On This Day: Birth of Omar Weldon Laney

Omar Laney was born October 1, 1911, in Joplin, Missouri.

He was my paternal grandfather.

Omar Laney was the only child of Ernest Arthur Laney and Norma Ethel Lewis, both natives of Missouri.

He attended Joplin High School, where he was a member of the ROTC.

He was married for a few years to Juanita Calhoun with whom he had a son, Billy Gene Laney. The marriage ended in divorce.

On September 6, 1936, Omar married Elizabeth Ann Williamson, my grandmother, in Joplin.


My father was born in June of the following year.

Omar Laney and infant son David (my Daddy) ca. 1938

The time the young family would have together was relatively short. When the U.S. entered World War II, Omar joined the Merchant Marines, spending long periods of time away at sea. He travelled all over the world, as you can see from the various ship manifests below.


I’ve always loved this photo of my Dad and his mother and her mother-in-law. This photo was taken on the streets of New York sometime during the war. I’m guessing that the three family members pictured here had travelled from Joplin, Missouri, and met my grandfather’s ship upon its arrival and were sight-seeing during his short leave. A camera buff, Omar probably took this photo.

I love how the photo captures the determined look on my grandmother’s face as she clutches my father tightly to her body. I read her expression as (1) a protective mother, perhaps fearful of dangers that might befall her child in bustling New York City, and perhaps (2) an anxious mother and spouse, knowing that her time with my grandfather was going to go by far too quickly and that all too soon he would be shipping out again. It’s also interesting for me to note how very young she appears in this photo.

Jayhawk Ordnance Works, built during World War II, was a large ordnance plant producing ammonium nitrate. From the story at left originally printed in an employee publication, it appears that Omar worked at Jayhawk prior to his military service and that he returned to visit while on furlough.

After the war, the former military chemical plant was privatized, and at one point it was the world’s largest producer of ammonium nitrate fertilizer in the world.

From a timeline of the history of MRIGlobal

After the war, my grandfather returned to Joplin where he lived all of his life except for a period of ten years when he and my grandmother resided in Lawrence, Kansas, where he was employed as an engineer for Cooperative Chemical Association.

My grandfather passed away in 1985 at the age of seventh-three, just before I graduated with my undergraduate degree

He lived to see the first member of his family—his son—graduate from college. And he lived to see my brother and me grow to adulthood.

My granddad and me, ca. 1963

I never thought about it before writing this post, but maybe my granddad’s vehicles—of which he was very proud—had something to do with my favorite color being red…??

My grandfather and me ca. 1964

I will always remember those times that I made him laugh and just how how subtle that hard-earned chuckle was—just like my Dad’s laugh. And, like my Dad, he had a little twinkle in his eye when he smiled or when he was thinking of playing a prank. He had many interests and had many dreams and aspirations that were sadly just out of reach for him, mostly for health reasons.

I will treasure always my memories of my grandfather, particularly at those holiday gatherings that I know he loved so much. I will also treasure the memory of the special effort that he and my grandmother made to attend the recital I gave as a senior in high school.

And just maybe I will think of him the next time I’m in need of a new vehicle and debating about a color choice!

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