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Subject: Leonard Ross, Wyoming's oldest man

Dead at 107
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Date Posted: Tuesday, May 16, 11:42:19am

When Leonard Ross sat in the barber’s chair for his free haircut his stylist would sometimes play a game to see how many clients could correctly guess his age.

“Eighties?” they’d reckon, and a smile would spread across Ross’ face. Despite his full head of white hair, Ross was well into his 100s. Had been since 2010. That’s why he got free haircuts.

“I felt like I was hanging out with some famous person — everyone would come up to him,” said Dori Cote, a caregiver and companion to Ross for the past four years, shuttling him to Jackson when he needed groceries or a trim.

“I actually have a big hole in my life without him,” she said. “I spoke to him just about every day.”

Ross, who his son, Jim Ross, believed to be the oldest person in Wyoming, died May 3 at his home up Pacific Creek. He was 107. (Turns out a lady in Meeteetse, Grace Carlson, is 109. — Ed.)

“There was some relief involved with it,” Jim Ross said, “knowing that for the last week or so I could see him declining almost daily.”

Jim Ross had moved his life from Monument, Colorado, to Moran in late September when Ross had a dip in his health that gave hospice caregivers a scare. Ross had always wanted to stay in the log cabin he built by hand until the end. When the possibility of relocating to the Living Center or to Colorado came up, the centenarian was brought to tears.

He’d go, if he had to. But Jim Ross couldn’t stand to break his father’s heart.

“He and I have been so close over the years,” Jim Ross said. “I looked at this as kind of my last adventure with my dad.

“It was the most fulfilling thing I have ever done in my life,” he said.

Ross was born Jan. 11, 1910, in Palmer, Nebraska, to farmers who would be hit hard by the Great Depression. His family moved to Pine Bluffs in 1932, and six years later Ross married his wife, Ruth. The couple moved to Cheyenne and had two children — Jim in 1946, and daughter, Carol, in 1948.

He was transferred to a job in San Francisco the year after his daughter was born, but the family’s life on the West Coast was short-lived.

“He told my mom, ‘I’m going to take my vacation, I’m going to get in the car and I’m going to head east and I’m not going to stop until I get to the Wyoming border,’” Jim Ross said with a laugh. “The people in California — even in 1949 — were substantially different than what you’d meet in Pine Bluffs, Wyoming.”

Ross and his family relocated shortly after to Burns, where they started a truck stop-motel. Leonard and Ruth stayed until 1972, when they moved to Moran, into the home he built — “every nail, every board,” Jim Ross said.
It was there he picked up his paint brushes again, a creative passion he had since childhood, but one he practiced most in retirement. His wildlife paintings became local legends, and many traveled across state lines. His son remembers meeting a couple from San Diego once who had purchased a Leonard Ross painting.

Ross stopped painting about three years ago, around the time he started hanging up a lot of his hobbies. He didn’t hunt or fish anymore. He gave his golf clubs to his son. He gave up driving at 103 — though Cote says he was still safe behind the wheel of his old flatbed.
“I even followed him back to Pacific Creek Road once because I was curious to know how does he do on the road,” she said. “He was fine. He was slow, but I’d rather him be slow and get back home safe.”

But he remained active by keeping his home orderly. Cote remembers stopping by one snowy day — Ross must have been 104 or 105, she said — to find him outside atop a riding lawnmower, clearing snow.

“His face had so much frozen ice on it that he looked like a yeti,” Cote said.

She asked him to come inside, warm up, have a visit — they could finish the driveway later. He protested. There was work to be done.

“He was just a hardworking man all his life,” she said.
He was never grumpy, though, she said. He always had a smile on his face, was quick to laugh and always had a story to share.

Ross celebrated his final birthday in January at his home, pulling down his oxygen mask to blow out the candles of his cake. His friends shared stories about his accomplishments — his induction into the Wyoming State Trapshooting Association Hall of Fame, the autobiography he wrote with a granddaughter, his success as a hunter, evidenced by the row of mounts in his living room.
“He had so many accomplishments in his life,” Jim Ross said. “There were a lot of things that he did. But the pride that I have in being his son is the thing that I’m going to remember.”

He is thankful for the time he got to spend with his father, right up until the morning of his passing. On the morning of May 3, as Ross took his final breaths, his son leaned back against his father’s headboard and cradled his dad’s head in his arms.

He had 70 years with his father, but it wasn’t easy to say goodbye.

“That house, without him there — it’s just very, very strange,” Jim Ross said. “I’ve never known a time in my life that he wasn’t there. For him to be gone ... it’s just hard.”

Services for Ross are scheduled for 9 a.m. May 19 at Redeemer Lutheran Church. In lieu of flowers the family has asked for donations to be made in Ross’ honor to St. John’s Hospital Foundation for hospice care.


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