Cover photo for Leighton "Lee" Bulcao's Obituary
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Leighton "Lee" Bulcao

January 10, 1929 — June 8, 2024

Leighton "Lee" Bulcao

Leighton “Lee” Halbert Bulcao, aged 95, passed away peacefully on June 8, 2024, after battling many chronic illnesses. He was born on January 10, 1929, to William Anthony Bulcao and Elsie Jane Halbert in Pittsburg, Pennsylvania. He is survived by a half-sister Judith Ferrante, his half-brother Douglas William Bulcao, and a first cousin Barbara Eckart, as well as their families; also, by the families of his first cousin Nancy Stevens (deceased) and first cousin Paul Halbert (deceased). Lee is also survived by his close friend and caregiver Rebecca A. Waller.

In 1929, at the beginning of the depression, the world was in severe financial strain, which altered the daily lives of most American families. There was also a severe flu epidemic in the winter of 1928-1929, causing many deaths. Tragically, Lee’s mother died 13 days after his birth, on January 23, 1929, from a complication due to the flu. This was the beginning of Lee’s difficult life. At the time, many people were unemployed, their wages decreased, or their work hours cut. Lee stated that he must have stayed with a family in Pittsburg until he was at least 4 years old so that his father could continue to work. 

After that, he lived with his grandparents Paul and Ann Halbert until he was age 9 years old, when his grandfather died. He loved his grandfather; this was a huge loss for him. There were no social safety nets in the U.S. at that time. Lee’s grandmother could not work and take care of him at the same time, so he was placed in an orphanage. At age 14, Lee ran away from the orphanage and was hit by a car, causing him injuries and the loss of his left eye. He did stay with his uncle Robert and aunt Yyvan Halbert on his mother’s side for a while, but that did not work out. School was difficult for him because he was behind as a student since he was not taught up to his grade level at the orphanage. At age 16, he lived on a dairy farm for room and board, it was hard work. He then lived with another family he knew, paying them room and board from working. At 18 years old, he was on his own, still with no high school degree. 

Anyone who knew Lee could attest to his feisty determination! Despite many hardships, Lee survived doing any kind of work he could find. He did dock work in Cleveland, Ohio, worked in Chicago, hitchhiked to California to work there, worked in Seattle on aircraft, in Oklahoma City building storm shelters, and even worked on a sea-going tug that departed from New Orleans, which took him all the way to Tuley, Greenland.

When Lee moved to Wichita in 1958, he continued to be productive. He completed his GED, finished a vocational major appliance repair course, an electrical course, as well as an air conditioning, heating, and refrigeration course. His main employment was in the aircraft industry and machine shops, doing tool grinding for Boeing, Cessna, Beech, A & H Machine Company, and the Harlow Tool Company. He did receive an award from Beech for a “Work Simplification Proposal.” 

Lee was very smart, mechanically minded, and always trying to figure things out. He did still run into obstacles, however. Tool grinding can be dangerous, and his eye doctor advised him to pursue training in another line of work. In 1972, he received the okay to work 20 hours per week with a tool company so that he could complete classes at in heating and air conditioning at Climate Control, but another supervisor who took over insisted that he would not have a job unless he worked at least 30 hour per week, which made it impossible to complete the entire course. Also, at an aircraft company, while doing tool grinding, his supervisor refused to allow him to take a job in the HVAC department there, which would have been safer for him—not endangering his good eye. During those years, employers were allowed to discriminate against their employees much more often. 

During Lee’s life, he acquired a great deal of practical work experience, including working as an air conditioning mechanic, an electrical helper, doing silver soldering (using gas and oxygen), tool grinding, both OD and ID precision grinding, tool repair (in a machine shop), tow-motor repair (such as in fork lifts), working as a turret lathe operator, repairing brown and sharp automatic #2, using a Thaub screw machine, working as a saw operator, using a milling machine, a drill press, a Sunnen hone, an X-cello tread grinder, working as an automobile mechanic, doing circular saw sharpening, repairing gages and testing electrical equipment, and doing major appliance repair. 

If he was not sure how to fix something, he would investigate and check out library books. His neighbors Robert and Jim Barrow appreciated the electrical and other repair work he did for them. Jim Barrow said that he and his dad learned so much from Lee. He also would help repair things for his other neighbors and friends. His good friend Don Einhellig called on him often to repair cars, trucks, equipment, and more. 

In Lee’s later life, he suffered greatly from COPD: Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease. He made a point to stress to the people he encountered “not to smoke.” He quit smoking himself approximately 15 years ago. He was always “direct” in conversations—you knew where you stood with him. Deep down he was a caring person who helped many people in his life. Maybe because he endured such a traumatic childhood, this helped him to withstand adverse conditions in later life. Not many people make it to age 95. He was a spunky guy and as his neighbor Jim Barrow notes: “a unique person.”

Funeral Services will be held 10:30am, Thursday, June 13, 2024 at the Broadway Mortuary Chapel. Private family burial will take place at the Riverview Cemetery, Arkansas City, KS. 



Memorials to:

 

Wichita Children’s Home

7121 E. 37th St. N.

Wichita, KS 67226

My Personal Creed
   "I have dreamed many a dream that never came true; but I have had enough dreams come true to make me forever believe in dreams and keep on dreaming.
    I have prayed many a prayer that was never answered, but enough of my prayers have been answered to make me forever believe in prayer and keep praying.
    I have trusted many a person who failed me, but I have found enough true friends to make me forever believe in humanity and keep on trusting.
    I have fought many a battle and lost; but I have won enough battles to make me believe in the struggle and keep on fighting.
    I have taught many a poor lesson which shamed me; but I have seen enough hearts touched and lives changed to make me forever believe in teaching and keep on trying.”









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Thursday, June 13, 2024

10:30 - 11:30 am (Central time)

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