July 15, 1924 – January 16, 2016
This newsletter is dedicated to Leon Royce, a life-long Hartland resident and long-time H.H.S. member who died in Florida this past winter. After his retirement from teaching and coaching at Windsor High School, Leon and wife Marjorie went to Florida every winter for the Red Sox “spring training.” He was an expert on all things Red Sox. Leon was well-known and respected throughout the greater Windsor area because of the hundreds of students and ballplayers he had taught. I played for Leon on a couple of good baseball teams in ’65 and ’66, but saw very little of him for years after that. Our lives had a similar trajectory a generation apart—growing up in or near the Village, Hartland grade school, Windsor High School, away a few years for the Marine Corps and college, and then back to Hartland to stay. When we did reconnect, it did not involve baseball, but rather H.H.S. programs. Of course, the relationship eventually revolved around baseball, whether watching games at his house or going to Windsor, Dartmouth, or minor league games. Either in the car or at the games, there was always conversation and not always just baseball; we talked politics and history, especially Hartland history. It was quite an oral history lesson for me to hear his observations about life in town and the characters who populated it. Unfortunately, not all that information can be reported in these pages.
My last conversation with Leon included talk about the last H.H.S. newsletter in which I wrote about the Damon family. I told him there were quite a few other people who were born in Hartland, went to a small school, then went out into the world and did very well for themselves. I said there’s such a lot of material that I could continue with that theme for some time. Leon said, “You know some people stayed right here and did very well. You should write about Lewis Merritt; he did a lot for the Town.” So I will, but first I want to tell Leon’s story, as he also was a local boy who did well in his chosen field.
Leon grew up on the main street in the house in back of Damon Hall and next to the Martin Memorial Building, home of H.H.S. (In Leon’s time, it was a garage that was next door.) In the ’20s and ’30s, Hartland was still very much a farming town. Even people who had jobs farmed their land to provide for themselves and bring in a little income. Leon was a “townie” and didn’t have farming in his upbringing. Living in town meant a short walk to school, stores, or any events taking place. There were always people coming and going. Leon’s father, Phillip Royce, was the Town Treasurer for many years and had an office in the home. Living in town also meant there were enough young people nearby for pickup ballgames. Leon, of course, always loved playing baseball. He told me that his father had no interest in baseball and never watched him play.
Leon attended Windsor High School, graduating in 1942. Like many of his generation, he was soon off to war. Leon enlisted in the Marine Corps; and surprisingly, because he had worked for a time at the Windsor Post Office, he was assigned to a postal job. His combat training was in artillery. As a Marine a generation later, I of course wanted to know what he had experienced. Leon was posted for a time at Maui, Hawaii, not a bad place to be in the middle of World War II, but in 1945, Marines there became part of the massive invasion of the island of Iwo Jima. After several conversations over the years about the Marines, Leon mentioned that he was at Iwo Jima. I said, “Wow! What was that like?” He said, “You know, we didn’t know how bad it was when we were there. It wasn’t until we left that men were learning from home what a costly battle it had been.” “Iwo,” of course, was the most famous battle in
Marine Corps history. It lasted five weeks. Several thousand were killed in action, and nearly twenty thousand were wounded. Leon told me he was certain that the post office job in Windsor saved his life.
After the War, Leon attended Ithaca College. Upon graduation, he returned to Windsor High School to teach and, of course, quickly got involved in the athletic program. By the late 1950s, he got his dream job coaching the baseball team. That is where he made his reputation, winning about two-thirds of the games over a thirty-year career. He accomplished that while playing against some of the larger schools in the state with the smallest school in the Division. I’m prone to telling people who haven’t been in the area too many decades that Windsor used to be a much larger school. In fact, we played Division 1 baseball and did very well. I relayed one such conversation to Leon not too many years ago and he said: “Damn right we did, but only because I insisted on it. Early on I went to the administration and told them I wanted to move up. I wanted to play against the best. They didn’t think that made much sense, but they let me do it.”
While most people probably associate the name Leon Royce with Windsor, he always lived in Hartland and found time to serve the community. He was on the School Board and was especially devoted to the Congregational Church. He served as a Deacon, doing what needed to be done around the Church and working on the suppers. One of his jobs in the old days was rising several hours before the Sunday services to start the wood furnace.
It is good that on his retirement, the Royce name was attached to the Windsor athletic fields. It’s doubly deserving, as not only was he a long time successful coach and Athletic Director, but Leon also actually worked on the field. He spent countless hours watering, raking, and pulling weeds. He wanted his teams to be the best, and he wanted to have the best field.
Leon leaves his wife of 68 years, Marjorie Hatch Royce, three children, five grandchildren, and five great-grandchildren. There will be a service to celebrate his life on Saturday, May 14, at 2 p.m. at the Hartland Congregational Church.