Sweet Water native lives life to the fullest

Published 12:00 am Thursday, October 27, 2005

Known for giving daily hugs to employees at Marengo Nursing Home, Leo Kirkham describes himself as “friendly to everyone.”

Born in Sweet Water on Feb. 8, 1914, Kirkham is one of nine children. He had one brother who was killed in World War II and seven sisters, two of whom are still living. Kirkham was fortunate to be able to stay back with his family during the war.

“They figured I was worth more farming at home than at war,” he said.

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The Kirkham family lived near Beaver Creek. His parents were farmers, and for much of his life, Kirkham farmed cattle, cotton and corn.

One of his favorite pastimes was hunting with his daddy, and that’s one hobby he passed on to his own sons, Bobby, Wallace and Benjamin.

Kirkham describes himself as an expert and law-abiding hunter.

“I didn’t kill illegal game,” he said, “but I can’t tell you how many deer I’ve killed.” Kirkham also boasted that he killed more than 100 turkeys in his lifetime.

At 91 years old, Kirkham’s memories of his children are still very strong. He recalled many of the character traits his sons had as babies: Bobby was “slick-headed,” Wallace was “the best baby you ever saw” and Benjamin was a “good baby.” Kirkham also had a daughter, Shirley Jean, who passed away after only six weeks.

Kirkham spent 59 years with his late wife, Mildred-a childhood friend whom he married when he was only 18 years old.

“She was one of the best cooks you ever saw,” Kirkham said. “She was smart, and she kept a good house.”

After many years of farming, Kirkham changed careers and began working as a security guard for McMillan Blodel-a job he describes “O.K.”

Well rooted in the Black Belt, his family never traveled very far from home. Kirkham recalled only leaving Alabama to visit Meridian, Miss., on occasion and once to visit relatives in Louisiana. He never found it necessary to leave because he had everything he needed at home.

His children, on the other hand, did move on after graduating from Sweet Water High School and Livingston University, now the University of West Alabama.

Bobby now lives with his wife, Nell, in Huntsville, and Benjamin is in the oil business in Tombaw, Texas with his wife, Aileen. Wallace was killed in a tragic motorcycle accident last year. Kirkham has seven grandchildren, three great-grandchildren and one great-great grandchild.

Marengo Nursing Home is where Kirkham now calls home. He is in surprisingly good health and enjoying life.

“I don’t drink, I don’t smoke and I’m a Christian,” Kirkham said. “I’m enjoying life to the fullest.”