Longtime goodwill ambassador and Pancake Day supporter dies Monday in Liberal
By LARRY PHILLIPS
• Daily Leader
One of the community’s most famous ambassadors of Pancake Day, Virginia Leete, died Monday at her home in Liberal at the age of 89.
Virginia and her husband, R.J., were instrumental in founding the International Pancake Day Race 61 years ago.
It all started in 1950 from a magazine picture of the Olney, England, women racing each other to the church. Liberal Jaycee President R.J. Leete contacted the Rev. Ronald Collins, Vicar of St. Peter and St. Paul’s church in Olney, challenging their women to race against women of Liberal.
That’s how it started, but Virginia would be instrumental in not only keeping the race going (she raced in the very first one), she would promote the event until her death.
International Pancake Day Board member and Publicity Chairperson Janice Northerns knew Virginia well and was not surprised of her death because of failing health the last couple of years.
“I think everybody in town and all over Kansas and even further, recognize Virginia as one of the founders of Pancake Day,” Northerns said this morning. “She and R.J. were a huge part of this community for many, many years, and we wouldn’t have Pancake Day if it weren’t for her.”
Virginia promoted Pancake Day wherever she could. She was even on the Mike Douglas talk show on television during the ’70s trying to set a record for how many times she could flip a pancake in a skillet.
A photo of her falling in the snow during race practice even ended up in magazines and created a small scandal at the time because the top of her nylons was showing above her knee. She retold that “commotion” story numerous times during her life.
“She was so full of life, funny. She always had great stories to tell about Pancake Day,” Northerns said. “She just enjoyed life.
“She was a great ambassador for Liberal,” she continued. “Back in the early days, she and organizers would go to Topeka and hold a breakfast for elected officials. They were responsible for getting a lot of publicity and a lot of attention focused in Liberal – and all of it positive.”
Virginia participated in her last Pancake Day Race in February ’09 when her wheelchair was pushed by friend Kay Burtzloff in the Women’s Last Chance Race for gals older than 50.
Her ambassador’s good will wasn’t just reserved for Pancake Day. She supported numerous community events. She was even at her usual place Sept. 6 at the grandstands for the annual parade at Kismet’s Little World’s Fair.
“Personally, she was a great encouragement to me,” Northerns said. “She was a good friend, and she was a really neat person. She had a great, long, very full life, and we’re not ever going to forget her.
“She loved this town – she loved Pancake Day – and we love her.”