Leroy A. Bley passed away at his Port Washington, Wisconsin home on Friday, Sept. 30, 2022. He was 97.
Leroy was born in Belgium, Wisconsin to Nic and Helen Kleckner Bley on May 20, 1925. He grew up in Belgium and Knellsville, where he attended school in a one-room schoolhouse. It was there that he learned how to print and write beautifully, a skill that remained with him his entire life. His family moved to Port Washington when he was a child. He fondly remembered growing up on Milwaukee Street in Port in a duplex built by his father and helping raise chickens in the backyard. His job as a newspaper delivery boy helped him develop lifelong memories of the people and the city in the 1930s.
At age 17, Leroy graduated from Port Washington High School with the class of 1942. In May 1943, he volunteered for the U.S. Navy Seabees with the hope that he could use his construction skills in military service during WWII. His battalion was sent to Guam in the Pacific Theater – a long way from home for a boy who had never left southeastern Wisconsin before joining the military.
An architectural draftsman with no formal education, he set up the battalion’s first drawing board in a native hut with a thatched roof. He provided drawings for airfields, roads, Marine encampments, a B-29 airstrip and the camp church. When peace was declared, his unit built a dairy farm, diesel-powered generating stations and a doughnut factory for the Red Cross. He was discharged in April 1946 – not yet 21 years old.
When he was home on embarkation leave, he had had several dates with Joan Hames, who was a year behind him in school. They had both been born in Belgium 300 feet apart and while they had many friends in common, they did not know each other well. They corresponded when Leroy was overseas and married on July 3, 1948. Their marriage lasted more than 70 years until Joan passed away in 2018.
With help from his dad, Leroy built their two homes on Whitefish Road. They worked hard to raise four children and develop Bley Builders, Leroy’s construction and remodeling business. His work can be seen throughout Ozaukee County; in some cases, he designed and built homes for several generations of the same family. He and Joan enjoyed a close-knit group of friends, including a sheepshead club that lasted more than 50 years.
In 2011, he was privileged to participate in a Stars and Stripes Honor Flight to Washington, D.C.
Leroy believed in the power of volunteerism and was an active volunteer for his church, city, county and other organizations throughout his life. He served on the Ozaukee County Board of Supervisors for 22 years, the last eight as board chairman. In his later years, he volunteered at the Luxembourg American Cultural Society, the Port Washington Historical Society and the Port Washington Visitors Center, and served on the military honor guard for funerals for local veterans.
He was a member of VFW Post 5373, Van Ells-Schanen American Legion Post 82, the Port Washington Historical Society and the Luxembourg American Cultural Society, and was proud that several of his children and grandchildren have attained Luxembourg citizenship.
Leroy and Joan enjoyed many years as members of The Friendship Force, which provided them the opportunity to travel the world and stay in homes with and host interesting people. The friendship they made on these trips continued throughout their lives.
He is survived by his children Linda (Steve) Gebert of Beavercreek, Ohio; Mary Bley of Port Washington; Paul (Natalie) Bley of Falls Church, Virginia; and Amy Bley of Waukesha, and by his grandchildren Julie (Esben) Hansen, Holly (Paul Sehzue) Gebert, Melanie Gebert, John Francetic, Eleanor Tobin Griffin and great-grandchildren Lucas and Camilla Hansen. He is further survived by his brother, Nic (Pat) Bley, nieces, nephews and godchildren.
He was preceded in death by his wife, Joan; his sisters, Mary Ellen Niederkorn and Eileen Redig; brothers- and sisters-in-law Robert Niederkorn, Walter Redig, William Krier, Wilmer and Ruth Hames, Lee and Patricia Hames, and Hallie and Beatrice Newlun.
A Mass of Christian Burial will be held at 12 Noon on Friday, Oct. 14, 2022 at St. John XXIII-St. Peter of Alcantara Church, 1802 N. Wisconsin Street in Port Washington. Visitation will take place Friday at the church from 10:30 a.m. to 11:45 a.m. with military walk through at 11:30 a.m. A celebration of Leroy’s life will be held from 1 to 3 p.m. at The Beacon Restaurant in the Harborview Hotel, 135 E. Grand Avenue, Port Washington after the Mass. The family welcomes all to attend and share their memories of Leroy. Burial with military honors will be at St. Mary’s Cemetery in Port Washington the following day.
In lieu of flowers, the family suggests memorials to the Stars and Stripes Honor Flight or the Port Washington Historical Society.