Patricia “Patti” Annette Leinonen, 85, of Almont, MI, passed away on Thursday, July 27, 2023, at Insignia of Newnan-Assisted Living & Memory Care in Newnan, GA. She was born August 8, 1937, in Trout Creek, Michigan, the daughter of Willard and Vera Strangle (Niemi). Her parents were both of Finnish descent.
She grew up in Trout Creek and graduated from Trout Creek High School in the class of 1955. She attended K-12 grades in Trout Creek.
Patricia was valedictorian of her 15-person class-eight boys, seven girls.
In June 1957, she graduated from Northern Michigan College with a certificate in Home Economics.
Denver William Leinonen and Patricia Annette Strangle were married on Aug. 10, 1957, at Trinity Lutheran Church in Trout Creek, Michigan. Rev. Les Neimi, who was former teammate of Denver’s at Suomi College, officiated.
Denver’s cousin, Kay (Tarvainen) Helberg, who happened to be Patricia’s classmate, set up the two after they finished high school.
Patti and her husband, Denver, who passed away in 2021, were married for 63 years.
After Denver was hired by the Ewen Public Schools in 1957, to teach boys’ and girls’ physical education for grades 7-12 and coached all school sports, they moved to Ewen to live. At the same time, Patricia was hired by the Rockland Schools to teach home economics.
A proud moment for the couple came on November 21, 1958, when Denver’s boys’ basketball team stopped Chassell’s 65-game winning streak by a score of 37-35. The Chassell streak broke the old Mass record of 59 wins and lasted 58 years. It was Leinonen’s biggest athletic accomplishment and he enjoyed it for nearly six decades until Powers North Central broke the streak in 2017 and went on to win 84 games.
They would welcome their first child, James, who was born on September 4, 1961, in Wakefield, Michigan.
After graduating with an M.A. from Northern Michigan College in 1962, Denver and Patricia moved to Almont, MI, where he taught 7th grade for one year and then for 24 years taught U.S government and history.
Their second son, Jerry, was born in Almont on January 16, 1964.
Over the years she was involved in numerous clubs. She taught others how to sew as a 4-H leader. She was also active in the Imlay City Red Hats Club, Almont Literary Club and Thumb Area Home Professional Economists.
Everyone called her Patti or Pat and she had many talents: painter, crochet, singing, sewing, designer, cook and much more.
She knew how to cook Finnish food that she had learned over the years and also numerous Midwestern recipes. The oven and stovetop burners were used often and everyone seemed to enjoy her food.
She also enjoyed catering food for others and spending time with her friends like Joe and Sharon Bussone of Almont. In the last years of her life, they were by her side picking her up for shopping trips and inviting her into their home with their family.
Neighbor Mary Lou Smith was another close friend around the corner and there were many others. Patti always had a smile for those close to her.
One activity they truly enjoyed in the winter was bowling and competed in leagues in Imlay City and Almont over the years.
While they were Yoopers through-and-through, they loved Almont living in town for over 60 years living at two different addresses.
Denver never had to drive a car to work a day in his life while in Almont, not many can say that about their jobs.
The couple would spend the school calendar year in Almont and their summers in Covington on the farm, which became one of a few centennial farms in Baraga County in later years. It was later recognized as a Michigan Historic Site.
She loved to make pies from wild blueberries, raspberries picked in the area.
Her favorite meal was fresh brook trout caught locally, dipped in flour and put in a hot cast iron pan with a little butter and the whole family enjoyed them.
They loved to listen to the radio and often would listen to television programming, Detroit Tigers games for entertainment-they had no television.
Their Finnish heritage was strong: they loved coffee in the mornings and throughout the day, saunas on the weekends and making Finnish sweet bread and eating Finnish “squeaky cheese,” hardtack bread and Trenary toast made in the U.P.
She made an initial trip to Finland in 1970s with Denver and their two sons researching the family tree for the Leinonen and Strangle sides and made contacts with many new relatives as a result. They followed up with five more to Finland.
Around that time, Denver began a Tarvainen Reunion that became an annual event on the first Sunday of August at Norway Lake in Michigan and lasted over 40 years.
She was an original founder with Denver and his brother, Claude and his wife, Verna in the Covington Historical Museum in 1997. It is one of the few landmarks remaining in town.
They were frequent walkers on the Mackinac Bridge Walk and looked forward to that even after numerous walks across the famed bridge.
A couple of her favorite celebrities were actor Burt Reynolds and golfer Arnold Palmer; also loved daytime soap operas.
She also loved his nephews Nathan, Tim and Jon Leinonen, who all are Upper Peninsula residents and enjoyed seeing them and spending time with them. In later years, they enjoyed making maple syrup in the spring at the farm in Covington.
Patti and Denver were constant in their devotion to the Lutheran Church, specifically St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in Imlay City. They were members there for over 60 years and were in attendance every week. Following services, they would meet up with friends for breakfast at Tietz’s and in later years Big Boy in Imlay City.
In the summer, they would attend services in Covington, MI at Trinity Lutheran Church where Denver’s mother Alma was once the church pianist.
She spent the final months living with her son Jerry and his family in Newnan, GA.
Patricia is survived by her son James Leinonen of Lakewood, CA, and his daughter Erin Leinonen of Las Vegas, NV; son Jerry (Marci) Leinonen of Newnan, GA and their sons Austin and Blake Leinonen also of Newnan. Preceding her in death is her husband Denver, parents Williard and Vera, brother Stanley.
A memorial service was held at Faith Lutheran Church in Sharpsburg, GA on Saturday, August 5.
A celebration of life memorial service will be held at the St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in Imlay City, Michigan at 2 p.m. on August 10.
A burial service will be held at Covington Township Cemetery in Covington, MI on Tuesday, August 15. It will start after first meeting at the Trinity Lutheran Church in Covington at 2 p.m.