Leland Kew

Leland Kew reflected on his long history of service to the United States and contributions as a planner.

Navy Reservist reflects on life before turning 95

Leland Kew, 94, served in the Navy Reserves and while stationed in the Philippines on a U. S. flatbottom boat, circa 1946, they were attacked. It took 17 hours to rescue 39 of the 80 men who survived the strike by jumping overboard.

“Our boat captain said he could see it in the eyes of the Japanese pilot that he was going to fly into our boat,” said Leland Kew, a navy veteran who survived a kamikaze attack. 

Kew is a native of a small town in northern Iowa, where farming was the family’s livelihood. 

“My family were dirt poor sharecroppers, who tried to make a living during the depression. My mother’s constant reminder was, the only way to escape this life is education,” said Kew. “I attended a small school and there were less than 10 kids in my high school graduating class. No one ever talked about going to college.

“My father was a World War II Sniper and my mother was a teacher and housewife. I had two brother who passed away many years ago,” said Kew. 

Kew heeded his mother’s advice and after high school enrolled in Iowa State University. 

“I always wanted to design parks and majored in Landscape & Architectural Design,” said Kew. 

When Kew turned 18 years old, he joined the military. First the Navy, but due to a medical issue he was rejected, and he enlisted in the Navy Reserves. His first tour of duty was the Philippines, where he was an engine man. 

Following the attack on Kew’s boat and rescue, “I was able to go back home to rest and recover.  When I returned to duty in San Diego, Calif., I was assigned to a floating dry dock boat, that traveled through the Panama Canal and continued east to Norfolk, Virginia. My enlistment ran out in Virginia, and I went back home, and returned to college,” said Kew. 

College enrollment lasted a short time for Kew because the Navy Reserves reactivated him in 1952 to a station in Okinawa, as a sea plane tender. 

“The Red Cross notified me my mother was ill and I received permission to go home. Getting home took some time to arrange and I arrived in time for mom’s funeral,” said Kew.

“I returned to San Diego to await my boat return to port and received medical treatment for some minor injuries. Following the treatment, I was transferred to Fort McHenry in Baltimore, Md., to finish enlistment period,” said Kew.

Kew returned home and entered college again. At the age of 25, he married Betty Ward. No children were born to this union and Ward died in 2010.  

The Peoria Parks Department Newsletter states that in 1954 Kew graduated from Iowa State University system and was hired by the Peoria, Ill. Parks Department as the first design professional. He was responsible for the design of the Glen Oak Zoo grounds and children area and the clubhouse for a golf course.

In 1958, he was promoted to Assistant to the Director, where he served until 1960.  

“Sometimes, I get restless and want to do many things. I went to work for several private architectural and construction firms in the D.C. area and North Carolina,” said Kew. Kew was a consultant for the Bull Run Regional Park Authority in Virginia. 

“While working for these companies and agencies, I was able to design many projects - parks, shopping malls, restored churches and a town hall. I was able to travel to Africa to study the habitat of the wild animals, in preparation for a zoo design,” said Kew. 

He was also responsible for the planning and programming for the North Carolina Zoological Park, an area of 1,341 acres, developed for the nation’s first state-owned natural habitat zoo. Here he continued his passion for landscape design work.

Kew returned to Peoria Parks department in 1979 as Coordinator of Development and was named Deputy Director in 1980. In 1982, he was named the new Director for the Parks and Recreation for the Peoria, Ill. Park District. 

“After retirement, I developed a love for antique cars and would travel through out the U. S. to attend shows. I also became a breeder of Great Dane dogs and was an American Kennel Club judge.  I finally settled down in Hot Spring, Arkansas, after touring retirement communities and to heal from bladder cancer” said Kew.

Over the years, Kew made many friends and but held on to one who became his confidante and protector and she lived in the Huntsville area.  After Kew sold his home in Hot Springs, he moved to Willis, Texas, in 2000 to be closer to his unofficial adopted daughter. In October 2022, Kew fell and broke his left arm and left femur.  He is currently recovering in a rehabilitation center. 

“I think Leland is the most incredible man, who has lived an outstanding life. He has done everything, as well as, serve his country,” said April McDonalds, a friend and caregiver for Kew. 

“I have made peace with my Lord, and I hope to live to see my birthday, but if I don’t its okay. I appreciate America, although it is going to hell in a hand basket.  I’ve always subscribe to good health and to stay active, which has kept my memory good.  I’ve met lots of people and always had good will toward everyone,” said Kew.  

Mr. Kew will celebrate his 95th birthday on Feb. 23. Cards and well wishes can be mailed to 27 Oak Creek Drive, Huntsville, Texas 77340.

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