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Activist and world traveler Carolyn Leuthold dies at 79

Saturday, April 7, 2012 | 6:01 p.m. CDT

COLUMBIA — Carolyn Leuthold was a much-loved Columbia activist and champion of voter participation.

She was a founding member of several Columbia social services, including the Senior Recreation Program at Oak Towers, the Voluntary Action Center and the Wardrobe, which has been providing used clothing to needy families since 1969.

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"It seemed like her energy was unbounded," said Win Colwell, a fellow member of the Boone County League of Women Voters. "You knew if Carolyn agreed to help with something, she would do a first-rate job."

Carolyn Leuthold died in her home on Friday, April 6, 2012. She was 79.

Born on May 22, 1932, in Monterey Park, Calif., to Tony and Mary (Knippel) Varitz, she was valedictorian of her high school class in Oregon. She went on to study English, education and library science at Lewis and Clark College and in three graduate schools — University of Montana, Oregon State and George Washington universities.

She married David Leuthold, now a retired MU professor, in 1957.

For the last 20 years, she and her husband spent summers operating her father-in-law's cattle ranch in Montana — riding horses, moving 200 cattle and planting wheat.

"Often she was the oldest woman on the ride by maybe 20 years, but she rode in her last roundup in fall of just last year," her daughter, Janet Holt, said. "She's like a cowboy."

Mrs. Leuthold joined the Boone County League of Women Voters in 1965 and subsequently served as president, chair of voter service and the organizer of numerous forums. The group recently presented her with the Eleanor Goodge award for service.

"She was especially concerned that voters know what they were voting on," Colwell said. "She felt an informed public was essential for democracy."

Mrs. Leuthold chaired Mental Health Associations in both Missouri and Montana. She was also a consumer advocate, serving as secretary of the Missouri Association of Consumers, a consumer member of the Missouri Governor's Energy Council and an activist on Farm City Committees. She also worked for a time with the U.S. Census Bureau and did research and evaluation on aging with other MU researchers.

Colwell said that when she announced Mrs. Leuthold's death at the League of Women Voters meeting on Friday, there was an audible response.

"She was a person who really made a difference in this world, and not everyone can say that," Colwell said. "She touched so many lives in so many different ways."  

Mrs. Leuthold had relationships across continents.

She and her husband lived for a semester each in New Zealand, England and Romania, for his work as a professor and scholar. Several MU graduate school students from other countries have stayed with them in Columbia, as well — two from Taiwan and one from Romania.

"My mom always had an open heart and loved to feed people," Holt said. "If somebody was around, she would certainly whip something up and want to become friends with them and learn all about their adventures."

Her last intercontinental trip was to Myanmar to check on the Nargis Library Recovery, a project that has sent 600,000 books to libraries in that country.

In addition to cooking, she loved gardening. This spring, Mrs. Leuthold's house is surrounded by a sea of 300 yellow, orange and white daffodils she helped plant.

"She's a phenomenal gardener," Holt said. "She could take anything and make it look really beautiful." She also enjoyed work in pottery and sewing.

Friends and family, who knew how much she loved to garden, filled the Leuthold house with flowers for the couple's 55th anniversary two weeks ago and in recent visits.

Despite the terminal prognosis of pancreatic cancer, Mrs. Leuthold was a perpetual optimist, and she always took pleasure in flowers.

"I think she felt that she was going to make the most of these last months," Colwell said. "She said to me, 'If this has to be the last spring, aren't I lucky what a beautiful spring it's been?' That was Carolyn."

Mrs. Leuthold also sang in choirs at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Columbia and the Billings Montana Unitarian Universalist Fellowship.

Mrs. Leuthold donated her body to the MU School of Medicine. It is one last teaching opportunity, her daughter said.

Mrs. Leuthold is survived by her husband, David; a brother, Bill Varitz, of West Linn, Ore.; a sister, Corrine Romero, of Loveland, Colo.; a daughter, Janet Holt, of Leawood, Kan.; a son, Johnny Leuthold, of Portland, Ore.; two grandchildren, Lauren and Tom Holt; and many friends, in-laws, cousins, nieces and nephews.

Services will be at 11 a.m. Saturday, April 14, at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Columbia, 2615 Shepard Blvd.

Memorial donations can be made to a charity of the donor's choice, or one of the organizations Mrs. Leuthold supported:


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