ST. GEORGE – “Anyone who met Lavoid was made better for having known him,” said Kellie Mzik, a long time friend of Lavoid Sydney Leavitt. Leavitt, 91, passed away on Jan 19, 2011, leaving a legacy of determination, service, and an unparalleled love for the outdoors that will not soon be forgotten by those whose lives he touched.
One such life was that of Kellie Mzik, a former resident of Southern Utah who currently teaches communications at Georgia Military College in Milledgeville, GA. She first met Leavitt in 1993, when she and a friend went to watch the sunset from atop the Red Hill. The sun had just dipped beneath the horizon when a van drove up and an elderly gentleman appeared with a disappointed look on his face. That man was Leavitt and he was sad to have been too late to watch the sun go down. In short order a conversation was struck up between Mzik and Leavitt which ultimately led to a long term friendship.
This chance encounter gave Mzik the opportunity to learn about a man whom she described as “active and bubbling with life.” She also experienced Leavitt’s love of the outdoors, as well as his extensive knowledge of the area which was long ago kindled by years growing up in the southern parts Nevada and Utah, and northern Arizona. He was especially captivated by the pioneer heritage of the area.
“He knew Southern Utah like the back of his hand,” Mzik said.
“He loved old trails,” Dale Leavitt, Leavitt’s son, commented. “He did lots of research to find out where they were.”
Indeed, he did, and when Leavitt found a trail, he would organize trips with the Institute of Continued Learning (an organization attached to Dixie State College dedicated to the continuing education of retired and semi-retired individuals). Leavitt had a long-standing relationship with the Institute, even serving as its president for a time.
Education mattered a great deal to Leavitt as well. Born of September 16, 1911, Leavitt grew up in the Depression era, his son recounted that his father’s family was “dirt poor” and even lived in a tent at one point. According to Mzik, Leavitt saw “education as a way out.”
In order to achieve the dream of a college education, Leavitt walked from Bunkerville, Nev., to St. George so he could attend Dixie College. While at Dixie he would participate in football and drama. It would be here that Leavitt would meet Harriett Anderson, his future wife, the two of them marrying in Reno, Nev., on June 14, 1942.
Leavitt would go on to join the military and serve in the Pacific during the Second World War. Afterwards, he worked as a civil servant in a naval ammunitions depot in Hawthorne, Nev., eventually retiring in 1973. He and Harriett returned to southern Utah shortly thereafter.
Leavitt remained active, becoming involved with the Institute of Continued Learning and organizing trips into the desert where he would tell people the history of the area.
“Most people loved his stories,” Dale Leavitt said.
Leavitt also participated in the Huntsman Senior World Games, winning multiple gold medals in bicycling events. Dale remarked that his father hoped to win a gold model for each of his grandchildren.
Not willing to be hampered by the physical effects of age; Leavitt didn’t let the fact he had to start breathing with an oxygen tank stop him from riding. In order to continue bicycling, he added a special rack and even a little trailer to his bike so he could bring the oxygen tank along.
Serving others was another trademark of Leavitt’s life. “He believed strongly in service,” Mzik said. She recalled an instance one Christmas season when, due to an organizational mishap, the children of a neighbor’s family were overlooked during a round of home visits from the community Santa Claus. She mentioned the situation to Leavitt who, without pause, asked her to pick him up. Leavitt dressed as Santa Claus and spent an hour with the children. He did this in spite of being released from the hospital for an operation the day previous.
Leavitt was also active in his faith as a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. In this capacity, he would continue to serve his fellow man in various church-callings which included serving in a ward bishopric and stake high council. He and his wife also served an LDS Mission to Deming, NM.
As the years wore on, the Leavitts move to The Meadows. Here, Leavitt’s spirit of service continued to bless others. Not only did he continue on with various church assignments, such as teaching Sunday school, but he also sang for other residents of the community. They were “the old songs,” Dale said, and people loved to hear them. In addition to singing, Leavitt baked bread for his neighbors, and organized the occasional Dutch oven dinners.
For those that knew Leavitt, Mzik summed it up best when she said that he was “a joy.”
Lavoid Sydney Leavitt is survived by his children Deslie Handy, Louise Engstrom, and Dale Leavitt, and their families, which includes total of 21 grandchildren and numerous great grandchildren. He was preceded in death by his wife, Harriet, and their son, Jim Leavitt.
Leavitt’s funeral was held at Metcalf Mortuary on January 22, 2011, and was laid to rest in Tonaquint Cemetery.