February 18, 1943 to November 21, 2018

I last saw Karen Kay in 2015 and wrote this on Facebook:

I had breakfast today with my mother, and Jack and Karen Kay Leonard, pictured here at their wedding (you can see Jack but not Karen Kay’s face, my dad is in the background and Rachel Gibson is on the right). When I was in kindergarten, Karen Kay lived on the 3rd floor of our house and was a student teacher at Newton North High School (the high school before the high school before the current one). Jack and Karen Kay adopted two kids who are now adults, and had one other child. 

We live in a house and have someone living on our 3rd floor; we adopted two great kids; and Daniel is about to graduate from Newton North. 

Jack and Karen Kay have been an inspiration and great friends for 50 + years. I love them with all my heart.

Karen Kay was been an inspiration and role model for me my entire life. I don’t know how to describe what a great person she was – she and Jack adopted interracial children right after it became legal – Christine was the first interracial adoption after it became legal in California and they moved to Texas where interracial adoptions were still illegal. Karen Kay knew what was right and just did it.

After I found out Karen Kay had died, I called my mother to tell her. My mom said that all we can do is to try to be more like her. Since then, in moments when things seemed hard, I’ve thought about Karen Kay and found inspiration in how hard she worked, her kindness, grace, how she tackled things head on, cared for and supported others and never complained.

The last email I received from Karen Kay was sharing the sad news of James’ death.

Email from Karen Karen, August 26, 2018

Dear friends and loved ones,

            This is “a letter edged in black.”  We are sad to report that our son, James, died this week at home in his condo, at the age of 48.  We did not learn of it until an emissary from his work came to the house yesterday.  James had neither called nor appeared for two days, and the man was sent to find out whether James was all right.  Although we don’t yet know the specific cause of death, it may have been a stroke.

           We will especially cherish the memory of James’s irrepressible humor.  Even as a preschooler, he would try for a laugh.  When our friend, Lee, called asking to talk to his father, James would respond, “Yee, this is Daddy.”  James was no fan of musical comedies, but I [KK] will always associate him with the Mary Poppins character who loved to laugh,

“The more I laugh, the more I fill with glee

And the more the glee, The more I’m a merrier me…”

Our family feels grateful to have had James in our midst. There is not time before our departure for Alaska to talk with all you we’d like to reach. when Jack and I return in mid-September, we’ll have a worship service at our church to remember James’s life. In the meantime, we pray God will keep us — and you — in his care.

Faithfully,

Karen Kay and Jack

  

I wrote back to Karen Kay.

Karen Kay –

My heart aches. It’s been years since I’ve seen James but I always remember he had a smile on his face and such playfulness. It makes me smile to thing of him as a youngster.  As you know, you and Jack were the models for Ellen and me.  I got to see what a great family you had after you adopted Christine and James and it inspired us to adopt our kids.  You, Jack, Christine and her family and James are in our thoughts and prayers. I will always remember James and his laugh and smile. 

With much love,

Nate

On November 20, I got a text from Christine that Karen Kay’s heart stopped and she was gone. A few days later, Jack sent this email.

Email from Jack Leonard — Sunday, November 25, 2018

Now some of you are REALLY getting tired of hearing from me if you have received earlier e-mails in this series. I can blame Christine: I confessed that that besides KK’s lists, I had a more comprehensive list (our 2017 Christmas letter list) that I had not updated.
She said, “I Don’t Care!! USE IT(sic)” Even if you got the earlier letters, you need to know this: The address of North was wrong on the earlier letters. It is 3808 N Meridian, not 2808. If you are getting this it is either because you requested the longer version or because you were on one or more of KK’s shorter lists.
 
The Bottom Line: Karen Kay Ball Leonard died on Tuesday, November 22, 2018 in Indianapolis, Indiana.
 
