William M. Leons
1935-2014 BRATTLEBORO William "Bill" Menachem Leons died June 2, 2014 at home in the loving presence of his wife and children. Bill's life journey has been a remarkable one. He was born in Rotterdam, The Netherlands, on August 29, 1935. During World War II, a Dutch Mennonite family, at great risk to themselves, hid Bill in the small attic room of their apartment house in Rotterdam during the German occupation from 1942-1944. This was a lonely and traumatizing experience for a young child. The Nazis had taken his father away and he never saw him again. They placed his mother in the Vught interment camp southeast of Rotterdam. She miraculously survived this horrendous experience and with the help of underground connections, he was reunited with his mother after Vught was liberated by English and Canadian troops in October 1944. After the war, in December 1949, mother and son were eventually able to come to the United States aboard a ship of the Holland America Line and they settled in Hoboken, N.J. Living close to NY City, Bill took advantage of what that city had to offer and spent many hours in the museums there. Intensely self-directed and motivated, hoping to become an anthropologist, Bill worked days and attended classes at night to get his high school diploma. After achieving that, he drove to California. He attended Los Angeles City College while he was establishing residency there, before he could enroll in UCLA. While attending college in the early 1960's, he became aware of the great civil unrest that was happening in the country around the issue of civil rights. Because Bill avidly read newspapers, he was well acquainted with the attacks on civil rights workers in the south and this disturbed him enough that he was easily recruited to join others in traveling to the south to join the protests as a Freedom Rider. He was arrested, along with other Freedom Riders, in Jackson, Mississippi and ended up spending about a month at the Mississippi State Penitentiary (also called Parchman Farm) living under miserable conditions. Eventually freed, he returned to UCLA to earn his Masters Degree. From UCLA, Bill next attended Pennsylvania State University to work on his doctorate. He did field research in Bolivia and wrote his thesis on "Dimensions of Pluralism in a Changing Bolivian Community". He received his PhD in Cultural Anthropology from Penn State in 1971. He taught at Goucher College in Baltimore, MD from 1969-1975. Leaving Goucher, he held a professorship at the University of Toledo from 1975 until his retirement in 2010. In 2011 Bill and his wife, Kim-Anh, moved to Brattleboro, VT, buying a home on Wantastiquet Drive. Their lovely gardens grace the street and the Leons have become an integral part of a close-knit neighborhood. Bill is survived by his wife, Kim-Ahn and five children. His daughters are: Natalia Leons, who is married with two children, Noah and Ben Yanowich, of Arlington, VA; and Eve Leons, who is married with one child, Ivy Dall, of Putney. His sons are: Jeff Leons, married and residing in Seattle, WA; David Hanford Nguyen with two children, Gabriela and Will Nguyen, residing in Richmond, VA; and Michael Leons Nguyen, residing in Chicago, Ill. He leaves behind his beloved dogs, Basil and Skippy, and his very special dog friend, Andy, who lives next door and visited Bill frequently. A memorial gathering will be held for Bill in the garden of the Leons' residence, 110 Wantastiquet Drive, Brattleboro, VT at 2:00 p.m. on Thursday, June 5, 2014. In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to Brattleboro Area Hospice, 191 Canal Street, Brattleboro, VT 05301. To sign an online register book with messages of condolence, please visit www.atamaniuk.com. Arrangements are under the direction of the ATAMANIUK FUNERAL HOME.
Published in Brattleboro Reformer on June 3, 2014
Atamaniuk Funeral Home
40 Terrace Street Brattleboro, VT 05301-2923