Leona Ambrose, age 87, died November 1, 2014. Her beautiful and resilient spirit leaped from earthly restraints to soar with a choir of joyful angels into the light and love of her Savior, Jesus Christ.
She passed away peacefully in Boise with local family members able to say farewell. Funeral services and a celebration of her life will be Tuesday, November 11 at 11:00 am at the Living Waters Presbyterian Church in Wendell, Idaho. The service will be conducted by Pastor Phil Moran of Boise. Viewing will be at the Demaray Funeral Chapel in Wendell on Monday, November 10 from 6:00 – 8:00 pm.
Olive Leona Morrison was born on May 20, 1927 in Arbela, Missouri. She was the oldest of four children born to Emmett Gale Morrison and Olive Grace Curry Morrison. During the Great Depression, her father ventured to Idaho looking for work and then saved enough money to send for his wife and two daughters. At age three, Leona traveled on a train with her mother and baby sister to southern Idaho. Another sister and brother were later born in Idaho.
Leona’s childhood focused on hard work as she hand-milked cows before and after school, hitched and drove a team of horses to work long days in the hay fields, and picked onions to supplement the family income. By age 11, her father bragged that she could outwork any male farmhand. The family moved around southern Idaho as her father worked on farms and then settled in Buhl.
Her family moved to Wendell in 1945 and she was a junior at Wendell High School. She met a handsome young man named Neal Ambrose and the timid valedictorian married the gregarious student body president in 1948. They had three children, Tommy, Elaine, and George. A daughter Carol died at birth.
Leona and Neal created several successful businesses in southern Idaho. Neal capitalized on the opportunity to haul frozen TV dinners, a popular new product in the early 1960s, so he leased an 18-wheel truck and drove throughout the Northwest. Later he owned Montana Express, an interstate trucking company with 60 trucks and refrigerated trailers. To supplement the income while Neal was gone driving trucks, Leona babysat neighbor kids during the day and typed reports for Bradshaw’s Honey Plant at night after her children were asleep. She always took time to read to her children, and saved pennies to purchase a set of Childcraft Books. Now, these same books are read to her great-grandchildren.
Neal and Leona established Ambrose Farms and introduced sprinkler pipe irrigation to Gooding County, buying barren acres of sagebrush and converting them into fertile farm land. Soon they owned more than 30,000 acres of land, 1,000 head of cattle, and employed more than 200 people. In the late 1960s, Neal learned that JR Simplot was selling his hogs – the animals that got Simplot started in business. Neal bought the hogs and then had to decide where to put them. His loyal employees constructed sheds east of Wendell to hold thousands of hogs.
Leona kept records of births and sales of every pig. She helped with all the businesses by doing the bookkeeping without a calculator, climbing onto the potato harvesters every night to record the sales and deliveries, and working in the office. She was the consummate assistant to her husband, and he couldn’t have succeeded without her support. They were loyal residents of Wendell and donated land for a city park east of town. It was named McGinnis Park after one of their favorite high school teachers. Neal passed away in 1989.
Leona was active in the community and the Chamber of Commerce named her a Distinguished Citizen. She served on the school board, helped organize the election polling places, held offices in the PTA, served as a Cub Scout Den Mother, taught Sunday School, and served several terms as president of P.E.O. Chapter AZ. In her spare time, she made elaborate hooked rugs, canned hundreds of jars of grape jelly, and volunteered at the local Presbyterian Church. She commissioned and helped design a wall of stained glass windows for Living Waters Presbyterian Church. One of the highlights of her life was traveling for 12 days across Canada on a train with her daughter and granddaughter.
Education was important to her, and though she never had the opportunity to attend college, she endowed the Ambrose Family Scholarship at the University of Idaho to assist students from the Magic Valley area. She was a member of the first Parent’s Club at the University of Idaho and received recognition from the Foundation Board.
Leona owned Farmhouse Restaurant near Wendell when it was voted in a national poll of drivers as “Best Road Food” in the United States. The restaurant was featured on national news reports and the media referred to Leona as “jolly.”
Leona is survived by her three children, Tom (Leanne), Elaine (Ken), and George (Marti), three grandchildren, and six great-grandchildren. She enjoyed a close relationship with her grandchildren Emily Nielsen (John) and Adam Nielsen (Danielle) and their children. She also is survived by her sister Margaret Hawkins (Jesse) and a brother Emmett Morrison (Yvonne). She was preceded in death by her husband, her parents, an infant daughter, and a sister, Mariana Mink. Through the years, she maintained contact with several nieces, nephews, in-laws, extended family members, and dozens of good friends.
Leona Ambrose, her infectious smile and resilient spirit, made the world a better place. Her positive attitude and unwavering faith in God sustained her, and her many Bibles were worn with dog-eared pages and underlined passages.
The family would like to thank the gentle staff of Legacy Hospice Care of Meridian and the loving people at Spring Creek Manor in Boise. They exceeded their job titles and offered genuine love and compassion in Leona’s last days.
After the celebration on November 11, Leona will be interred at Wendell Cemetery. Funeral arrangements are under the direction of Demaray Funeral Services. Flowers are welcome at the service or memorial donations can be made to the Ambrose Family Scholarship Endowment, Office of Development, University of Idaho, Moscow, ID 83843.