The Longer Story:
 
Background: Many of you are aware that KK was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis in high school. At age 38, as predicted, it turned into colon cancer (Stage 4 adenocarcinoma) in 1981 and her bowel was resected (removed) in Bryan, Texas,meaning that she no longer had a large intestine.  She was then an ileostomate: that means that her digestive juices were not defecated, but entered a bag she had to empty twice a day and replace about once a week. It was not a pleasant process, but it kept her alive for 37 more years.
 
In 2017 she began drastic weight loss which resulted in hospitalization at which it was concluded that her ileum (small intestine) was no longer able to deliver adequate nutrients to her blood. To keep her alive, then, she had to have additional feeding (“TPN”) through  a port direcetly into her neck veins. So I was trained to be her home care assistant nurse and hook her up five nights a week. She quickly regained weight and seemed to be re- stabilized, but she found it tedious and confining.
 
The Beginning of the End: Less than two weeks ago (Thursday, November 15) right after we went to bed she found she could not breathe unless she was sitting up. She had never had lung symptoms before, so this was distressing to us both. She found that she could breathe if she sat or stood, so she slept that night in our reclining love seat.
 
The next day she saw her primary care physician who ordered x-rays on which it was clearly apparent that she had water buildup in several organs including the lungs. Her physician said that the situation was unclear and she should go to the emergency room, but KK flatly refused because she did not want a hospital admission at the start of the weekend. She slept Friday and Saturday nights on the love seat, but her discomfort remained. [For example, she did not attend Sunday services that weekend, although she and I were able to feed the Rembert family.]
 
After Sunday dinner she was feeling so bad that she agreed to go to the ER at Methodist Hospital. They quickly checked her and began the admissions process. Staff were worried about her rapid pulse and their inability to measure her blood oxygen level (a difficulty common in patients with her immune system disorder.) They got her admitted late in the evening and I left after she was in a room on the cardiovascular ward.
 
When I got home I put together the preliminary parts of an account and emailed it to a short list I found on her computer of people to whom she wrote about our son James’ death on August 23.
 
When I came in Monday morning they were administering additional tests and she seemed rather comfortable, but just after I arrived the decision was made that she needed closer monitoring so she was transferred to cardiopulmonary critical care.
 
Once there they began the use of additional pharmaceutical drips and a poor young resident came in to explain to her what her ”no extraordinary measures” order might mean, detailing the possible modes of helping her to live a little longer if she had a crisis. She calmly but firmly (in highschool English teacher fashion) said “no” to everything he offered and he went away, clearly distressed.
 
Then, a senior pulmonary specialist came in to explain their understanding of her condition, and the interventions they were using to let her heart and lungs recover. Throughout Monday afternoon and evening she seemed to be recovering, so I went home about 8 p.m.
 
On Tuesday she seemed transformed; her color was much improved and her pain was almost nonexistent for most of the day. She didn’t seem to eat much, but did not appear to be especially famished. That afternoon Maurice and the three boys came and  the boys brought her get-well cards they had chosen. Since it was Thanksgiving break, C and M were not working and C was with me a lot of the day.
 
The End Arrives. At about 7:30 p.m. she told me to go home and rest. She was calm and comfortable and could not be persuaded to let me hang around until visitors were supposed to leave at 9 p.m. Christine had already left to take care of her family.
 
When I got home a search of her computer found several other lists she had put together for James’ letter, so I stitched them together and began to write another set of  notes. As I did so I heard footsteps on the stairs and turned around to see my son-in-law Maurice who simply said “Karen Kay has died.” After we talked a brief time, he went home to get their boys and I went to the hospital to be with Karen Kay and Christine for awhile in KK’s room and Christine told me what the nurses had said about her death. About 9:30 KK had gone into pulmonary distress. But since her chart clearly specified “No Codes” they did not call for the emergency team, but simply notified her physician and turned her on her side to relieve her distress some. Barely had they turned her when she calmed and went still.
 
