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Meeting Leo James Wingerter: Christmas...

Meeting Leo James Wingerter: Christmas came early for me this holiday season

By: Sid Salter - December 6, 2023

Sid Salter

Columnist Sid Salter shares a personal reflection of seeing his sister’s grandson and his father’s namesake this Christmas season.

Enough politics. A personal reflection instead if you will allow… 

It has been over two years now since Leilani and I made the nearly 5,000-mile trip (nine hours of flying time and five hours of driving) to the AK Diamond J Ranch near Homer, Alaska, on Kachemak Bay on the southwest side of the Kenai Peninsula for the wedding of niece Rachel Klimetz to Jimmy Wingerter. 

Rachel is the daughter of my late twin sister, Sheila Salter Klimetz, an investment banking executive in Memphis who died in 2006 at the age of 46 from an inoperable brain tumor.  

Jimmy and Rachel live in Chugiak outside Anchorage, where Rachel is a kinesiologist and Jimmy is a senior construction manager for Hilcorp Energy Company on the North Slope oil fields at Prudhoe Bay. 

Jimmy’s working conditions? The high today was 13 degrees with a low of 0. No sunlight today. The workers, there to produce oil and gas, share the frozen landscape with polar bears. Away from work, he is an accomplished outdoorsman and fisherman. 

In 2021, we joined other family members as Rachel and Jimmy married on the side of a mountain against the backdrop of the Grewingk Glacier at the picturesque, isolated ranch. Rachel’s sister, Hannah Klimetz Carpenter, was the matron of honor. 

While Jimmy and Rachel both scoff somewhat at the highly popular Alaska-based reality TV shows like “Life Below Zero” and “Alaska: The Last Frontier” (they live in a suburban neighborhood outside Anchorage near a Costco), they hunt and harvest moose and musk ox and catch salmon. It’s a long way from Rachel’s Southern childhood, but she is now a proud Alaskan. 

The epicenter of the happiness in my niece’s life with Jimmy Wingerter centers around their son, Leo James Wingerter. Little Leo, now nine months, was named for my late father Leo Salter – as I was when my parents chose my middle name. Rachel never knew my dad. He died within days of her birth. 

But Rachel loved hearing her mother talk about her childhood memories of her father and she and her sister were close to their grandmother, Alline Salter. Leo died in 1989. Alline died in 2005, months before Rachel’s mom Sheila would see her life cut short by cancer. 

My daughter Kate Salter Gregory gave birth to a daughter whom she named Alline Jones Gregory – named after her grandmothers Alline Salter and Merle Jones. How wonderful it was to hear my mother’s name again, particularly in the person of my smart and sweet granddaughter. 

After her baby boy was born in February, my heart soared when Rachel told me that they had chosen to name and call him Leo. The idea that my parents – long gone to their rewards – had great-grandchildren who bore their names pleased me in ways I would never have imagined. 

A few weeks ago, we learned that Rachel and Leo were joining us for a brief visit to Starkville. The anticipation of seeing my sister’s grandson and my father’s namesake was like nothing I’ve experienced since my childhood. 

I remember so well the unbearable anticipation of Christmas Eve with my sisters Sharon and Sheila in the little teacher’s home across from the Beulah-Hubbard school in rural Newton County well over a half-century ago. 

Leo and Alline Salter now have five great-grandchildren – Alline and Brooks Gregory, Annabelle and Christopher Pratt, and the fine boy we met this weekend, Little Leo.  

Holding this beautiful little boy, hearing his laughter and seeing Rachel’s absolute joy was the best present I’ve had in a long time and one I will remember. Later, with Alline holding baby Leo in her lap, we took photos of the namesakes of the special people who gave us life and love.  

Leo reminded me so much of my departed sister and how she loved Christmas. And like the Christmas mornings of our childhoods, he was worth the wait. 

About the Author(s)
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Sid Salter

Sid Salter is a syndicated columnist. He is Vice President for Strategic Communications at Mississippi State University. Sid is a member of the Mississippi Press Association's Hall of Fame. His syndicated columns have been published in Mississippi and several national newspapers since 1978.