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Bennie Lorraine
Leek

February 8, 1931 – March 30, 2019

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Bennie Leek
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— Colonial Rose Chapel & Cremation

Obituary for Bennie Lorraine Leek

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Bennie Leek, a strong, loving woman who overcame poverty, deafness and other adversity to find happiness in California, died March 30 of pneumonia. She was 88.
Leek, the mother of five, passed away in her sleep at a north Stockton care facility. Prior to her stay there, she had been hospitalized for pneumonia and underlying ailments for six weeks.
“We were terribly dirt poor,” Bennie recalled of her upbringing in Florida, though she remembered her home as happy, even though parents and children shared one bedroom. “There were no conflicts … everything seemed to be quite peaceful.”
Born Feb. 8, 1931, Bennie Lorraine Leek – given a boy’s name at an uncle’s suggestion – was the first of six children born to a homemaker mother, Elaine Jeter (nee Parmely) and a father, Thomas Ray Jeter, who worked at a paper mill for 50 cents a day.
The family lived in a drafty shack with no electricity or plumbing. They hand-pumped water and nailed cardboard to the walls to block the wind.
Unable to afford a doctor, the family lost one son at birth, and a toddler daughter to diphtheria; at age four, a near-fatal bout of mastoiditis and whooping cough required surgery that cost Bennie her hearing.
The state sent her to the Florida School for the Deaf and the Blind in St. Augustine. There, in addition to learning sign language, and making lifelong friends, Bennie had as a classmate a blind, piano-playing prodigy who one day would become a star: Ray Charles.
“He was so incredible, even at a very young age,” Bennie said in a 2004 Stockton Record interview. “We never realized he would be famous.”
Of the St. Augustine school, Bennie recalled, “I loved that school. I had a clean bed, clean bathroom, good toilets, soap, shampoo, and I never had that stuff at home.”
The family moved to Panama City. “I loved the beach” at St. Andrew Bay, Bennie recalled. “I ran there every day to swim. Me and my best friend Joanne would go to jump off of the pier. We played and dove into the water all day.”
After leaving school, Bennie took a job at a flower shop. At age 19 she met her future husband, a U.S. Army soldier.
Her husband’s stint included several years at Füssen, Germany. Bavaria remained one of Bennie’s fondest memories. “We lived in an upstairs villa atop a foothill and it was lovely beyond words.”
The enterprising Bennie also made big bucks reselling army cigarettes and coffee to Germans in the years of postwar shortages: enough, when she returned to America, to pay cash for a car.
After her marriage ended, Bennie remarried and bore one more child. That marriage, too, ended in divorce.
Craving a fresh start, Bennie moved to the other side of the country and settled in Stockton.
Her youngest child, Joy Leek, recalled her mother as a strong, funny, blunt-spoken feminist who never stopped encouraging her to strive for a better life.
“She pushed,” Joy said. “She always wanted you to be better.”
In her Stockton years Bennie lived independently, pursuing her interests: deaf culture and humanist reading, magazines and TV channels about other cultures and civilizations, gardening and crocheting and, of course her children, four of five of whom stayed in the area.
Even in her final days, her son Rick Carter said, she had an “impish grin and that sparkle in her eyes.”
When a grand-daughter asked Bennie the secret of happiness, Bennie replied, “To be happy and content from within – to be honest, most of all – and to accept your limitations and move on.”
Bennie Leek was preceded in death by her sister, Goldie Lou Jeter and brother Melvin Jeter and survived by three siblings, Robert Ray Jeter, Charles “Fredrick” Jeter and Sally Davis.
She is also survived by her son, Rick Carter; daughters, Gail Chaney, Connie Petropoulakis and Joy Leek, all of Stockton; daughter Judy Daniels of Austin, Tx; 11 grandchildren, 14 great-grandchildren and nine “grand-dogs.”
Bennie Leek’s funeral service will be held Sunday, April 7 at 2 p.m. at Colonial Rose Chapel, 520 N. Sutter St., Stockton. In lieu of flowers donations may be made to the Florida School for the Deaf and the Blind, 207 San Marco Ave, St. Augustine, FL, 32084.

Traditional Service Information

When
Sunday, April 7th, 2019 2:00pm
Officiating
Reverend Amanda Ford
Location
Colonial Rose Chapel
Address
520 N. Sutter Street
Stockton, CA 95202