Leo Merrill passed away on May 18, 2023, in the Orchard Park rehabilitation facility. He was staying in Orchard Park after surgery for a broken femur from a fall on May 6th. Leo was born on June 28, 1930, in Westport, Essex County, New York, the son of Walton Rutherford Merrill and Della Elaine Stevens and was the older of two children. Aurilla, his little sister was born a year later. Leo grew up in a house built by his father on Ledge Hill Road that overlooked Lake Champlain. The house was heated by a wood-burning heater in the living room and a wood-burning stove in the kitchen. They had no electricity and drew water from a well about 500 feet down the road. In the winter, the nights were very cold especially after the wood fires burned out. By morning the water pail in the kitchen was often frozen solid. Leo slept upstairs where it was very cold and had a buffalo robe to cover the bed and keep warm.
In 1937, Leo and his sister Aurilla started school together. This was a year late for him because he had been sick. Leo remembered his school years as one of the most enjoyable periods of his life. He felt that he was very blessed to have very good, dedicated and caring teachers, who were committed to their students. Leo’s family was too poor to give presents for Christmas, so his first Christmas present was a pair of ice skates from his second-grade teacher.
In school, Leo was interested in math, science and history. Leo was an excellent student and loved to read. In the fourth grade, Leo invented a better way to close the curtains for a puppet show and in the seventh grade, he missed a few weeks of school because he needed surgery to reset a broken bone in his arm that had healed improperly. On his first day back at school, he got the highest score in the class, 98%, on a math test. Leo also received four certificates for perfect attendance for a school year. On snow days when the bus could not pick him up, he would ski to school because he really liked school and was worried that he might miss something important.
As a junior in high school, Leo got his first job as a telegraph operator for the Delaware and Hudson Railroad for 78 cents an hour. He worked 40 hours a week including two swing shifts and three midnight to 8:00 a.m. shifts. Because he was still in high school, three days a week, he would have to go to school after having worked a midnight to 8:00 a.m. shift. When Leo was a senior in high school, he got the highest score in Essex County NY, on a state regent’s test earning him a scholarship to any state university. When Leo indicated to his principal that he did not plan on attending college because he had a good job as a telegraph operator, his principal sternly told him that he needed to attend college and assigned the school nurse (there were no counselors) to help him select a college to attend. He also received an appointment to go to WestPoint, but ended up attending the New York State College for Teachers in Albany New York.
In 1953, Leo fulfilled a two-year mission in the West Central States Mission and was the first fulltime missionary called from his branch in Albany New York. After his mission, he was drafted into the U.S. Army and was stationed at Ft. Huachuca, Arizona. On August 8, 1956, Leo married Marie Ricks in the Idaho Falls temple. After being discharged from the Army, Leo and Marie moved back to Albany where he completed his B.S. degree and also earned an M.S. degree in physics. After graduation, Leo declined an offer to join the faculty and he and Marie moved to Provo where Leo worked at BYU. Later on, Leo also earned a PhD from the University of Rochester in New York.
Leo became an internationally recognized figure in the field of high-pressure physics. In particular, Leo participated in the pioneering efforts to synthesize and grow artificial diamonds. Leo and Marie often traveled to international conferences in Japan, Europe, and Russia. Leo studied Russian because he found that many important papers presented by colleagues in Russia were not being translated into English. Leo and Marie entertained many visitors from Russia, Poland, and Japan, etc. in their home in Orem.
From the time that he was baptized on May 5, 1940, Leo was an active member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Because of their remote location in upstate New York, during World War II the only contact his family had with the church was the weekly Tabernacle Choir broadcast and the Improvement Era. While they had no official church callings or branch to attend, they were always active in sharing their testimonies and serving their neighbors. After the war, the missionaries visited with the family fairly regularly and taught them the basic doctrine. His first regular church organization experience began in 1950 in the Albany, New York Branch while attending college.
Leo has accepted many callings in the church. Some of these include: stake high councilor, bishop, Elder’s Quorum President, gospel doctrine teacher, and scout committee chair. In 1993, he was called to be the first mission president for the Ukraine Donetsk mission. This was very challenging because, while he was fairly proficient at reading technical Russian, he was not very proficient with the spoken language. In 2002, he was called to be a counselor in the temple presidency for the Stockholm Sweden Temple where again, he had to learn a new language. When he was released from the temple presidency in 2004, he became an ordinance worker and sealer at the Mount Timpanogos Temple where he served as long his health would permit.
In addition to his church work, Leo was a great husband and father. Leo and Marie had four children. Their first two children were born in Albany New York, while their last two were born in Provo Utah. Leo and Marie strived to provide a good family atmosphere and good experiences for their children. In 1971, the family took up skiing and for the next five+ years would visit Sundance ski resort. Leo stopped skiing when a fall broke his sternum. He and Marie also took the family on many wonderful and educational vacations including: New York, Washington D.C. to the Seattle World’s Fair in 1974, the Grand Canyon, San Francisco, Disneyland, and Yellowstone many times, etc.
Throughout his life, Leo enjoyed the study of mathematics and science. Leo was always interested in learning about and discussing science and math-related school and work projects of his children and grandchildren. Leo enjoyed gardening and he and Marie always had a vegetable garden. Leo also liked to study history and was always willing to help neighbors or others that were in need.
He is survived by three sons; Dave (Nanette), Douglas (Lisa), and Robert (Katreena), and one daughter, Lorraine Reynolds. Nineteen grandchildren and seventeen great-grandchildren also survive him. We will greatly miss him, but know that we will see him again in a better place.
Funeral Services will be held at 11:00 a.m. on Saturday, June 3, 2023, at The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints Chapel on 700 East 445 South, Orem, Utah. A viewing for family and friends will be held from 9:30-10:30 a.m. prior to the services at the church. Burial will be in the Orem City Cemetery.
Condolences may be expressed to the family on this page.
For those unable to attend in person, you may view the Services HERE