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January 22, 1925 - February 2, 2011
Service Date April 15, 2011
Lee will be interred at 11 a.m. Friday, April 15, at Black Hills National Cemetery near Sturgis, followed by a remembrance and celebration of his life at 1 p.m. at West Hills Retirement Community, 255 Texas St., Rapid City.
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Leroy James “Lee” Collins, 86, Rapid City, passed quietly on Wednesday, Feb. 2, 2011.Born in Chamberlain on Jan. 22, 1925, Lee spent his formative years on a small farm during the Depression years. As many young men did at that time, he left high school in his teens to work the family farm. But Lee was a passionate student who yearned for knowledge throughout his life. He later earned his high school diploma and served in the U.S. Army, training as a paratrooper in the 101st Airborne division during the closing months of World War II.At 17, Lee left the farm and moved to Mitchell, where he held several jobs including machinist, bar manager, and cab driver. It was at a dance in Mitchell where he met Patricia O’Byrne, then a 15-year-old high school student. Five years later he made Patricia his wife, a marriage and love story that lasted 63 years, until Lee’s death. After the wedding, the couple settled in Chicago where Lee had found work and where they lived for nearly two years. After the birth of their daughter, Carol, the young family was lured by California’s promise and opportunity.Lee’s passions were engineering, inventing, designing and fabricating nearly anything electrical or mechanical. He completed numerous training courses and taught himself the principals of electro-mechanical theory, circuit design and eventually computer hardware and software applications. The farmer’s son from rural South Dakota ended up a manager and foreman working alongside some of the finest engineering teams in the country at Collins Radio, Hotpoint, Hydro-Aire and Sundstrand Turbo.He also worked for three yacht building companies in southern California, working on hull construction and fitting hydro drive and electronic control and navigation systems.Lee retired in 1990 from the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power. During his professional career he was a manager and foreman, at times responsible for large projects and as many as 40 employees. He designed and developed systems and fabricating processes including the manufacture of the first power assisted disc brake system for Naval fighter aircraft, while working at Hydro-Aire.Soon after retirement the couple returned to South Dakota, moving first to Black Hawk, then to Countryside, and finally to the West Hills Retirement Community.Lee was an avid and accomplished photographer, an ardent reader, loved trains, planes, and automobiles, nature, conservative politics, and loved his native South Dakota with passion.He is survived by his loving wife, Patricia, a resident of West Hills Retirement Community in Rapid City; his sisters, Betty Lou Collins and Lillian Shea, both of Reno, Nev., and Rose Marie Burns, Pomona, Calif.; devoted daughter, Carol Lee Keith, Tustin, Calif.; and his two beloved grandchildren, Steven DeMarco, Fort Collins, Colo., and Erin DeMarco, Boulder, Colo. He was predeceased by his parents, William and Florence Collins; brothers, Charles, Lawrence, and James; and sister, Alice Peters.He was a loving husband who delighted in holding hands and speaking softly with his treasured bride of 63 years, and as a proud and devoted father and grandfather. His curiosity, passion and talent for inventing, building and refining nearly everything he ever encountered will be remembered as hallmarks of his life. Those who knew him will often remember his quiet manner, innate dignity and personal integrity whenever they recall or speak of Lee Collins. “It is foolish and wrong to mourn the men who died. Rather we should thank God that such men lived.” – General George S. Patton