Veteran who found second home in Dickinson laid to rest among peers
"You showed him something the east coast could not - that there’s still good people. The human race still has some element of redemption and can be trusted."
U.S. Army Veteran Cpl. Leonard Proctor boarded a train and headed West after suffering a beating near his home in New Jersey.
Proctor had moved back to New Jersey to take care of his mother after being honorably discharged from the Army on Dec. 24, 1959. When she died, he made his way to Billings, Montana, and after deciding he didn't like it, he came back east, stopped in Dickinson, found he liked it and made it his home.
He had nothing when he got here. When he got off the bus, he moved into the motel across the street. After living in the hotel for over a year, he appealed to the Stark County Veterans Service for assistance, and soon after strangers in Dickinson became his caretakers and friends.
After seeing where he was living, Jessica Clifton, veteran service officer, arranged for him to move into an apartment building and contacted the District 8 American Legion Riders for help.
"We gathered up food for his pantry and bedding and televisions and pots and pans," said Tom Coons, the Riders' director. "We went in there and completely set his house up, and then every few weeks one of our members would check in with him, maybe take him over some more food or just sit around and socialize with him. We just kind of looked out for him."
From there, Proctor moved into assisted living facilities Evergreen, then St. Benedict's.
Diane Schmid-Auch met Proctor through social services and was one of the many caregivers that got to know him.
"He needed someone to take him to the store because he didn’t like to ride the bus for some reason to go shopping," she said. "He got my name from them, and that’s how I started to take him shopping every week to get his stuff. I just became a friend and just adopted him and became a better person for knowing him."
Bernie Krebs, who officiated Proctor's funeral, said Proctor was always kind.
"Part of my work at St. Ben’s is they ask me to do satisfaction surveys - how happy are you here? What can we do better at St. Ben’s? Are we answering your call light on time?" Krebs said. "I remember that interview assessment so well because there’s no way in heck that man was going to say anything bad about anybody or anything."
Proctor would always say everything was excellent.
"He wasn’t going to make trouble for anybody because ... somebody was making trouble for him," Proctor said. "Somebody beat him up, and if I remember right, threw him in a trash bin and maybe even left him for dead. That’s when he said, ‘Enough with this east coast stuff.’ It was hard to listen to him being beat up by some thugs on the east coast. It was hard to listen where he lost that beautiful trust in people."
The people Proctor met in Dickinson helped him restore his faith in humanity, Krebs said.
" You showed him something the east coast could not - that there’s still good people. The human race still has some element of redemption and can be trusted," he said.
Dickinson friends describe Proctor as a kind and simple man with a unique sense of humor who liked 7 Up, telling stories and watching the Minnesota Twins and Vikings play. He had two doctorate degrees, one in computer/electronics and one in mathematics.
"He was a heck of a mathematician. He gave us formulas and sheets there was no way I could comprehend," Coons said.
At St. Ben's, Proctor taught a staff member named Nina about calculus. She remembers getting him a calculus book for Christmas last year and seeing 'his eyes lit up like a little kid.'
These friends and their stories gathered to say goodbye to Proctor at Stevenson Funeral Home, Wednesday.
Proctor was born Sept. 29, 1930 in Paterson, New Jersey, but he died at home in Dickinson, North Dakota on Oct. 27, 2020. He was laid to rest at the North Dakota Veterans Cemetery in Mandan.