Henry Leon Ritzenthaler

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Henry Leon Ritzenthaler

Birthplace: Sherman, Grayson County, Texas, United States
Death: Died in Dermott, Chicot County, Arkansas, United States
Immediate Family:

Biological son of William Jefferson Blythe, Jr. and Virginia Adele Coffelt
Adopted son of Charles Edward Ritzenthaler
Husband of Judtih Ritzenthaler
Father of <private> Ritzenthaler and <private> Gana (Ritzenthaler)
Half brother of <private> Pettijohn (Blythe) and William J. Clinton, 42nd President of the USA

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Immediate Family

About Henry Leon Ritzenthaler


Formerly of Paradise, CA, Leon was born Henry Leon Blythe in Sherman, TX to the late William Jefferson ("W.J.") Blythe and Virginia Adele Gash (Ritzenthaler-Coffelt) and was later adopted by his stepfather. Leon is survived by his wife, Judith Ritzenthaler; daughter, Virginia (Ron) Gana of Dermott, AR; son, Charles (Lisa) Ritzenthaler of Paradise, CA; four grandchildren, Heather, Shane, Jason and Brandy and five great-grandchildren.

Leon is also survived by his half-brother William Jefferson Clinton, his half-sister, Sharon Pettijohn and his two very special friends, Jerry Bogner and Mike Funkhouser. Leon served in the US Army and moved to Paradise in 1980 opening building maintenance businesses. He was a member of the Elks, Moose, and E Clampus Vitus for many years. He moved from Paradise to Arkansas in 2008 to be with his daughter. Ritzenthaler, 70, died from a heart attack Monday in Arkansas. Last year, after suffering from health problems, Ritzenthaler moved to Arkansas to live with his daughter. When Ritzenthaler learned he was Clinton's half-brother, he said he didn't seek fame; he just wanted to meet his brother and learn more about his family. Clinton contacted Ritzenthaler and the pair got together a few times. Ritzenthaler was well respected by friends.

"He was the nicest man. He would do anything for anyone," said family friend Joe Earley of Paradise. "He was probably the nicest man I've ever known." All of Ritzenthaler's family and friends are welcome to attend an informal memorial service Sunday, Jan. 18 at 1 p.m. at the Bille Park Pavilion. In lieu of flowers, his family has asked for donations to be made to the American Heart Association.

From a 1993 news article: Leon Ritzenthaler is the kind of guy who will drive you home if you're drunk, help fix your car if it's broken.

He raises money for the Pair-O-Dice chapter of E Clampus Vitus, and despite a disabling stroke and two open-heart surgeries, he jumps in with the weed eater or chain saw on the historical society's cleanup projects.

The 55-year-old retiree is, in the words of his self-described best friend, "the best friend a man could ever have."

But Ritzenthaler's just-folks lifestyle in this Butte County retirement hamlet of 25,000 took on public-figure status last week with the revelation that he is the purported half-brother of President Clinton.

The White House said the president gave Leon a jingle at 10:25 a.m. Friday and that the two spoke for about 15 minutes.

"They had a warm conversation and agreed to get together at some point in the future," White House Press Secretary Dee Dee Myers said in a prepared statement.

Details of the conversation were kept confidential. The White House and the Ritzenthaler residence both held leakage to a minimum.

"It's private, between me and the president of the United States," Ritzenthaler told The Bee. "He's a very nice-spoken gentleman, and I enjoyed talking to him. I admire him and his wife very much."

The talk followed a whirlwind week for Ritzenthaler that included a New York City tour, featuring interviews with the three major networks, and story spreads in both Posts - Washington and Paradise.

"I'm just an ordinary guy, that's all I can tell you," Ritzenthaler said in a brief conversation on the front porch of his rented cottage on the outskirts of town. "I've got nothing to gain. I just want this all to quiet down so I can get back to a normal life."

Normal means playing with his grandkids, spending time with his wife of 10 years, Judy, or participating in the assorted activities of the "Clampers," an off-beat kind of clan dedicated to preserving the legacy of the Golden West - with beer on the side.

Ritzenthaler serves as Clamper raffle master. He is currently trying to sell 5,000 tickets in a drawing for a trip to Puerto Vallarta. He has until October to pull it off.

Pair-O-Dice Clamper Grand Humbug Willie Fink is confident that Leon, as he usually does on most projects, will get the job done.

"Whenever I need something done, I call on Leon," Fink said, Budweiser in hand. "I wouldn't expect him to do anything physical, but when we were cleaning up the old Helltown cemetery in Butte Creek Canyon, he got out there with the weed eater and chain saw. He gets excited periodically."

Most Clamper activities involve hard-core boozing, but the sober-minded Ritzenthaler usually orders nothing stronger than coffee.

"He drives other people home who are intoxicated," said Lurann Vance, barkeeper at the We Lark, a Clamper watering hole in downtown Paradise.

Gerry Bogner remembers back in 1987 when the local Moose lodge was trying to put together a health fair. The project seemed headed for that Butte Creek Canyon graveyard because nobody showed any interest. Except Leon.

"He organized it, got it going basically by himself," Bogner said. "We had all the health agencies there, the Fire Department, the Police Department. The CHP even flew a helicopter in. We had hot air balloons. Leon did it all.

"He lets my son use his garage to fix his car," Bogner added. "He's done so darn much for anybody who's ever asked for a helping hand. As far as I'm concerned, he's the best friend a man could ever have."

Ritzenthaler was born in Texas on Jan. 17, 1938. Clinton's first appearance was Aug. 19, 1946, across the state line in Arkansas. The two are believed to have the same biological father, William Jefferson Blythe, who died in a car wreck four months before Clinton was born.

It isn't known when or where, but Leon's mother, Adele Gash Coffelt, eventually married a man named Charles Ritzenthaler, who adopted her son.

The family wound up in Southern California's Imperial Valley, where Charles Ritzenthaler joined the Brawley police force. In the early 1960s he became its chief, department officials said.

Friends said Leon moved to Paradise about 15 years ago. He married Judy on July 9, 1983, according to a marriage certificate that lists Bogner as best man. Both have children from previous marriages.

Ritzenthaler first got an inkling of his Clinton connection last year. One of the national TV networks did a piece during the campaign on the then-candidate's family tree, mentioning one W.J. Blythe as bio-dad. A relative in Texas called Leon, who probed further.

"We've only known since Clinton started running," said Ritzenthaler' stepson, Kevin Weldon, 22. "Otherwise, we would have never found out. My mom wrote a letter (last year) to Clinton's office in Little Rock. The next thing we knew, we got a call (last week) from the Washington Post."

Although Ritzenthaler is not seeking monetary gain from his newfound celebrity, there is a standing offer from local barber Andy Anderson he may or may not want to consider.

"Since he's Clinton's half-brother, I'll give him a haircut for half price," Anderson said.

"One hundred dollars."

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Henry Leon Ritzenthaler's Timeline

January 17, 1938
Sherman, Grayson County, Texas, United States
January 12, 2009
Age 70
Dermott, Chicot County, Arkansas, United States