2018-09-13 / Living

Dinner to raise funds for Creek grad and sisters who lost parents

BY LANIA ROCHA
810-452-2652 • lrocha@mihomepaper.com


Bree Leonard stands next to a collection of mementos that help keep the memory of her parents alive for her and her sisters. Photo by Lania Rocha Bree Leonard stands next to a collection of mementos that help keep the memory of her parents alive for her and her sisters. Photo by Lania Rocha SWARTZ CREEK – Bree Leonard wishes people appreciated their parents more.

“You never really know how much they do for you until it all falls on your plate,” said Leonard.

The 23-year-old Swartz Creek graduate and her sisters – Bianca, 16, and Tabbi – lost both parents within 15 months. With no living grandparents, aunts, uncles or cousins, they have only each other.

“And she’s got me,” said friend Belinda Hickey, a Swartz Creek woman who is doing what she can to help.

Hickey and friend Bekiie Fry are teaming up to host a spaghetti dinner fundraiser for the Leonard sisters from 2-6 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 23, at Swartz Creek VFW/AmVets Post 3720, located at 3131 Elms Road.

Hickey is hoping to help Leonard pay down a stack of bills, including $429 still owed for Shirley Leonard’s funeral, $1,500 owed for Tom Leonard’s funeral, a $3,700 water bill and a $1,058 utility bill.

Leonard, who works at a local restaurant, has been chipping away at the debt while keeping up the rent payments and other expenses of running a household and raising a teenage girl.

“She’s a good, strong girl,” Hickey said of Bree Leonard. “She’s feisty, strong-willed, hard-working and caring.”

The Leonard sisters grew up in Swartz Creek where they lived with their parents and grandmother. After their grandmother passed, the family moved to Flint but the girls continued to attend school in Swartz Creek.

Tom and Shirley Leonard both battled serious health issues for most of the girls’ lives. Tom Leonard suffered from COPD, emphysema and multiple sclerosis. Shirley Leonard had a heart condition.

But they were dedicated to their daughters. Hickey recalls the image of Tom Leonard, with his walker and oxygen tank, walking outside to meet a young man who was taking Bianca on a date. And she recalls how he beamed when his youngest child stopped at the hospital to see him on her way to prom.

The Leonards were protective and proud of their girls, and the sisters tried to maintain a positive outlook and live their lives as close to normal as possible, keeping up with their school work and participating in extra-curricular activities such as poms and soccer.

It wasn’t easy, Bree said. Their parents’ health concerns worsened.

“My mom had 11 heart attacks and five strokes,” she said. “The 11th heart attack put her in a coma and her body temperature was so high, they couldn’t keep her brain cool enough. They packed ice around her to get her temperature to cool down, and when they tried to take her off, she just didn’t wake back up. Her heart was done.”

Shirley Leonard died March 19, 2017, at age 52.

“My mom’s passing was more of a shock than my dad’s,” Bree said. “We really expected my dad to pass first.

“As soon as my mom passed, my dad went into a complete depression. I had to force him to come out of his room. I had to force him to eat dinner. When my mom passed, my dad just quit.”

Bree said that because her mother had no life insurance, she knew she had to arrange for life insurance for her father. They ran into a problem, though, when he missed a payment and the policy was suspended. Bree said she made sure the payments were made to reinstate the policy, but by then Tom was in the hospital. He died June 20 of this year.

“The insurance company said that he had to have been out of the hospital for 90 days before we could collect,” Bree said. “We paid in $1,500 and couldn’t collect any of it.”

Hickey said she promised Tom Leonard she would watch over his girls.

“And being a momma bear with four kids of my own, I knew I had to do something (to help with the bills),” she said. “Bianca told me her dad taught them to be proud and not take hand-outs, so it took some convincing to get the girls to agree to the fundraiser.”

Because Tom Leonard was a veteran, the VFW donated the use of the hall. Hickey and Fry are gathering donations of food, which they will prepare, and raffle prizes.

“The people in Swartz Creek have been amazing with raffle donations,” Hickey said. “There have been so many wonderful people who have helped.”

Bree said she and her sisters are still mourning but they help each other get through the difficult days.

“I just hate that I have to deal with the loss,” she said. “But my dad prepared me for this.

“I wish people would appreciate their parents more; just say, ‘Thank you.’ I never realized how much they actually did. We really never had a lot, but my parents worked their butts off every single day just to barely survive. I never realized how much they actually did.”

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