Chris and Janice Lefteroff met in the summer of 1950 at a dance held for the servicemen at the Las Vegas Air Force Base (now called Nellis AFB). Janice was visiting her friend Eleanor in Las Vegas when the two decided to attend the dance as hostesses. Chris still remembers with fondness how Janice “stuck out like a hay seed” in her beautiful bright yellow dress.“Believe me, there were tough times, but we placed a high value on our marriage in the temple. We come from a generation where you don’t just throw away something of value.”They might have been considered an unlikely couple. Janice was a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints from Ammon, Idaho, a descendent of pioneers. Her faith and schooling were everything to her. Chris was born in Niagara Falls, New York while his father, a top Bulgarian electrical engineer, had been on assignment with an American company. A few years after his birth, as the U.S. economy slipped into depression, Chris’ parents took him back to Bulgaria where he witnessed firsthand the turmoil of World War II.
With his American citizenship intact, Chris emigrated to the U.S. at age 17. For the first year, he lived with uncles–first in Detroit, MI and later in Hollywood, CA. Because of his strong interest in airplanes, Chris enlisted in the newly formed U.S. Air Force in July 1948 at age 18. Thanks to his rigorous math and science education in Bulgaria, Chris excelled at the Air Force’s basic training and technical school, despite the fact he had only been speaking English for a year. The first two years of his Air Force career took him to basic training in San Antonio, Texas, technical school in Biloxi, Mississippi, and a base reopening in Wichita Falls, Texas. Then he was assigned to Las Vegas Air Force Base, where he would meet Janice.
Soon after that first introduction at the serviceman’s dance, Janice went back home to Idaho, and the couple continued their courtship through letters. Janice let Chris know how important her Mormon faith was to her. Chris made it clear that while he was very interested in her, he had no intention of “becoming a Mormon.” Despite reservations on the part of Janice’s family, they married at the Hitching Post Wedding Chapel in Las Vegas on February 2, 1951 and moved into very small quarters in North Las Vegas. The rent was $60 a month—a significant amount, considering Chris only made $125 per month. Janice remained true to her faith and prayed that her husband would want to know more about her beliefs.
The following August they drove through Salt Lake City on their way to visit Janice’s family. Janice encouraged her husband to take a tour of Temple Square. Chris did, and paid close attention to everything being said. When he heard a tour guide’s sincere testimony of the restored gospel of Jesus Christ, he felt sure that everything he had heard was true. This prompted him to investigate his wife’s religion on his own. He began a personal study using a book he had bought about the religion, got rid of a few bad habits, and on October 28, 1951, was baptized.
Two months after his baptism, Air Force responsibilities sent Chris to Okinawa, Japan for eighteen months. Being away from his new bride was difficult, but this was to be a time of significant spiritual growth for the young airman. In Okinawa, Church leaders asked him to teach Sunday school classes to his fellow LDS servicemen, all of whom had much more experience in the Church than he did. He prepared lessons using a book called A Marvelous Work and a Wonder, which his mother-in-law had given him. Because Chris is a natural-born teacher, no one had a clue that he had only been a member of the Church for a few months. By the time he returned to the U.S., Chris had a much better understanding of the gospel. He and Janice were sealed for time and all eternity in the Idaho Falls Temple July 9,1953. Janice describes that day as a “dream come true.”
During the next fifteen years, Chris served as a crew chief for the P-51, and Chief Planner for the Titan II missile system. That was how they were introduced to Tucson. When they arrived in the summer of 1953, they probably didn’t realize what an important role Tucson would play in their lives and what valuable contributions they would make to the community.
The Lefteroffs would raise their five children and serve faithfully in the Church while Chris finished his twenty-year Air Force career at Davis Monthan AFB. He retired from military duty in 1968, and went on to finish his Bachelor of Science degree at the University of Arizona in 1970. With Janice supporting him all the way, Chris began his second career as a math teacher for the Tucson Unified School District, teaching three years at Rincon High School before moving to the newly constructed Santa Rita High School for another eighteen years. He retired for the second time in1991.
During their many years together, their faith has been part of their lives. When Chris and Janice moved to Tucson there was just one chapel owned by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints and the Church was growing quickly. Church members were asked to sacrifice their time and financial resources to help with the construction of a new chapel at 105 N. Norton, on the northwest section of Broadway and Tucson Blvd. The Lefteroffs rolled up their sleeves—literally and financially. Chris remembers assisting the roofers, putting clay tiles on the roof. They also participated in multiple fundraisers, one of them involved buying tickets to a steak dinner for $50 per couple. “Back in the 1950’s, fifty dollars was a small fortune to a young family living on an enlisted man’s salary, but we did it and the blessings came,” Chris recalled. That building is now the Tucson Stake Center. Chris and Janice still attend Sunday services there.
The Lefteroffs are examples of consistency and steadiness on many levels. They still live in the midtown Tucson home they bought in 1965. When asked the secret to their many years of togetherness Janice says, “Believe me, there were tough times, but we placed a high value on our marriage in the temple. We come from a generation where you don’t just throw away something of value.”
Chris and Janice Lefteroff will celebrate their 63rd wedding anniversary in February 2014. Their journey of love is an example of faithfulness, sacrifice and dedication to family, community, God and country.