Impacted by his father, brother who were veterans, man loves helping those who’ve served

Published 1:29 pm Wednesday, March 1, 2023

LAKE MILLS — Growing up as the son of a World War II veteran and the brother of a Vietnam War veteran, Leon Christianson always remembers doing nice things for veterans.

Though he’s not one himself, he has dedicated much of his life to caring for the men and women of northern Iowa and southern Minnesota who served.

Christianson grew up in Lake Mills, owns Christianson Interiors in the city and lives in Mason City.

Email newsletter signup

He said he got it in his mind one day to build a veteran’s monument in Lake Mills to honor all the veterans who served. That was built in 2003 at Arlington Park and dedicated in 2004. More has been added in the years since.

In 2017, Christianson was a large part of bringing the Freedom Rock to the veteran’s park, which was painted by artist Ray “Bubba” Sorensen and represents all veterans, as well as two local veterans and local police officers, firefighters and emergency medical service workers. There are freedom rocks in all of Iowa’s counties, and Sorensen this year is slated to paint one in Albert Lea.

Christianson is part of the Sons of the American Legion out of Emmons, which supports the Emmons American Legion, and is also on a committee to help build a veterans museum at Heritage Park in Forest City, which he has been collecting old uniforms for.

Last September he was part of a group that put on what he called a veterans standout, which brought in homeless and struggling veterans from a 10-county area and fed them, gave them free clothing and toiletries, provided medical attention, flu shots and hair cuts and gave them the opportunity to hear from jobs services staff about opportunities available in the community. The event was at the Mason City fairgrounds and brought in about 180 veterans, many of which were young veterans from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Another is planned for this September.

In 2015, he helped organize Operation LZ, which was a welcome home celebration for Vietnam War Veterans. He said they worked on it for about 20 months before it happened and raised nearly $400,000 to put it on, and in the end about 4,500 Vietnam veterans came, mostly from Iowa but also from within a 60-mile radius of Forest City.

There was a traveling Vietnam wall, a traveling museum, and area high schoolers could come in and listen to Vietnam veterans talk.

“Vietnam veterans are ones who came home from Vietnam and were not treated well,” Christianson said. “We really want to overcome that and let them know how welcome they are.”

He said it was a healing time for many.

He also helped organize honor flights to Washington, D.C., from northern Iowa for veterans to be recognized for their service and is now a part of the North Central Iowa Quilts of Valor group that gives out quilts made by women in six counties in northern Iowa to local veterans.

Likewise, he is a familiar face at Veterans Day programs at the Lake Mills school and has even been asked to speak before.

“Most people think I’m a veteran because of all I do,” he said. “But I never try to take stolen valor or pretend like I am one. I respect them for what they did, and I have so many veterans friends. I do all I can for them.”

In addition to his efforts with veterans, Christianson is part of Toys for Tots through the Marine Corps League, which collects toys for children in need and distributes backpacks with school supplies in a 12-county area in southern Minnesota and northern Iowa.

He belongs to First Baptist Church in Mason City, where he teaches an adult Bible class.

He also is a part of an organization called My Happy Place, which provides room makeovers for children with cancer, and My Happy Haven, which makes over rooms for women with cancer.

“I have a soft spot for anyone who’s ill,” Christianson said. “They never asked for cancer — it just showed up.”

He said his son had cancer, but thankfully overcame that, so he knows what it takes to get through that trial.

He is also heavily involved with suicide awareness efforts after his brother took his own life 13 years ago.

He and his girlfriend are involved with monthly suicide support groups, and they also take part in a suicide walk in Mason City and a ride as well.

“It’s too bad you have to have these groups, but there’s so many people struggling out there,” Christianson said. “I want to do everything I can to support them.”

He has two daughters and one son, as well as seven grandchildren, and has owned Christianson Interiors for 44 years.

“I love being in the flooring business,” he said. “I’m retirement age, but I don’t want to retire. I just love going to work every day.”