In Memoriam: Leo Mitchell


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Leo Wilson Mitchell, age 93, passed away peacefully on Sunday, November 11, 2012. As a proud Navy veteran of WWII, it was appropriate that he be called home on Veterans Day. He will be lovingly remembered as an honorable man of tremendous integrity; a loving, supportive husband, grandfather, uncle; and loyal, caring friend.

Leo was born January 27, 1919 in Van Buren, Arkansas near the border with Oklahoma. This area was adjacent to the Cherokee Indian territory which was “wild west” country in those days. He grew up working hard on the family farm and finding many adventures in the hills and woods. His stories of those days rival any exploits “Huck Finn” might have had.

He was creative, inventive and capable of fixing or building almost anything. When he was a teen, he converted his Model-A to run on natural gas, which was plentiful in the Van Buren area. He could usually be found in his shop working on numerous projects.

During the Depression, Leo traveled the country looking for work and taking most any job he could find. He eventually followed the rest of his family to Southern California, where he met his wife, Mildred Margaret “Millie” Smith. They were married in Hot Springs, Arkansas July 2, 1942 and made their home in Montebello, California.

At the beginning of WWII, he worked at the famed Lockheed “Skunk Works,” helping to build the P-38 fighter aircraft. He enlisted in the Navy and was trained to operate LCVP landing craft. He was assigned to Pearl Harbor for the duration of the war.

On his return, jobs were once again hard to find, so he joined his father and brother, Voaid, in “Mitchell and Sons Construction Company,” building homes in the Los Angeles area. From there, he moved on to larger companies, supervising the construction of many commercial buildings and schools throughout Southern California. He helped raise Millie’s son, Jerry Van Brunt, and adopted Millie’s grand-niece, Phyllis Peltier, who had Muscular Dystrophy.

In the early ’70s, Leo retired to Canyon Lake and, with his brother Voaid, built several of the early homes in the community. He and Millie loved to travel in their fifth wheel (especially with friends and family), go on cruises, and square dance. He spent many hours piloting his boat around the Lake so his great-grandchildren, nieces and nephews could ski.

Leo was the consummate storyteller and the accuracy of his memory amazed everyone, right up to the end. He will always be remembered for his calm wisdom, common sense, humor and easy-going nature.

Burial will be with military honors at Rose Hills Cemetery in Whittier on Friday, November 23, at 11 a.m. A celebration of his life will be held Saturday, November 24, at 10:30 a.m. at the Canyon Lake Country Club.