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Roland "Ron" John Lehker

December 8, 1925 May 23, 2021
Roland "Ron" John Lehker
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Obituary for Roland "Ron" John Lehker

Roland John Lehker passed away on May 23, 2021 at the age of 95, surrounded by his loving family. Ron is survived by his children Dave (Julie Guevara), Kris (John DeBacher), Anne (Sam Slaughter) and Tom (Beth Sullivan), and by nine grandchildren whom he loved thoroughly. Ron’s life was guided by family, education, and engagement with the world around him. He often exclaimed that he was the luckiest man to ever live, given the goodness of the life he enjoyed. Those of us who knew and loved Ron know that we are the lucky ones.

Born in his beloved San Antonio, Texas in 1925 in the second generation of German immigrants, Ron’s early life was immersed in grandparents, aunts and uncles, and many, many cousins. He served in the U.S. Marine Corps during World War II, after which he attended North Central College in Naperville, Illinois. “Tex” had an active presence on campus, including student body president and center on the school’s basketball team. Ron later obtained a Ph.D. in education from the University of Michigan.

However, his greatest achievement by far was his successful courtship of fellow student Regina Esther Wacker, leading to their marriage in 1951. Ron reveled in his acceptance into the larger Wacker clan, and he and Regina built a marriage of love and respect until Regina’s death in 1993. She was the love of his life.

Ron’s greatest joy was the love of family. He adored his four children, delighted in his four outlaws, and would do anything for and with his nine grandchildren: Casey Guevara-Lehker and Jesse Guevara-Lehker; David DeBacher, Jacob DeBacher and Emma Lehker; Claire Slaughter and Kat Slaughter; and Hannah Lehker and Jack Lehker. Whether planning a family vacation, caregiving during parents’ time away, or simply playing dress-up, Ron’s priority of family was always clear. Although we mourn his passing, we know and have known that his spirit and presence will live on for generations.

Ron’s early career in education featured positions as teacher, coach and principal at junior high and high schools in several Michigan communities including Vicksburg, Milan and Ann Arbor. He also served as the Executive Director of the National Association of Secondary School Principals in Washington, DC. For several years he also served as a trip chaperone for Youth for Understanding, a role for which he received a lifetime achievement award.

Serving as principal of Steele Junior High School in Muskegon, MI was Ron’s most challenging and rewarding role. There, Ron was able to implement an educational program that holistically addressed students’ academic and co-curricular experiences. Ahead of his time in understanding the importance of integration, Ron was the perfect match of community organizer and educator, until his retirement in 1986. His dedication to Steele was underscored by the fact that for his 80th birthday, he personally secured funding to fly a number of students to the nation’s capital for a week of enrichment.

After Regina’s death, Ron moved to Washington, DC. He immersed himself in the political and cultural life of that city, always thrilling to the next new thing to which he was exposed. Ron also met and fell in love with Linda Greensfelder, spending 21 years with her exploring DC and the world together. Their love led to a mutual joy in each other’s children and grandchildren.

Ron maintained a life-long commitment to the world around him. Whether it was the Jewish-Christian dialogue in Muskegon, founding a men’s discussion group in his new home in Washington, or as volunteer at the White House Visitor’s Center, Ron found fulfillment in a life-long quest to learn and grow. Nothing epitomized this more than his becoming an internet sensation at 90 on Reddit’s Ask Me Anything:

Ron always had a commitment to the marginalized, the forgotten and the powerless. That has never been more true than in these current days of struggle and strife in our communities, our nation and our world. If you are so moved to make a financial contribution in Ron’s memory, we ask that you consider these values in selecting a group or issue that is meaningful to you and that exemplifies Ron’s life. That would make him very happy.

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