Kids come first with Dad after Mom dies

News-DemocratJune 16, 2013 

Mitchell and Spencer Leifeld joke that their dad can be "nerdy" at times and complain that his stories go on forever.

But deep down, the twins know Bob Leifeld has done a pretty good job with his four children since his wife died two years ago.

"It amazes me how he's able to work and take care of us and do all the other things that he does and still have time to relax and hang out with his friends," said Mitchell, 16, of Waterloo.

"Maybe it has something to do with the fact that he doesn't sleep much. But I'm just very thankful."

The twins were sitting in the back yard with brother Evan, 14, and sister Madeline, 9, next to an above-ground swimming pool.

Their covered patio often doubles as a kitchen because Bob cooks so much on the gas grill, everything from brats and burgers to steaks and chicken breasts.

"We all sit down and eat dinner together," he said. "And I try to have fruit, vegetables and bread with every meal."

That comment led to more teasing by the kids about Bob's occasional fall-back plan: Hamburger Helper. He grinned and shook his head.

"There's a lot of crazy stuff that happens when you're a parent," said his best friend, Jim Schramm, 46, of Florissant, Mo. "Nothing really goes as planned, and (Bob) sees the funny side of everything."

Young widower

Life has presented Bob, 45, with one challenge after another since the summer of 2010, when doctors diagnosed his wife, Angela Leifeld, with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, also known as Lou Gehrig's Disease.

The elementary school teacher lost all movement and died the following spring. She was 41.

"I know it's been difficult (for Bob), but he never lets on," Jim said. "He's a very resilient guy, and he always has a positive outlook."

Bob works as a computer programmer and analyst for Boeing in Hazelwood, Mo.

He leaves the house at 5:30 on weekday mornings, so his mother-in-law, Lucille Ohms, takes the kids to school, picks them up and sticks around until he gets home.

His mother, Karen Leifeld, pulled similar duty the first year after Angela's death.

"He tells me, 'I don't want you to clean the house. I don't want you to cook dinner. I just want you to be with the kids,'" said Lucille, 65, of Waterloo.

"I vacuum every once in a while. I just feel like I should. You can't do it all alone."

Boomerang champ

Bob grew up in the St. Louis area, attended St. Henry's Preparatory Seminary in Belleville and finished high school in Indiana, where his mother lived.

He attended Chicago Institute of Technology for three years, worked as a bartender and eventually turned his hobby into an occupation, making and selling boomerangs.

Bob has been involved in organizing the Gateway Classic boomerang tournament for 26 years.

"It's the second-longest-running boomerang tournament in the country," he said. "It's also the biggest and the best. People fly here from all over."

Bob and Angela dated five years before marrying in 1994. She apparently saw something in the avid prankster.

The couple had three children, including twins with a form of autism known as Asperger syndrome, when Bob returned to college. He earned a bachelor's degree in computer management information systems at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville in 2005.

Bob got a job with Boeing the following year and later a master's in business administration. He enjoyed his new career, as well as fatherhood.

"(Bob is) like the ultimate dad," Jim said. "He's like a big kid himself. He never really grew up all the way. He's a bit of a goofball, and he adores his children."

Loving husband

The summer of 2010 was a busy one for the Leifelds. They built their patio and took the kids on a big vacation, touring the Southwest.

In mid-July, Angela began tripping occasionally and struggling to perform simple tasks with her hands. A neurologist diagnosed ALS, a neurodegenerative disease.

"That was kind of a surreal day, sitting in the doctor's office," Bob said. "It was just like in the movies, when they give you the bad news: There's no cure, no medicine, no therapy. There's really nothing you can do."

Angela lost her ability to walk, stand, move her arms and legs, eat or talk. Bob modified a wireless doorbell into a call button she could push.

Angela eventually communicated by blinking when he pointed to instruction cards on a closet door, perhaps asking for a pillow or ice chips.

"I admire him," his mother-in-law said. "I admire the strength that he has, and the resilience to keep going with the kids.

"When Angela was so sick, he cheered her up. You could tell that he loved her. He just took such good care of her."

Angela died on May 14, 2011, the day after Mitchell and Spencer were confirmed at their Catholic church.

"She couldn't go to the confirmation, of course," Bob said. "But she got to see them in their white robes."

Father and friend

Today, Bob's weekly routine includes helping with homework, buying groceries, cleaning house, doing laundry and working in the yard.

He takes Madeline to Girl Scouts, Mitchell and Spencer to 4-H meetings and all the kids to doctor appointments.

In recent months, Bob has been teaching the twins how to drive.

"He's a driving teacher who likes to grab the wheel when you're driving," Mitchell said. "And he likes to be sarcastic when you mess up."

In their free time, the Leifelds play board games, hike in the woods, ride bikes, rollerblade and occasionally go out for a movie or mini golf.

They don't watch much TV, but their favorite shows are "Amazing Race" and "America's Got Talent."

"The best times are whenever we go camping," Madeline said. "We go down to Camp Ondessonk. We swim in this big lake. We sleep in cabins. We always get angry at Mitchell for snoring really loud.

"I like to camp with (Dad). It's fun. He likes to take us on hikes and stuff. We always end up having a good time."

Last summer, Bob started getting out of the house on Thursday nights to play volleyball at a local bar. He also meets up with friends to throw boomerangs in the park.

But his children come first.

"I think of him as a dad, but he's kind of a friend, too," Mitchell said. "He's someone I can talk to and hang out with, and overall, I just think he's a pretty nice guy."

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