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Leona Helen Griffith died Thursday, July 16, a week after turning 92 years old. Born as the youngest child of Frank and Lena Schmidt, she began a 64-year marriage in 1953 to Kenneth Jack Griffith, a union which resulted in the birth of 4 children.
She was a hardworking farm wife, exemplary mother, and engaged church volunteer, but the role she truly relished was that of school teacher. She taught first grade in Preston, KS, before she married and stopped teaching while she raised her family; but once her youngest child was in school, she immediately focused on returning to the classroom.
Teacher requirements had changed by that time, so she went right back to college and didn’t stop once she finished the minimum requirements, but completed a master’s degree—all while milking cows and raising children. Over the years, she taught at multiple rural schools in the Newton area: Suncrest, Pleasant Acres, and Walton. She loved teaching first grade and taught hundreds of local children to read during the course of her career.
She was attentive to the needs of students beyond the classroom and created the first latchkey before and after-care program for students in USD 373 at Walton Elementary School. The school board at the time was not ready to provide funding, but she sought and received permission to begin fundraising. Through soup suppers and other avenues, she found the funds to launch the program that is now available to all children in the district.
Even after she retired, Leona kept teaching as a substitute teacher and worked into her 80s. And even then, her favorite thing was to engage with grandchildren, great-grandchildren, and children at church, reading stories, building towers with blocks, and playing make-believe with puppets, dress-up clothes and anything else she could find. She ran the church nursery for a period of time and directed children’s programs.
Survivors include daughter Susan (Elias) Agel of Oklahoma City, son Frank (Peggy) Griffith of Wichita, son Thomas Griffith of Walton, daughter Sara Griffith (Breeze Simmons) of Fallbrook, CA. She is also survived by 11 grandchildren, Amanda & husband Drew, Kaitlin, Andrew, Keemia, Jacob, Kiana, Scott, Megan & husband Alexander, and Tyler and four great-grandchildren, Elijah, Abraham, Paul, and Mary Helen.
She was preceded in death by her husband Kenneth “Jack”, parents, Frank & Lena Schmidt, sisters Olga Conway, Velma Claassen, Lily Whitsett, and by brothers Roland Schmidt and Alvin Schmidt.
Private services will be held gravesite on Saturday. Viewing will be at Petersen Funeral Home, Newton, on Friday evening, July 17, from 5 -7 p.m. Memorials may be directed to Golden Plains Free Methodist Church or to Positive Tomorrows (school for homeless children) in Oklahoma City
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