ROY — Willie Leskow has rare longevity for someone with Down syndrome. He celebrated his 62nd birthday this month.
Leskow is the oldest living man with Down syndrome in Utah, said Nicole Van Tassell, admissions director for Heritage Park Care Center.
Leskow is a resident at the care center, where he is very active.
“He never sits around. He’s always on the go,” said Van Tassell. “He loves to be involved in activities. He’s just a great man.”
“The reason most kids with Down syndrome don’t live to be that old is because of all the health issues they are born with,” said Tausha Dingman, president of the Utah Down Syndrome Foundation Weber-Morgan chapter. “A very high percentage are born with holes in their hearts. They also have thyroid issues when they are older that contributes to diabetes. So an array of health issues usually takes them at a younger age.”
Dingman said advancements in health care and education have lengthened the lives of many people with Down syndrome.
For Leskow’s birthday celebration, the staff at Heritage Park decorated a big room with balloons and banners. Because Leskow loves to color, he was given crayons and his birthday cake was an edible coloring book. When he and his guests finished eating, they played a game of bowling.
“He has been an inspiration to our family,” said Leskow’s sister, Dora Petersen. “He has truly been an example for all of us, and the staff here have been exceptionally wonderful to him.”
Leskow was born March 22, 1949, in Logan, the youngest of four children born to William Fredrick and Ida Rosa Kopetzky Leskow. Shortly after his birth, he was diagnosed with Down syndrome.
“This challenge and stuttering made it difficult to understand his speech,” Petersen said.
Despite those challenges, Leskow attended kindergarten and went through special education classes in Cache County schools. His mother devoted a large portion of her life teaching her son to read, write and do math.
“He had beautiful penmanship that mirrored his mother’s handwriting, and he read at a fourth-grade level,” Petersen said.
Leskow worked for 26 years at Deseret Industries in Logan, where he was a dock worker and sorted clothing. Petersen said he walked to and from work every day and retired when he was 48 years old.
Before his eyesight worsened, Leskow read the newspaper every day and could locate any scripture reference.
“He is a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and has a great love of the gospel,” Petersen said.
Football became Leskow’s favorite sport, and he attended all of Logan High School’s games with his father. He also became an avid fan of Weber State University sports and wears Wildcat apparel. One of his favorite phrases, said his sisters, is “Go Wildcats.” He also loves the Utah Jazz.
Leskow, who also has lupus, an autoimmune disease, has lived at Heritage Park for about a year. At his birthday party, he got to wear a birthday hat decked out with candles. His friends at the care center also wore birthday hats to sing “Happy Birthday” and share a piece of cake.
“He thoroughly enjoys it here,” Petersen said. “He loves it. People love him. He has a lot of nieces and nephews who adore him. That’s just his life.”