August 28, 2008
10:30 A.M. Saturday, August 30, 2008
Garden Chapel Funeral Home
9:30 A.M. until the time of service
Saturday, August 30, 2008
Garden Chapel Funeral Home
First Reformed Church
April 28, 1917 - August 28, 2008
Leona Vanita Witzenburg Braafhart was born on April 28, 1917 on the family farm four miles west of Pella, Iowa. She was the daughter of Gerrit and Johanna Niemantsverdriet Witzenburg.
Leona attended country school for one year until the family moved to Otley. She attended Otley Public School for four years. The family moved to Pella and she attended Pella Public Schools through high school and then completed one year at Central College. At that time, Central did not offer much in music, so that summer she attended Columbia University in New York City.
She returned to Pella and learned that Morningside College in Sioux City, Iowa had a good flute teacher so she enrolled there. She studied general public school music and also took private flute and piccolo lessons from Everett Timm, who had studied with Georges Barnair of Woodstock, New York, and was, at that time, the world's best flutist. Leona played in the Sioux City Symphony Orchestra with her flute instructor and upon graduation gave a flute recital. Leona taught music in Auburn, Galva, Early, Schaller, and McCallsburg, Iowa. After her father's death, she and her mother moved to Casa Grande, Arizona where she taught music in three different schools, travelling from one school to the other. There were so many children that she could only hold fifteen minute classes.
In the summer, Leona attended the University of Arizona in Tucson, Arizona. She had her credits from Columbia University transferred to Tucson and graduated with a Master of Music degree plus eleven hours of work toward a Doctor of Music degree. She was also the secretary of Casa Grande Community Concerts and the people in the vicinity enjoyed hearing artists from the United States and foreign countries. Leona played the organ in the Presbyterian Church where she and her mother were members.
Leona and her mother moved to Phoenix, Arizona where she taught in the Paradise Valley school district and later she became music librarian at Arizona State University in Tempe. Following her mother's death, she worked temporarily in a health food store and then moved to California to be near a friend.
On August 2, 1972 Leona was united in marriage with Henry Braafhart at the Little Brown Church in the Vale in Nashua, Iowa. Henry was a retired farmer and long-time family friend originally from the Netherlands. Following their marriage, they lived in Orange City, Iowa where Henry had a home.
Henry and Leona bought bicycles and practiced riding in the cemetery in Orange City. When they had mastered their bicycles, they joined RAGBRAI (the Des Moines Register's Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa) and made their first bicycle trip across the state. Over the years, they rode RAGBRAI seven times and were featured in newspaper articles and on radio and television with Henry being the oldest rider. They also made several trips to the West Coast and enjoyed visiting Yosemite National Park as well as other parks and cities in the west. She and Henry made several trips to the Netherlands to visit Henry's relatives.
Leona was interested in genealogy and had done extensive research on both the Niemantsverdriet and Witzenburg families. In 1990 she organized and hosted the first Niemantsverdriet Family Reunion in America in Orange City, Iowa. She enjoyed attending the subsequent reunions.
Henry and Leona continued to live in Orange City until they sold their home in 1991. They had a sale and sold all of their belongings, bought all new things for their new home and, on June 28, 1991, moved to Friendship Haven Retirement Community in Fort Dodge, Iowa. Friendship Haven was the first retirement home in the state of Iowa.
Henry passed away on September 14, 1996. After Henry's death, Leona remained in Fort Dodge until she became ill and was taken by ambulance to Des Moines Methodist Hospital and had heart by-pass surgery. Her cousin and husband, Pauline and Harold Van Zee, took her to their home to recuperate.
When Leona could be on her own, Paul Van Zee, Harold and Pauline's son, found an apartment for her in West Fair Haven in Pella. He moved her things from Fort Dodge to her new apartment in Pella. Leona had her church membership transferred from Casa Grande Presbyterian Church to First Reformed Church in Pella.
When Fair Haven West residents were required to relocate before the building was remodeled, Leona moved to Fair Haven East. When it was discovered that she was not taking her medications properly, she moved to Hilltop Manor Assisted Living in Pella. In 2007, she became a resident of the Long Term Care Unit of the Pella Regional Health Center. She passed away there on August 28, 2008 at the age of ninety-one.
Leona was preceded in death by her parents and her husband, Henry. She is survived by many cousins, including Pauline, Mrs. Harold Van Zee, of Pella, Iowa, other relatives, and friends.
Burial took place at the Pleasant Hill Cemetery near Ireton, Iowa.