Tommie Leenknecht


“Tommie’s Story”
Words and music by David Lee Brown
with Mrs. Trandem’s 4th Grade Class
©2015 David Lee Brown


      Tommie Leenknecht

We are Mrs. Trandem’s fourth grade class. We got a story to tell.
If we take the words and put ‘em in a song. We can sing it real swell.
This is a song about Tommie’s life. She’s a girl – not a boy.
She liked to play with her paper dolls. They were her favorite toy.

This is Tommie’s life. Uh-huh.
This is Tommie’s life.

Born in Deadwood, lived in Sturgis. She loves livin’ in a small town.
Told her stories with a big ol’ smile. Never with a little frown.
She liked Monopoly, band, and art – roller-skating in her new house.
She had four kids of her own. And an Air Force man for a spouse.

This is Tommie’s life. Uh-huh. This is Tommie’s life. She’s nice.
This is Tommie’s life. She rocks. This is Tommie’s life. Awe-some.

She got luggage for graduation. Used it as she moved.
Traveled in the US and far away. Different places she grooved.
California, Illinois, Philippines, and Okinawa.
Gathered souvenirs and memories from the places that she saw.

This is Tommie’s life. Uh-huh. This is Tommie’s life. She’s nice.
This is Tommie’s life. She rocks. This is Tommie’s life. Awe-some.

Didn’t know her job was a secret mission. She helped the prisoners of war.
We know her life was amazing. Wish we had time to tell more.

This is Tommie’s life. Uh-huh. This is Tommie’s life. She’s nice.
This is Tommie’s life. She rocks. This is Tommie’s life. Awe-some.

This is Tommie’s life. Good Grandma! This is Tommie’s life. Bad waiter.
This is Tommie’s life. Loves painting. This is Tommie’s life. Nature scenes.

This is Tommie’s life. She’s pretty. This is Tommie’s life. Travel-in.
This is Tommie’s life. Volunteer. This is Tommie’s life. Great story!

We did it.
Go Tommie.


Tomasa Leenknecht’s father wanted a boy which is how she earned her namesake. Tommie and her younger brother enjoyed growing up in Sturgis, SD. She recalls her family using coupons for rations such as sugar. Her dad even had to be placed on a waiting list to purchase a car and wood to build their house. She spent her time playing games like Monopoly, holding a “school” for neighborhood children, and wallpapering the walls of her doll house.

The first time she saw television was when she went to stay in a hotel for a high school trip to the big city of Mitchell, SD. Tommie was active in debate and band in high school but fell in love with art. She was introduced to pottery, sketching, and different drawings through her high school art teacher, who she admires for bringing art into her life. She recalls going to a movie on Saturday morning for a dime. Waitressing was Tommie’s first job and she learned quickly that people weren’t always kind to servers. Since then, she has made it a point to always be kind to wait staff. After that experience, she stuck to babysitting.

After high school, Tommie attended SD School of Mines for a short time before getting married to her husband of 58 years, Al. She put her graduation gift of luggage from her dad to good use by packing up and moving to a Belgian community in Illinois. Her husband rejoined the Air Force which relocated them to Ellsworth Air Force Base before given orders to Okinawa, where their little house was in the middle of a sugar cane field. From there, they lived in the Philippines, California, and returned to Rapid City. Tommie’s main career was a medical transcriptionist for visiting nurses but during her time in the Philippines, she worked for the Chief of Communications on a secret project. Their role was to help set up the logistics for the release of US soldiers being held prisoners during the Vietnam War at a terrible prison called Hanoi Hilton. Her job was so top secret, that at night they would lock up the ribbon from the typewriter.

Freedom of Speech was something Tommie came to appreciate during her time in the Philippines. She woke up one morning to no radio, television, or newspapers. The president at the time cut off all communication so citizens were not able to speak against him. She said, “You never appreciate living in the United States until you’ve lived out of the country.”

Tommie and Al had four children together which has brought her one of her greatest pleasures in life, her four grandchildren. Tommie has continued her love for art in mainly oil and pastel painting. She has passed on that love through serving on the board and committees in various arts organizations in the Black Hills.

Throughout her travels and adventures, Tommie tried to live by something she heard often from her dad as she was growing up: Whatever you do, never lie. Face the music as you go.


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