Leo Richard Ward, age 91, of Des Moines died on Saturday, January 23 at UnityPoint Methodist Hospital where his Irish luck finally ran its course.
Visitation will be held on Thursday, January 28, 2021 from 2:00 PM to 7:00 PM with the family present to receive guest from 4:00 PM to 7:00 PM at O'Leary Celebration of Life Center in Norwalk.
A Celebration of Life Service will be held on Friday, January 29, 2021 at 11:00 AM at O'Leary Celebration of Life Center in Norwalk. This service will be available for viewing on the O'Leary Funeral & Cremation Services Facebook page streaming live at approximately 10 minutes before the service.
A graveside burial service will follow at the Mount Calvary Cemetery in Melrose, Iowa at 1:00 PM.
Note: Due to COVID-19 restrictions, everyone attending is required to wear a face mask and maintain social distancing between households.
To share an on-line condolence with the family and to send flowers to his visitation please click the "send flowers/tributes" tab on this screen or call O'Leary's Flowers at (515) 981-0700. You may also order by going to: www.olearyflowers.com
Life Story of Leo R. Ward
Leo Ward, 91, of Des Moines died on January 23rd, 2021 at Unity Point Hospital where his Irish luck finally ran its course.
The honorary Mayor of Melrose, The Godfather of the Irish, Leo the Leprechaun, Old Twinkle Toes himself cashed in his chips and called it a day.
Leo was born to Frank and Catherine (Curran) Ward on December 8, 1929 in the greatest place on Earth - Melrose, Iowa. He was born at home and was the 4th of 9 children. He attended a one room schoolhouse and was proud to be a Tick Ridge graduate. Most of his childhood was spent picking corn, eating gooseberries, and thinking of ways to torture the Catholic nuns.
Leo joined the Navy and served in the Korean War from 1950-1954. He did two world tours on the USS Colwell as a Gunner’s Mate. During that time he told stories of winning a hundred dollars in a street game of Craps and then seeing Mother Teresa begging and so he handed his cash over to her. He also claimed he served as an Altar Boy for one day for Pope Pius XII at the Vatican. True? Sure, why not?
In 1952, Leo married Marita Magrane in Ottumwa, Iowa. When asked why Leo chose Rita, he replied, “She was the most beautiful girl I had ever seen.” And Rita, in turn she said married Leo because “I knew I would never be bored.” They quickly began a family and eventually moved to Des Moines where Leo worked many jobs, but mostly enjoyed his career as a barber. He worked at Morlan’s, Roland’s, and Ron’s. His specialties were buzz cuts and flat tops. Really, they were the only haircuts he knew how to do. He finally retired from being a barber at the age of 86.
Leo also worked for 20 years as an Air Rescue Fireman at the airport, where he never extinguished a fire but learned how to master biscuits and gravy and chili.
Leo enjoyed playing cards, drinking Busch Lite, dancing the night away, fishing, hunting, gardening, picking berries, shucking corn, snapping peas, pointing out the flaws in all his sons-in-law, making up new words in the English language, baseball, horse races, wrestling with his grandkids, and was famous for creating Irish decorations and secretly attaching them to people’s houses.
Mostly, Leo enjoyed being in Melrose. In 1973, he bought an old shack which was nicknamed ‘The Pretty House.’ He and Rita fixed it up and the Pretty House became the location where the Wards held fish-battered reunions every Fourth of July. Leo’s Fish Fry was a hit for twenty-five years! Leo had an amazing garden in Melrose and each year proclaimed his garden was, “the very best one I ever had!” He prided himself in getting the first red tomato before all his friends and neighbors.
Leo marched in the Des Moines St. Patrick’s Day parade every year, leading the town of Melrose and often winning the First Place for Best Performance. He proudly wore his head-to-toe green suit topped off with a green cowboy hat and shillelagh. Leo was a member of the Friendly Sons of Saint Patrick. His kids had his DNA done and discovered that he was 100% Irish. “I told you so,” was Leo’s response.
On Friday, Leo was playing a game of Pitch and drinking Busch Lite with his buddies at the bar when he suffered a heart attack. He hung on for a day to give his kids enough time to say good-bye. He really couldn’t have played his cards any better.
Leo leaves behind a whole bunch of stuff that no one knows what to do with but also a group of really sad family and friends. His daughters, Cathy (David) Utterson, Carole George, Sarah (Jeff) Horn, and Amy (Michael) Blair and daughter-in-law Susan Ward. While he tolerated his children, it was his 12 grandchildren – Andy (Sarah), Rob (Monica), Joe, Tristan, Hayden, JP, Daniel, Mary (Brandon), Matt, Rosie, Catey and Jillian - and four great grandchildren - Chloe, Nile, Zeni and Little Leo - whom he really loved. Leo also leaves behind his younger brother Bill Ward of East Moline, and his many nieces and nephews. He will be greatly missed by his girlfriend, Barbara Melcher and her children, Mary Jo Romanco and Matt Melcher.
Leo is most likely enjoying a reunion and telling a whopper of a story to those who left before him. His wife of 50 years, Rita. His sons John and Tom Ward, his granddaughter Luci Ward, his parents Frank and Catherine, and siblings Don Ward, Mary Virnig, Helen Bertram, Carolyn Peters, John Ward, Marty Ward, and Judy Settles. The party never really started until Leo showed up, so they will be glad to see him.
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