Remembering Leon B. Ufkes, 1926-2023

Family and friends are remembering Leon Ufkes and sharing this remembrance with the community:

Leon B. Ufkes (1926-2023)

Tami Ufkes-Schendel and Mark L. Ufkes announce the recent death of their 96-year old dad. Leon was a resident at West Seattle’s Quail Park memory facility, where wonderful staff cared for him. Raised in Illinois on the family farm, at age 17, Dad enlisted into the US Navy during World War II. He was trained as a “fighting Seabee” Naval engineer, stationed in Guam, to prepare for the invasion of the main island of Japan. He was part of an engineering battalion slated to be in the third landing wave and was told that they could expect a 70% casualty rate. During final training, the US dropped two atomic bombs on Japan, ending the war. Dad said many times that those atomic bombs saved his life. As a result, he dedicated his entire career to the nuclear industry.

After the war, Dad used the GI bill to attend Virginia Tech, completing a B.S. degree in chemical engineering. His first engineering job, at age 26, Dad was issued a “Q” top secret security clearance and was put in charge of a 5-person team to pack high explosives into atomic bombs that would be used to trigger the nuclear explosion. He was proud that his ideas were used to make the atomic bomb assembly process safer.

In 1954, he met and married Iris R. Adkins, his secretary (and our mom), who could type 90 words a minute on a manual typewriter, was a state-level women’s high school basketball star, and “had great legs and a beautiful singing voice”, according to Dad. In 1955, Dad was invited to the Hanford Nuclear reservation in Richland, Washington to assist in operating plutonium producing reactors built during the cold war with the Soviet Union. Dad was a lead Hanford operating engineer for much of his career, proud to have worked at historic B-Reactor, using the same office that famous physicist Enrico Fermi used in 1945 to help end World War II. Later, Dad did early work on the “glassification” of nuclear waste for safer storage.

Dad fell in love with the mountains of the west. We learned how to ski as we learned to walk, and constantly went camping in the Cascade mountains. As a family, we hiked most of the coast of Washington and climbed Mt. Adams and Mt. Hood a dozen times. Dad volunteered as a Scoutmaster, and for decades, lead a large group to summit Mt. Adams every Labor Day.

Dad became a single parent in 1972, when our spectacular mom died of colon cancer at age 43. Dad and Mom taught us that college education gives opportunities we can’t imagine. They were right. Between three children and six grandchildren, there are 14 college degrees, including four advanced degrees and two medical doctors. Collectively, our careers have allowed us to serve the human condition all over the US and the world.

Dad played tennis, loved dancing (“all the women want to dance with me, Mark!”), and walked 3 miles a day until age 84 when he was severely injured after falling off a roof while pruning a tree.

A memorial plaque for Mom and Dad was installed at the summit of the Candy Mountain Hiking Preserve, a park and 1.5 mile trail near Richland. His son Mark, and daughter-in-law Lois Schipper, used their 120 acres to help create a public park there instead of developing housing. Dad loved the fact that over 60,000 hikers climb Candy Mountain each year and can sit on beautiful basalt column benches at the summit, with a grand view of the mighty Columbia River, 1,000 feet above the town where Dad raised our family and served our country.

(WSB publishes West Seattle obituaries and memorial announcements by request, free of charge. Please email the text, and a photo if available, to

9 Replies to "Remembering Leon B. Ufkes, 1926-2023"

  • Brooke December 15, 2023 (9:16 am)

    Thank you for sharing your Dad’s inspirational life story! 💙

  • Seagurl December 15, 2023 (9:28 am)


  • Marina December 15, 2023 (9:56 am)

    Wow, what a life. 

  • Mikey December 15, 2023 (11:59 am)

    Thank you for your service. Go Navy!

  • Mike December 15, 2023 (12:23 pm)

    R.I.P. Mr. Ufkes, thank you for your service and for raising a family who followed in your footsteps of service to others around the world.

  • Ashley December 15, 2023 (3:08 pm)

    What an incredible life he led and the valuable impact he made on others. Thank you for sharing his story 💝 

  • Pina December 15, 2023 (5:00 pm)

    I am a concierge at QPMC where lived his last days and I LOVED HIM, he was such a character, he kept the staff on their toes as he was always ready to get out. RIP Leon I will always remember you with fondness.   Pina

  • 1994 December 15, 2023 (11:36 pm)

    The world needs more Leon’s.  Thank you for sharing.

  • John Ufkes December 16, 2023 (3:15 pm)

    One of my dad’s 35 cousins on the Ufkes side from around the Carthage IL area.  Was kind enough to come to my office in Ellensburg after I moved here-my prayers for the family and all who are mourning 

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