Leroy Denman: March 30, 1959 – June 25, 2014
We are here to celebrate the life of Leroy Denman, a man of few words and of many aspirations. While it may be accurate to say that Leroy did not offer many words, he always offered a listening ear. This was especially important to me, because Leroy Denman was my father.
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A workingman throughout his life, my father was deployed to Afghanistan in the early 1980s through the Air Force. I was born after his return home.
Prior to his departure to serve in the war, he grew up in rural Kentucky, working on a chicken farm with the rest of his family, including six brothers and sisters. The family farm struggled as industrial farms began to take over, but my father and his family never compromised on their beliefs in providing a high quality, local product.
My father’s family struggled financially when he was young, which was part of his incentive to join the Air Force. He wanted to help provide for my grandparents, aunts, and uncles, and he believed that serving in the Air Force would be the ideal opportunity to do so.
After he returned home, he vowed to make a good life for us. As a result, he enrolled in our local technical school and studied HVAC services.
My father worked himself up from the very bottom, becoming the rock of our family that he was until the very end of his fruitful life. After achieving his hard-earned technical degree, he went on to become an air conditioning and heating repair technician, a job he held for many years until he was promoted to team manager. Eventually, my father went on to become a major business partner. This was an achievement for which he had quiet pride, but one our entire family looked to as a stellar example of the benefits of hard work. As a business partner, he associated with other business owners, joining various boards and serving on them in different capacities to support local business as well as the community as a whole through charity efforts.
Throughout his adult life, my father never wavered on sending money to my grandparents, who continued to struggle after the farm was closed down in the late 1980s, even when he had little left to support himself.
Not once did my father lecture my siblings and me about the importance of hard work, integrity, and not giving up. Instead, he demonstrated these important values to us through his own example. He showed us the possibility of reaching high, even when starting at the bottom.
My father’s duty to both his family and his country was well carried out. Always serious and disciplined, he preferred not to throw a football in the yard with us, but to stay indoors painting instead.
In addition to his highly technical job and his background in the Air Force, my father was a skilled, self-taught painter. Most of our friends have seen his chicken paintings, which are nearly photorealistic.
I believe he focused on chickens because he missed the farm of his youth. Now defunct, Winesap Farm in Eastern Kentucky was an important component of my father’s past. He never once took us to visit the region; nevertheless, my siblings and I often spent hours poring over old photo albums to learn about my father and his family when he was a young boy.
I knew my father would not seek compensation for his painting hobby. He was both too proud and too modest to do so. As such, without telling him, I sometimes submitted his work to publications, and a painting of an Andalusian Chicken made the cover of a popular farming magazine. Imagine my father’s surprise when a substantial check appeared in the mail. I think in any other circumstance, my father would have been furious.
I still have many of these paintings. Several of them are framed in my home, with many more in my siblings’ respective homes. My mother still has my favorite of all the paintings he completed, depicting my brother, sister, mother, and me all standing in front of my childhood home.
I firmly believe his time in Afghanistan traumatized him more than he admitted. Stories from my grandparents have told me that as a child, he was often rambunctious and was also something of a prankster. When he entered the war as a young adult, I feel he struggled with the knowledge that so much of the world was in an uncertain, unbalanced state. My father knew the intricacies of hardship on a personal and familial level; his time abroad showed him how much the rest of the world also struggled.
According to my mother, Valerie, he came home a changed man. I never saw the change, but I do know that his convictions never faltered. To this day, I am uncertain as to whether the chicken paintings were simply a hobby or if they were a way to channel these difficult feelings into something productive. Regardless of purpose, the paintings are beautiful – and are an important part of his legacy.
Because of my father’s example, I chose to apply to college. I had no desire to pursue a degree on my own, but my father’s biggest lesson to me was to always aim higher. I tended to be distracted in school, but as a result of my father’s life, I decided that it would be important to move forward. I have obtained a degree in business and hope to continue his legacy.
While my father was quiet, he was also uproariously funny. His demeanor never allowed him to open up all the way, but he did occasionally offer a hilarious one-liner, sometimes when he didn’t even seem to be listening.
He did offer one joke on a consistent basis. Whenever my older sister Kylie brought home a boyfriend, my father would gauge his worthiness with this quip:
Two lions were sitting in the bathtub. One lion said to the other, “Pass the soap.” The second lion looked back at him and said, “No soap, radio.”
That sounds like nonsense, right? My father knew that. If Kylie’s gentleman friend laughed at the joke, my father decided that he was not boyfriend material and would instruct him to leave the house. I’m certain Kylie did not think this was funny, because the boys eventually stopped laughing at the joke. She must have warned them in advance.
Simple, direct, and to the point: that was my father. He demanded little but always expected the best. I think at some point I may have begun gauging myself by my father’s standards for boyfriends. That was the reason I ultimately decided to calm down and pay attention in high school. While he never outwardly stated his disapproval, I was well aware he would be disappointed if he learned about some of my actions.
A natural tinkerer, my father took many of the technical skills he gleaned from working in HVAC repair and installation to his other hobby: refurbishing antique cars. He approached this task with the same seriousness he applied to any other to create a beautiful, tangible result. He was proud to be the driver of a funny little station wagon that was created before he was even born.
According to my mother, that was what drew her to him. Even in his early years, my father was always dedicated to his work, and she believed that someone with such a strong work ethic would be equally dedicated to his family.
Her theory proved to be correct. His dedication to us was shown through his work, whether on one of his hobbies or through his business. He never wanted my mother to lift a finger unless she absolutely had to, and as a result, he worked tireless hours, always on call to help in any emergency at the HVAC company.
My father was a hardworking, giving, and committed man. He always wanted to find additional ways to give back to his community, so he became a major supporter of our regional arts and the youth organization, Reach for the Stars.
Always the kind of person to show up at all of our ball games, theater performances, and other childhood accomplishments, I think my father was secretly thrilled to watch his efforts come to fruition by attending youth art shows and performances at Reach for the Stars. He truly loved the energy and spark that children offer the world.
Silent, kind, and creative, my father’s sweet and giving soul lives on in our memories. He offered more to us than he ever knew, a fact for which I will always be grateful.
I hope that you all will remember my father’s support for his entire family, allowing it to be a lesson that through hard work, anything can be achieved. I believe that my exceptionally driven and caring father, Leroy Denman, would want us all to feel that way and carry that lesson with us, even if he never spoke it aloud.