My Dad, Grampy


Chester Christy Lettington - June 23, 1916 - January 7, 2004




"Success has always been easy to measure. It is the distance between one's origins

and one's final achievements."




A Son's Reflections


Looking for a single word or phrase that would sum up Dad's character, I started with hard-working and soon found the following list of other words that amplify or supplement that characteristic:








My Dad worked very hard all of his life until he retired in July, 1978. He found that he had very little problem adjusting to retired life.He earned it and he enjoyed it. He had a lot of resting to get caught up on.


Dad was born to a farm family where tradition dictated that the entire family share the burdens of making a living and feeding the family. Even the littlest of the children had their chores to do every day. This established a work ethic that became a life long pattern. As his father moved the family from place to place in central Iowa making a living as a hired hand on a series of farms, Dad and his brothers and sisters always carried their share of the burden. Dad had a special burden to carry, as he was the youngest of the "first family". It was to be 6 years after Dad was born before the "second family" was started.


Dad and Uncle Russell were the two boys able to do farm chores for several years. Of course, Dad could never quite live up to what Russell thought he should be able to accomplish and Dad often recalled that Russell "made his life miserable". As the younger boys were able to begin helping on the farm, Dad took advantage of the few opportunities to earn money off the farm to help with family expenses. At 12 he earned some money assisting thrashing teams. He also carried produce at a local truck farm (10 hour shifts for twenty-five cents a day) -- the year was 1929. His first venture outside Iowa to find work to help support the family took him (with his life long friend Delbert Dey) to the wheat fields of northern Minnesota where the pay was good ($2 per day plus room and board) but being away from home just didn't feel right and he soon returned to Indianola to farm work. Money was very dear and the necessity of sending home as much as possible demanded that transportation be limited to hitch-hiking and "riding the rails".


"Hired Hand" work at various local farms and other manual labor occupations kept Dad employed until 1940 when I was three years old. Then Mom and Dad decided to try their luck in the city. Dad had his own family to provide for now and the work ethic he learned as a child demanded no less from him now that he was on his own. Mom and Dad packed up and moved the 17 miles to Des Moines and into a small apartment on the east side. He quickly found work roofing houses - hard work, but decent pay. As the weather grew colder and roofing work dried up, he looked for an "inside" job and quickly was hired at the Iowa Packing Company. Never looking back to the hard years on the farm, city life in Des Moines was their way of life until later retirement years.


These first years in Des Moines were during WWII. Dad's age and his job in the meat packing industry resulted in a deferment from uniformed service during the war, but he worked very hard to keep the state-side war effort rolling. He also served as an "Air Raid Warden", assisting in the effort to prepare and protect the citizens in the event of an attack on the homeland.


The packing plant provided a good steady wage and a higher standard of living than could ever have been achieved as a farm hand so the gamble paid off. Dad worked very hard during those years to provide for our family and managed to be in a sound enough financial position to buy the apartment house where they were living at the time. The work at the meat packing plant was strenuous manual labor and I can recall how exhausted he was when he arrived home from work. He walked to work because gasoline was rationed.


These were happy times for me. We did a lot together as a family. To help with the war effort, we grew as much of our own food as possible. In addition to the large garden we worked in the lot adjacent to our home, we also maintained a "Victory Garden" in a public plot provided by the city a few blocks away. Many families were similarly engaged. I had my war effort conservation task to do by flattening metal cans to recycle.


Entertainment was most often a walk to the local movie theater to enjoy a movie together - sometimes including a fried chicken dinner at the "Sunset Diner" on the way to the "Ideal Theater". Dad also played baseball for the company team and belonged to a bowling league and the Eagle's Lodge. I went to many of his baseball games and was very fortunate to be able to accompany him occasionally when he went to the bowling alley.


As I grew older and began to focus my activities more on school and friends, Dad was always there for me supporting my school and music. He never hesitated to make any sacrifice to see that I had what I needed to grow and have a life better than what he knew as a child. He had many fond memories of his childhood in the middle of the "two families" (totaling nine children) and he maintained close contact with his own family throughout his life. He was also intensely proud that he had been the first to break the farm poverty pattern by making to jump to the city and a better life.


In 1951, the working environment at the packing house was becoming unbearable for Dad so he made another big decision, to leave and to go to work for Firestone at the Des Moines plant. Newcomers seldom get easy jobs and his case was no exception. He did piece work "building" tires. The work was physically demanding and high pressure but he did well and the pay was better that he had ever imagined. He remained with Firestone until retirement in July, 1978.


Life was good! We had a home, we had a car, we had enough of what we needed to be comfortable and happy. These were the years when Dad grew proud of my accomplishments. He taught me to drive and trusted me with the family car. He also made sure I knew the responsibilities that privilege carried. Family was important to Dad. We visited family in rural Iowa nearly every Sunday and I learned the joy and the importance of a close relationship with the family. During these years Mom and Dad sold the apartment house to buy a single family home and then a brand new home in the Grandview area of Des Moines - the source of great pride. They saw me through my school years in Des Moines and helped provide my college education at Iowa State University in Ames.


As a youth struggling on the farm he never would have thought that he would have a son graduate from college. His formal education ended at the eighth grade because he needed to work.


This narrative seems to be focusing on work. That's because work defined Dad. He worked long hours at physically demanding jobs and had few outside activities. He took care of his home, lawn and garden and relaxed to prepare for more work. That was his life but he was proud of what he had accomplished and was happy with his life. Honesty and integrity dominated his relationship with everyone he dealt with. He would never, ever dream of cheating anyone or stretching the truth and bending any of the rules. He expected the same from others. Bills and debts were to be paid - not admired.


Retirement was a slowing down for Dad. He took up wood working immediately after he retired from Firestone and for many years could not be seen without a piece of wood and a carving knife in his hand. He gardened and cared for his house as long as he could.


In 1988 Mom and Dad pulled up stakes in Des Moines and moved to San Diego to be near us. These were wonderful years for all of us since we had missed so many opportunities to be close during my Navy years. We saw each other every day and shared everything that went on in our lives. Unfortunately, Mom's untimely passing in 1995 caused her to miss the opportunity to see her great grandchildren. Dad enjoyed Hannah and Phoebe enough for both of them!


Dad was never really the same after my Mom passed away in 1995. They shared so much for so many years and he missed her intensely.


Arthritis robbed Dad of his mobility in his later years and dementia associated with chronic congestive heart failure deprived him of much of his zest for life, but he remained cheerful, cordial, and content. He was happy with his life and his life accomplishments. He was not anxious for his life to end but knew his medical condition could not grant him many more years. He hoped and prayed that when the end came, it would come quickly and painlessly and most of all without the indignity of long periods of hospitalization. He got what he wanted when he passed away quietly and peacefully while napping through an old western movie on TV.


Dad was not deeply religious and seldom attended church, but he did believe in God and he was a professed Christian. He believed in salvation and an afterlife. He knew in his heart that because of his belief in Jesus, he would be reunited in Heaven with his beloved Margot and all of his family and friends who passed before him. That faith gave him great comfort and inner peace.





"Mr Lettington was a special man who will be missed by everyone who took the time to know him;

the staff and residents of Assisted Living {Casa de las Campanas} particularly."

-         Coleene Weir {Care Giver}