November 27, 2014

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‘Country Wife’ writer Pat Leimbach dies at age 85

Pat Leimbach, seen in September in this photo from the family, wrote her column for nearly four decades.

Her words were the voice of Americana that kept readers coming back to The Chronicle-Telegram for more than 38 years and gave city slickers an up close and personal look at life on a thriving farm.

But Pat Leimbach was no country bumpkin.

The wife and mother was also a published author, accomplished public speaker and agriculture advocate who lived to bridge the educational gap between the food people eat and the field in which it is grown.

Leimbach, who penned “The Country Wife” columns from 1965 to 2003, died Saturday at the Kingston of Vermilion, a nursing and rehabilitation center, following a brief illness. She was 85.

Followers of her column, which were mainly centered on her family, their farm and the agriculture industry, already know much about Leimbach’s life. Part of what made Leimbach’s columns so intimate was her willingness to write about her private life.

“There was very little she wouldn’t speak on or write about,” said her son, Orrin Leimbach. “To a certain extent, I think that’s what made her popular. She was very open about herself and the rest of us in her writing. She would bring out things that many of her readers could relate to.”

Leimbach’s column was also popular because they were funny. Humor carried Leimbach through life, she said during an interview in 2007.

“It’s one of those professions you have to learn to laugh a lot or you will cry a lot,” she said back in 2007. “I never looked at anything without looking at the funny and that for me was a lifesaver.”

Still, she touched on more serious topics from time to time. In one such column, she wrote about politics in Iran after reading about it for her book club. It was one of her last columns.

Gunver Lodge, Leimbach’s sister-in-law, said Leimbach was always one of the most interesting people she ever met. She met the small woman with a big heart as an exchange student who came to stay with Leimbach’s family. She eventually married Leimbach’s brother, William Penton.

“Ever since I met her back in 1975, she was very special to me,” Lodge said. “She taught me a lot. In her, I saw a woman who was always anxious to experience new things and go to any length to do so.”

Lodge said Leimbach taught her how to bake a pie but even had her own mishaps with baking that she took in stride.

“Oh, I remember for my 50th birthday, my family threw me a surprise party and Pat was to bake the cake,” Lodge said. “Well, she started late and the frosting was fairly runny as she drove to my house. She had to put her hand on the cake to push it up because the cake was sliding a bit. It became the joke of the night about how Pat had her hand in the frosting.”

Marsha DePalma, a longtime friend, may have met Leimbach in 1988, but loved her work for many years prior. She was gifted with a copy of Leimbach’s first book in 1973 and immediately thought she and Leimbach were kindred spirits.

Many years later when she moved to Brownhelm Township, she received an invitation to dinner at the Leimbach house and a 24-year friendship started from that first meeting.

“I felt like I was going to meet the queen,” DePalma said. “I was so honored and she was just so warm and generous.”

Over the years, Leimbach became an inspiration to DePalma.

“I was always said I was going to own my own business, and whenever I spoke of it Pat would say you are young enough, you can do it,” DePalma said.

DePalma now runs the Laurel Run Cooking School in Brownhelm Township.

“She kind of helped you elevate your own dreams by knowing her,” she said.

Leimbach’s life was a mix of contradictions that her son said she enjoyed sharing with the world.

“It surprised people that this rural woman could raise to higher levels,” Orrin said. “It was her viewpoint that a lot of people were not educated on farming and farm life and that they viewed farmers as a bunch of hicks.”

“But she knew they were missing valuable education about their food source and rural life,” added Orrin’s wife, Cathie Leimbach.

While some saw just a farm wife from the Midwest, Leimbach was a graduate of Case Western Reserve University and did graduate study at McGill University in Montreal. For a number of years she was a language teacher, before having her first child shortly after marrying her husband, Paul.

She published three books of her columns — “A Thread of Blue Denim,” “All My Meadows” and “A Harvest of Bittersweet” — and was invited to speak before groups in 48 states and five Canadian provinces and appeared on TV programs like “The Today Show” and “Larry King Live.”

Leimbach’s farm in Brownhelm Township has survived five generations and still is going strong as a grain farm with 260 farmable acres.

Since retiring from her column, Leimbach was active — enjoying a social life with friends and family in the area that included book clubs to live theater to non-mainstream movies shown at Lorain County Community College. She continued to attend a number of agriculture-related conferences.

In 2007, she was awarded the LEAVEN award by the American Agri-Women. LEAVEN is an acronym for Loyalty, Enthusiasm, Anticipatory, Valiant, Effectiveness and Nurturing.

Cathie Leimbach said it would probably surprise people, but her mother-in-law loved to share her opinions with young college students, especially those from Oberlin College.

“When they met her they were really shocked to learn a small woman on a farm in the Midwest had written books, traveled to Europe and had a writing and speaking career that spans years,” Cathie Leimbach said. “Her job was to get first year Oberlin students to open their minds, and meeting Pat did just that.”

Biology Professor Mary Garvin arranged the visits to the Leimbach farm.

“It gave students an opportunity to experience the farmer’s point of view,” she said. “Pat was such a giving and intellectually engaged person that she was the perfect conduit to help students understand the farmer’s point of view. She very elegantly showed them the connection between agriculture, economy, religion and literature. It was just wonderful to watch. She was a master teacher and she commanded their respect very easily.”

Leimbach was a member of the Brownhelm Congregational United Church of Christ and a founding member of the Brownhelm Historical Association.

She was preceded in death her husband of 41 years, Paul, and two sons, Dane and Ted.

A strong proponent of organ donation, Orrin Leimbach said his mother’s body was donated to the College of Medicine at Case Western Reserve University.

Contact Lisa Roberson at 329-7121 or lroberson@chroniclet.com.