MONROE — For 10 years, Leanne and Henry Smiciklas proudly served up good ol’ Texas-style barbecue from a yellow school bus on U.S. 2.
Old School BBQ was hard to miss, and it smelled so good. Parked in front of the Reptile Zoo a few miles east of town, the smoking bus with the Lone Star State flag beckoned people to stop. Once they did, they kept coming back. They came for Henry’s food and they came for Leanne’s service.
Mostly, though, they came for Henry and Leanne.
Now it’s just Henry.
Leanne died the morning of Nov. 29. She was 64.
Sans Leanne, Old School BBQ has closed up shop for good. Henry, 68, has put the business up for sale.
“I can’t work in that bus without seeing her every day,” he said. “It would be too weird.”
Henry was the pit boss, Leanne was the spark. He manned the big outdoor smoker that emitted bursts of enticing fumes. She was the sweet lady at the order window, offering kids a Tootsie Pop, if their parents said it was OK. She’d step outside to personally hand over the food, often with a hug. Red lipstick, red glasses and a red apron was her signature style.
They were barbecue rock stars, but Leanne was humble.
“We’re two Texans selling barbecue off the highway out of a yellow school bus in front of a reptile zoo,” she said in the story.
Henry and Leanne were together for 43 years and married for 31. They met when she did accounts payable and he was the body shop repair guy at National Car Rental at the Dallas-Fort Worth Airport.
They moved to Washington in 2001 and six years later quit their jobs to open Old School BBQ. “We weren’t happy with the barbecue situation here,” Leanne explained.
It was the ultimate mom-and-pop. “If one of us was sick, we’d shut down,” she said.
The stand was open Thursday through Sunday — it was even open Thanksgiving. Meats were cooked daily in a trailer smoker pulled from their home. Under the canopy were six picnic tables with checkered cloths. A second school bus was rigged as a lunchroom seating 22. This was more than just a food truck by the side of the road.
The day she died, Leanne and Henry had planned to shop and start prepping for the typical busy four-day weekend, when skiers and regulars would stop in for pulled pork, brisket and fixin’s. Sauce on the side, maybe a giant dill pickle.
Now a sign in front shares the sad news. Many people have stopped by the Reptile Zoo to express their sympathy.
Zookeeper Kylie Radford often walked across the parking lot for a sausage plate.
“She was an amazing woman who helped take care of us and gave us a hug when we needed it,” Radford said. ”She will be severely missed.”
A Herald Facebook post this week about Leanne’s death drew hundreds of likes, shares and comments.
Customer Amie Taylor recalled her hugs: “They were the REAL full-of-love Mom hugs.”
Brenda Carter summarized the collective sentiment felt by fans and friends: “She always had a smile for everyone. I’ll so miss asking her for a Big Ol’ Dill Pickle.”
Henry said patrons were friends as much as customers. He hopes whoever buys the bus enjoys the same success.
The family prefers to talk about Leanne’s life, not her death.
“She was full of joy,” said Elaine Christian, Henry’s former wife.
That’s right. His ex — the mother of Henry’s sons, Marc and Michael.
“I couldn’t have asked for a better stepmom for them,” Christian said. “We shared the boys together. They took me on vacations and trips and included me. We were all a family. She loved the grandchildren so much.”
Michael and his wife, Holly, live south of Tacoma with those grandchildren, Sandra, 14, and Angela, 11. Marc and his wife, Eve, live in Phoenix.
Henry is moving to Phoenix.
“I will be taking her ashes,” he said. “We will be moving together. It will always be ‘we.’ ”
Andrea Brown: 425-339-3443; abrown@herald net.com. Twitter: @reporterbrown.
A private memorial for Leanne Smiciklas will be held Saturday. Cards can be sent to 15427 Calhoun Road, Monroe, WA 98272. A GoFundMe account is at www.gofundme.com/memorial-and-loss-of-business-fund.