A seven-year-old boy and his family were traveling through Fort Scott in 1952, when a fire in the motel they were staying in killed his parents and baby brother.
His whole life people have been telling Leon Perry, 78, he should write a book about his life.
In March 2021 he published it.
His story is one of a terrible tragedy that turned into a life full of random acts of kindness given to him that he feels are miracles from God.
And the first part of his story includes many familiar places in Bourbon County.
In 1952 Leon was moving with his family from Parsons, Kansas because their farm had experienced a severe flood and the family had lost all their belongings.
The family of five, the two parents and three brothers, stopped in Fort Scott.
“The Salvation Army got us a motel in Belltown,” he said. “That night… a propane gas explosion blew the roof off of the cabin. The (Fort Scott) police department came to rescue us. We lost my step-father, mother and baby brother. I have no recollection of the event, but the chief of police said ‘you wouldn’t have been burned so bad if you hadn’t gone back in to get your brother’. My half-brother Ernie and I were taken to Mercy Hospital.”
“I had severe burns on my face, shoulder, arms and hands,” Perry said. “My brother wasn’t burned as bad. The Mercy people told me I about died a couple of times.”
He had numerous surgeries from that time until he was 15 years old.
They were placed Goodlander Home, an orphanage on the old Fort Scott site, and remained there until he was 10 years old.
The orphanage was a good experience.
“It was a good experience,” he said. “Even though they were difficult times. I was in the hospital a lot and also to Children’s Mercy in Kansas City several times for skin grafts.”
Over and over, Perry has experienced miracles he said.
Leon was blind and heard a doctor tell a nurse that he wouldn’t see again, and even though he had skin grafts around his eyes, he could see perfectly in a few months.
Eventually he and his brother were adopted by a local farm couple, Ancel and Marguerite Perry, in Bourbon County, near Devon.
This was another miracle.
The couple, who weren’t young, had a large ranch and had no other children, he said. They were instrumental in his physical and emotional recovery from the trauma of the fire.
After moving to the farm he began to regain strength and overcome some of his handicaps.
“She was a wonderful cook… I was undernourished even though under a doctors care,” he said.
As he strengthened, he began to help on the farm with chores: milking cows, driving a tractor, herding cattle.
“I showed cattle at the county fair,” he said. “I loved it all.”
He had been in the hospital so much he was behind in schooling, which was in Berlin Elementary School, and then the Mapleton Elementary School.
Marguerite helped Leon with his assignments.
“Everytime I said ‘I can’t’, she said ‘You will,'” he said. “It made the difference.” It was a turning point in his life, he said. Her determination showed Leon he COULD learn and helped him believe in himself.
His adoptive parents were supportive of him being involved in extra activities outside of farm and school, which included 4-H projects and showing cattle.
“I had to come out of my shell and become more active,” he said.
He attended Uniontown High School and went on to become an FFA state officer, graduating with the class of 1963. He then went on to Fort Scott Junior College and was StuCo President, and on the honor roll. He was also on the honor roll at Pittsburg State University that he later attended.
Perry went on to get four college degrees and was a teacher, coach, athletic director, assistant principal and principal.
Perry became a believer in God, and said his faith has allowed him to see the miracles in his life.
“There is always people willing to help…and you can look forward to the future…with faith,” he said. “Always look for the miracles of God in your life.”
Perry and his wife, Carol have two grown children, LeAnn Perry and Ty Perry and one grandson.
Funds from the book entitled God Led Through the Fire and Filled My Life With Miracles, will go to their church youth organization. They attend the First United Methodist Church, Monett.
To purchase a book, email: [email protected] or mail $10 per book to Leon Perry, 8 Appleblossom Lane, Monett, MO 65708.