot!

After she and Norman married, they briefly lived in Detroit before heading back to Houghton Lake. Norman was a carpenter, builder and surveyor. Leda was a stay-at-home mom for a while.

The Great Depression devastated American families, both financially and emotionally, throughout the 1930s. To bring the country out of the Great Depression, President Franklin D. Roosevelt, among many other programs, established the Works Progress Administration in 1935.

The WPA was designed to get America back to work by providing jobs in return for temporary financial assistance. WPA workers built highways, schools and hospitals and many other public works projects.

In 1939, Leda entered the work force with the WPA as a seamstress making clothing for the less fortunate. The WPA was disbanded in 1942, because everyone’s attention shifted to World War II. Norman was unable to serve because of a crippled foot.

Norman and Leda settled into life raising the kids. It was a happy life until Norman passed away in the early 1960s, after battling cancer.

“I only had him for 26 years and a half,” Leda said, emotionally. “He was a good husband…it was a great loss.”

Over the next several years, Leda moved around quite a bit. She eventually remarried, but her new husband was too “bossy” and liked to tell her what to do. And so down the road he went.

Eventually, she settled in Mt. Pleasant and went to work for a state hospital caring for and helping special needs children.

“I loved being with them... it gave me a lot of enjoyment,” Leda said. “They were so cute, and (despite their age), they were infantile. They were so loving and special.”

She can remember the names of many of the children she cared for and the activities she did with them. Leda left the hospital after eight years because the hospital began housing severely impaired children who were unable to do very little, if anything at all.

For the next two years, Leda cared for special needs children at the Montessori Daycare on the Native American Reservation.

“I loved it…it wasn’t just a job,” Leda said. “I just really loved these kids.”

Leda, a big fan of a road trip, traveled across the United States, fulfilling a young girl’s dream. Remarkedly, she drove until she was 98 years old. One of her special trips she took with her daughter, Bonnie, traveling to South Dakota, taking many side trips on the way. Mother and daughter traveled 4,100 miles in 17 days.

Leda still gets out of the house as much as she can. She looks forward to more road trips and loves church.

“I’m so thankful to be able to still do it,” Leda said. “I feel really good most of the time.”

On her birthday, Bonnie, and a few other family members, took her to dinner, but in June a grand birthday celebration is planned. Family members from all over the country, as far away as Alaska, will attend. Leda is looking forward to the party and seeing everyone, but jokingly, she said, “sounds kind of tiresome, doesn’t it?”

Happy Birthday Leda!

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