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The Press Democrat remembers the 40 lives lost in the North Bay fires. Click here for more of the stories.

LeRoy and Donna Halbur left rural Iowa nearly five decades ago, but their Midwestern roots and values remained strong amid a life dedicated to community service, guided by their Catholic faith.

“They weren’t complicated,” said Tim Halbur, of Los Angeles, the oldest of the Halburs’ two sons. “They were salt-of-the-earth people who just got things done. And they were warm, loving, very tolerant, and very understanding people.”

Born four days and about 200 miles apart, LeRoy, a career accountant, and, Donna, a teacher and reading specialist, had celebrated their 80th birthdays and 50th wedding anniversary at an August party at their Angela Drive home behind Cardinal Newman High School.

Her health had been in decline over the past year, limiting her mobility. The night of Oct. 8, when it was clear the Tubbs fire was advancing on their home, Donna had apparently climbed into the car in preparation to flee.

She died there, inside the garage, according to Tim Halbur, 48. LeRoy, perhaps struggling to open the garage door with the power out, died just outside, possibly trying to find some way to get the door open, their son said.

Tim Halbur said it was clear his father was anxious and distressed about his wife’s declining health. Though healthy and fit himself, “there is some blessing that they went together, and he didn’t have to see her die,” Tim Halbur said.

Born in Iowa City, Madonna Mae Kearney and her twin were the youngest of 14 children in an Irish-Catholic family. She entered the Holy Humility of Mary religious order as a teen and discovered a love of teaching that eventually inspired her to leave the order after eight years in order to pursue her own education, her sons said. After Tim and his brother, David, were born in 1969 and ’71 respectively, she studied literacy at Sonoma State University and earned a masters degree.

She was a warm, creative woman who helped students struggling to read for many years in Santa Rosa City Schools, her sons said. She delighted in working with children and helping them meet the challenge of reading in innovative ways, including pictureless books she wrote herself that would force young readers to conjure visuals of their own. She helped her own children master their extensive family trees with homemade board games, and encouraged imaginative play, music and creative arts, as well.

LeRoy Halbur was born Aug. 14, 1937, on a farm in the community of Roselle, Iowa. He would tell his children that he was 18 before he met anyone other than a German-Catholic. He joined the Army and served in military intelligence in Okinawa, Japan, between the Korean and Vietnamese wars, later using the GI Bill to earn a degree in accounting. He attended night school and earned his master’s at Golden Gate University in San Francisco after his sons were born.

He and his wife met at a pizza party for singles in Des Moines and were 30 when they married, later than their peers, said their sons. The couple moved to California in 1969.

LeRoy worked for more than 30 years for Codding Enterprises and treated himself every few years to adventures in distant locales, including Mongolia, Thailand and China, his sons said. He cruised down the River Nile and rode the Trans-Siberian Railway, often traveling with his sons or with friends from church, as his wife mostly preferred to stay home.

Both were faithful members of Resurrection Catholic Church and, having known scarcity themselves, were generous toward those in need, David Halbur said.

LeRoy Halbur was a founding member of the executive board for the Society of St. Vincent de Paul of Sonoma County, where he was a board member for nearly 50 years. He also served the poor directly, through food deliveries and work with the Resurrection food pantry.

Several months before his death, Halbur set up an endowment to help sustain the organization and its work. The endowment fund now bears his name.

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