Leon Mathias Thiel passed into eternal life on May 19, 2021 at the age of 77 following a life well lived. He was born to Matt and Jeanette Thiel Dec. 9, 1943 in Hilbert, Wisconsin, where he spent his early years on the family farm as the youngest of seven children.
Leon graduated from Stout State College in 1966. He married his high school sweetheart and love of his life Carol Kees on Aug. 21, 1965, and the two went on to have six sons. Leon spent the first six years of his career teaching industrial arts at Denmark High School and went on to work for Neenah Foundry, where he retired after a 29-year tenure in 2007.
The end of the workday didn’t mean the end of toiling for Leon, and he was rarely idle. For many years, he ran Thiel’s Yardcare and spent countless hours mowing and maintaining lawns for many business and residential clients, often alongside his wife and sons, who helped with the business. Leon loved everything John Deere, and every grandchild got his or her turn riding on the mower with Grandpa.
Leon found his true passion in the garage, specifically beneath the hood of a car. His sons like to think it began with helping them maintain the many junkers that rolled onto the Thiel driveway during their teenage years. From there, Leon graduated to classic cars, painstakingly restoring abandoned automobiles to their former glory. Throughout the years, he honed his craft through classes and countless hours in his own shop. His roster of re-creations includes a 1966 Dodge Monaco, 1985 RAM Charger, a 1966 Chrysler 300, a 1962 Pontiac Starfire, a 1961 Buick Electra 225, and a 1959 T-Bird. He relished entering his cars in shows, winning many awards, including several first-place honors. For many years, he and Carol gathered with fellow convertible enthusiasts as part of the OpenAir Classic, where everyone loves to “go topless.” Leon’s handiness extended beyond cars, and he was known for his ability to fix anything and his willingness to help anyone with any task.
Throughout his lifetime, Leon developed an ever-deepening faith and was heavily involved in the church — first St. John the Baptist in Menasha and then St. Pius X in Appleton. He spent many hours volunteering at his parishes, was actively involved with the Cursillo, and was a Fourth Degree member of the Knights of Columbus.
Leon was equally dedicated to his family and was immensely proud of his sons. A grandpa to 14, Leon was known for his care, tenderness, and sense of humor. His recitation of “The Wide Mouth Frog” was legendary among his sons, daughters-in-law, and grandchildren, sending all into fits of laughter. Leon and Carol loved to camp, travel, and golf, pursuits they enjoyed with many close friends. Leon’s family will remember the many hours they spent with him playing games and cards, eating great food, and sharing so many laughs. His warm smile and loving kindness will stay with all of us forever, and his talent and ingenuity will live on through his kids, grandkids and beyond.
Leon is survived by his wife of nearly 56 years, Carol; his sons: Jeff (Becky), Doug (Lisa), Mike (Stephanie), Steve (Sara), Matt (Emily), and Mark (Jess); his grandchildren: Amanda (Cole), Jake, and Nicole; Olivia Naugle (Brad) and Jackson (Ellie); Mikaela, Emma, and Nora; Addie, Elliot, and Julian; and Ben, Paul, and Gus; his sisters- and brothers-in-law: Martha Thiel, Ralph Steiner, Paul (Carolyn) Kees, Margie Thiel, Sandy (Tim) Gossens, John (Sherry) Kees, Jeannie (Doug) Lindsley, Kathy (Wayne) Eldred, Pat (Steve) Hutchison, and Don Kees; and many nieces, nephews and other extended family members. He was preceded in death by his parents, Matt and Jeanette; in-laws, Paul and Viola Kees; siblings Cyril (Margaret), Melvin, Harold (Dolores), Fr. Lloyd, OFM, Eugene, and Alice; and brother-in-law, Dick Thiel.
The family would like to thank the staff at Valley VNA, Rennes, and ThedaCare, especially the doctors and nurses of the ThedaCare Regional Medical Center-Appleton emergency department and the team with ThedaCare at Home, who treated Leon and his family with great love and care.
A visitation will be held on Tuesday, May 25 at Valley Funeral Home, 2211 N. Richmond St., Appleton, from 4-7 p.m., with a time of remembrance and sharing beginning at 6:15 and a prayer service at 7 p.m. A mass of Christian burial will be held at St. Pius X Catholic Church, 500 W. Marquette St., Appleton, on Wednesday, May 26, with a visitation beginning at 9 a.m. and mass to follow at 11:30 a.m.
In lieu of flowers, the family encourages donations to the Alzheimer’s Foundation of America, the Fisher Center for Alzheimer’s Research Foundation or The National Shrine of Our Lady of Good Help.
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