After Maurice arrived with the boys and they had had a chance to say their farewells and to hold her now cooling hand, I removed her wedding ring and her hat (a special handmade item she loved and which had helped keep her comfortable in the hospital) and the family bid her farewell and went home.
 
The aftermath.
The next morning I notified the funeral home and wrote a brief letter to the people to the longer list I had stitched together. Christine and Annette and I met over the phone that afternoon to begin a plan for the memorial service. Miraculously, in the very busy season of Advent, the third Saturday of December (12/15) was available, and we pray the weather will be as amenable. We would love to have you come to say your farewells and to renew acquaintance.
 
Christine told me I had not sent the letter to enough people and said that I had to send it out to our Christmas letter list. Now, it is important to understand that she outranks her mother in one sense: she is a PRINCIPAL at a pre-K to 8 Montessori school, and her mother taught her well to use her authority . It is thanks to her that I have the next couple of days writing this account and organizing the humongous e-mail list I was able to construct. It is been a work of love, though, so you need not feel bad for me. Christine is right: KK touched many people and it is your right that you have a chance to say goodbye in whatever way you can. A prayer for all those she left behind would be appreciated.

Love,
   
Jack
 
P.S. Organizational Details:
Her memorial service will be on Saturday, December 15 from 2-3:30 pm at North United Methodist North United Methodist Church, 3808 North Meridian St., Indianapolis, IN, 46208. There will be a calling with the family from 11 – 1:30 that day.
 
Memorial donations may be sent to either North Church Program and Mission Endowment (address above) or to WAZA Alliance [a project promoting education in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (of which she was a co-founder and continuing major contributor) online at waza-alliance.org.

In Memory of Karen Kay Leonard

Karen Kay Ball Leonard was born February 18, 1943, to Irene (Nowka) and Wilson Oscar Ball near Hinton, Oklahoma.  She moved at age three to Wynnewood, Oklahoma, where she completed her primary and secondary education, graduating as valedictorian.  It was there she developed her abiding faith, tireless work ethic, and dedication to democracy and fairness – principles that would guide the rest of her life. Starting at Oklahoma City University she graduated from Boston University with a bachelors in secondary education. She married Jack Edward Leonard of Ponca City, Oklahoma, in Cambridge, Massachusetts on June 18, 1965.  Attending Southern Methodist University, she received an M.A. in English.

Karen Kay dedicated her adulthood to helping others – family, friends, students, and community.  She taught in elementary schools (TX), secondary schools (TX, IN), and college (CA).  She, Jack, and their three children moved to Indianapolis in August, 1985.  She taught English at North Central High School until 1999.  An active longtime member of the League of Women Voters, she served as president of both the city and the state League. She also dedicated considerable attention and work at North United Methodist Church, volunteering on and chairing numerous committees and cofounding in 1992 a young adult Sunday school class that still meets.  A three-time cancer survivor, she lived with bravery and kindness in the face of chronic autoimmune disease that impacted her daily life.  A devoted mother and grandmother, Karen Kay hosted Sunday dinner at her home each week and there was always room for one more at her table.  Her life was marked by diligence, competence, and a deep concern for those around her.  She will be missed.

She is preceded in death by her parents and her son, James.  She is survived by her husband Jack, daughters Christine Rembert of Indianapolis (Maurice) and their sons Jack Thomas, Aaron Andrew, and David Wilson, daughter Annette Leonard (Rebecca Williams) of Eugene, Oregon,  and by her sister Mea (Gaelen) Daum of Poway, CA, and  children Arwen (Reston, VA) and Nathan (Kapa’a, Kauai, HI). 

Her memorial service will be at North United Methodist Church, Indianapolis, at 2 p.m. on Saturday, Dec. 15, with calling from 11 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.  Memorial gifts would be appreciated for the Program and Mission Endowment at North UMC, 3808 N Meridian, 46228, or online to Waza Alliance for Quality Education, of which she was a cofounder and major supporter (waza-alliance.org).

See also Celebrating the life of Co-Founder Karen Kay Leonard