PENINSULA — Many locals are mourning the Oct. 25 death of Betty “Joyce” Leach, 88.
A long-time Chinook resident, Leach was known for her volunteer work for the Ilwaco Food Bank, the Reach Out ministry and thrift store, the “Dickens of a Christmas” gift-giving program and the Naselle Youth Camp.
Born in 1927, Betty Joyce Templeton and her four sisters were raised on a wheat farm in Toledo, Wash. According to her granddaughter, Jessica Bell, 31 of Ellensburg, life on the farm had a powerful influence on her character.
“All four girls were hard-working women on the farm. I would say that’s definitely where she developed that work ethic and altruistic personality,” Bell said.
She married Gene Leach, and the couple raised three children in Longview.
After the kids grew up, the couple moved to Chinook, and Leach became very active with local community organizations and churches. Bell says her grandmother was “a woman of a lot of faith,” but she wasn’t loyal to one denomination — she belonged to local Presbyterian, Lutheran and Baptist congregations at various times.
Retired teacher Jan Bono met Leach through the Presbyterian Church in the early 1980s. Though Bono was young enough to be Leach’s daughter, the two became close friends.
“She enriched my life immeasurably,” Bono said. She remembers Leach as a “giving, kind, compassionate, selfless person” who lived by her Christian beliefs.
“That woman really walked the walk,” Bono said.
Leach is perhaps best known for her work at Naselle Youth Camp, where she led an effort to provide a Christmas stocking to every resident at the detention facility for at least 30 years. Bono said she sewed hundreds of stockings over the years.
“She sewed those stockings forever. She started in July!” Bono recalled. “She was a person who saw need and filled it. She said, ‘There are no bad boys, just bad decisions.’” She also organized a monthly Sunday afternoon cupcake and ice cream party for NYC residents, and prepared Easter baskets for the NYC kids in the spring.
Lorraine Brown, director of the Peninsula Church Center Daycare, remembered that Leach spent long hours at the church center working on the stockings and other charity projects, even she was sick or in pain. She said Leach never wanted recognition for her good deeds.
“She was an awesome asset to the community. Such a quiet giver and such a wise lady. She’ll be missed,” Brown said.
Bell said her grandmother could be somewhat reserved, but she was always ready to give a hug, a testimonial or a meal to a person in need. Leach became a guardian for a man with a developmental disability, and for about 40 years, he was like another son to her. She also welcomed friends and neighbors at her table. She was known for making tasty pastries, and especially for making special birthday cakes for children.
“She was always having birthdays parties for these kids that weren’t her grandkids — it was kind of funny,” Bell recalled.
Her former daughter-in-law, Virginia Leach of South Bend, said Joyce Leach had always been like a second mother to her. Like Bono, she thought of the older woman as a role model.
“She was the kind of person who tried to help shape you to be a good mother to your children,” Leach said.
She said Leach and her fellow volunteers went to great lengths to pick up food for the Ilwaco Food bank, which she helped to run from about the early 1980s to the mid-1990s.
“They faithfully made that food bank work,” Virginia Leach said. “... She would minister to anyone she gave food to. She always made people know that someone cared, and someone loved them.”