"If you're not adventurous, you might as well pack it in." Speaking these words to his granddaughter in Texas just nine months ago, Leo N. Romer actively lived them with robust vigor and a gentle grace. A brief and dramatic decline of his health unexpectedly turned him towards the end of these words that he lived by. Leo passed peacefully Saturday morning, January 18, 2014, in the comfort of his home with family at his side.
Leo Norman Romer was born June 5, 1923, in Brigham City, Utah, to Harriet Ann Allen Romer and Leo Christian Romer. The family moved shortly thereafter to Las Vegas, Nevada. Leo Sr., a carpenter, was one of many building the formwork for the Hoover Dam. Young Leo's adventures began here in the wide-open spaces of the Nevada desert, playing with his younger brother and sister. He also had his first job: selling ice cream for a penny at the crossing of two dirt roads -- Las Vegas' only intersection at the time.
Following the completion of the Hoover Dam project, the family moved to Idaho Falls and settled on a farm in the Ammon foothills. Leo became an avid reader and thus began his lifelong love for stories of adventure, travel and history. He attended Idaho Falls High School, playing the bass horn in the marching band and nurturing his great love for music. He worked the family farm and helped his father build homes throughout the growing region of Idaho Falls. Following graduation from IFHS in 1941, Leo continued to work and save money towards his goal of attending the University of Idaho. Driving his parents home from a concert at the Idaho Falls Auditorium late one December night, the announcement came over the car radio that Pearl Harbor had been bombed and Leo told his parents: "I think I know what I'll be doing next year." His draft into the Army followed and basic training quickly dispelled any notions of war as a grand adventure. Originally Leo was given a choice flying in glider planes or being a paratrooper. He chose to be a paratrooper. The dangers, in his estimation, were a little less and the pay was a little better. He was assigned to the 11th Airborne Division in the South Pacific and was assigned to a unit performing advanced tactical intelligence and reconnaissance gathering on the islands of Leyte and Luzon within the Philippines. In his own words: "We had no idea that we could survive that kind of thing, but miraculously some of us did." He served with honor for 3 years and was discharged with medals for valorous service in both the Philippines and Japan. Fifty years later, participating in the Idaho Falls/Tokai-Mura sister city tour of Japan, a local dignitary asked Leo if he had ever visited Japan before: "Yes." Was it business or pleasure? "Strictly business, I must say." Upon his return to Idaho, Leo was met by one of his high school friends. That friend had enrolled Leo for the fall term at Idaho State College in Pocatello. Two years there were followed by two years at the University of Utah to complete his degree in Geology. His love for the geophysical sciences was only matched by his love for something equally beguiling, but much more lovely: Carol Ruth Trowbridge.
Leo met Carol while at Idaho State College, and he returned to Idaho to continue pursuing her. In his own words: "My Darling, my Carol was a farmer's daughter and for many months I pursued and sought 'er. I'd given up hope and started to mope, when with mischievous eyes, she beckoned her finger and I caught 'er." Thus began a life together filled with love, family and travel adventures.
Leo settled into a job as a Safety Engineer with Westinghouse working at the National Reactor Testing Station (Idaho National Engineering Laboratory) and his responsibilities grew, as did his family. In 1956, Leo and his father built a brick and wood home for the family. This home was featured in the Idaho Falls Tour of Homes for its "open spaces looking out to the beautiful outdoors" and the "innovative custom carpentry" that was throughout the house. Leo himself was pleased that his custom design was measured most exactly, using whole bricks throughout. "I hate breaking bricks," he said with a smile. Forty years later, as he was fitting a new electric garage door opener, he was pleased to note that everything was as plumb and level as it was when the home was built.
One daughter and two sons were successfully seen throughout their growing up years and university studies. All were included in many a family adventure. Leo loved hiking and camping in the Tetons and Yellowstone, and many weekends were spent there with him rhapsodizing at length about the geology of these areas. Special trips also included the much loved canyon lands of southern Utah and Arizona, where Leo and his darling Carol had honeymooned together. Travels continued extensively across the country and the globe, Leo and Carol both immersing themselves in the history, folklore and lives of those they met. They generously included their children and grandchildren in many of these experiences.
Ever pursuing new adventures, Leo golfed, bicycled, raced his home-built sailing boats, did woodworking and carving, played bridge, tended his rose garden, studied astronomy, embraced the personal computer age and promptly taught himself how to type. He wrote his World War II memoirs and two books of limericks dedicated to and honoring his beloved friends and family. Shining through these books is his characteristic good will and humor, his appreciation for the simple gifts of good food and drink, and his embrace of times shared together with friends.
In his eighties, he began volunteering at the Museum of Idaho. Here he thoroughly enjoyed researching the exhibits and sharing his knowledge with the many visitors. He also enjoyed being an ambassador for the museum, giving talks about the museum and its exhibits to different groups around Idaho Falls. One of the local nursing homes invited Leo to consider residency in one of their apartments. Instead, he came and gave a presentation about the Tutankhamun exhibit.
His love for travel and adventure never faltered, with plans for more to follow in 2014 interrupted only by the call of his best adventure yet. On this departure, we wish him our deepest love and gratitude.
Leo was preceded in death by his wife of 60 years, Carol Romer.
He is survived by his brother, Ray Romer; and a sister, Joanne Barzee; his daughter, Karin (Ken) Weaver; sons, Allan (Gabriele) Romer and Todd (Tannis) Romer; six grandchildren; and four great-grandchildren.
Memorial Services will be held at 11 a.m. Monday, January 27, 2014, at the First Evangelical Lutheran Church, 455 W. Sunnyside Road in Idaho Falls, with Pastor Larry Cudmore officiating. Arrangements are under the direction of Buck-Miller-Hann Funeral Home in Idaho Falls.
Online condolences for the family may be left at www.buckmillerhann.com.
In lieu of flowers, the family requests donations to the Museum of Idaho in Idaho Falls, a place where Leo volunteered his time and love.