Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Brad's Amazing Grandmother...

I have to share this wonderful article that was recently written about Brad's grandmother. I have always thought that she was an amazing woman, but I learned so much more about her after reading this article.

The article was written by a reporter for her local newspaper, the Robinson Daily News. The photograph was taken by Brad's brother and his wife. The presentation took place during the annual family get-together on Christmas Eve.

Scarlet O'Kara


Grandson makes wish come true
Marie Leonard gets the best Christmas present she could imagine — her high-school diploma

Daily News

For years Brian Chapman has heard his grandmother, Marie Leonard, talk about growing up in Wisconsin - with a lingering regret.

During a recent hospital stay, the 91-year-old Leonard again talked with her grandson about how she wished she could have graduated from high school. She was only a few credits short, even though she was only considered a sophomore. She said she always wanted to finish school, and at one time had dreams of going to art school.

Taking her request to heart, Chapman wrote to the Antigo Unified School District about his grandmother requesting an honorary diploma. Surprising everyone, the school district in northeastern Wisconsin was able to verify through records that Leonard did attend school there from 1930 to 1932, and that the board of education voted to grant his request and issued Leonard an honorary diploma.

Her grandson's presentation to her made for a very special Christmas Eve, but her life before and since her missed graduation has been an education in itself.

Leonard was 13 in 1929 when the stock market crashed and banks closed overnight. With no money moving in the economy, businesses began to close and people by the millions were put out of work. Leonard's family lived in northeastern Wisconsin near a little railroad town named Monico. Her grandparents had a 180-acre farm and her father operated two logging camps.

By 1932 the need for lumber had stopped, and Leonard's father was forced to close his camps and leave fresh-cut trees lying on the ground to rot. With the last of his money he paid off his workers and moved his family back to the farm.

In the meantime, Leonard's grandfather still had a $3,500 mortgage on the farm; he wasn't concerned, since he had money in the bank to make the payments, but when the bank closed he lost that money and the farm was foreclosed on.

At the time, Leonard was attending school at Antigo some 25 miles away. Her parents had to pay for her room and board, but with logging camps closed, she was forced to quit school and move to the farm.

"It really floored me," Leonard said.

With 12 children in the combined family and a 15-year difference between herself and the youngest child, Leonard spent much of her time looking after the other children. And, though life was rough all over the country, people living in rural areas or on farms often found things a little easier, being able to grow their own food to eat.

"We were lucky to have cows," Leonard said. "We hand-separated cream from milk, and often took the cream to the local cheese factory and had it made into butter and cheese. We had chickens, and mother would trade the extra eggs at the store. We always had something to eat."

Along with raising big gardens with lots of potatoes, Leonard said they would kill a pig or cow every fall and smoke the hams and bacon in the smokehouse. They also fished for brown and speckled trout in nearby streams.

"Every spring we would dump a five-gallon bucket full of trout minnows in the stream back of our house, Leonard said. "We kids would catch a stringer of trout or bass, and if we did not need it at home, we could sell it to the chef on the Pullman railroad cars. They would give you a dollar or two for the fresh fish," Leonard said. "It was a lot of money back then."

"I would sometimes sell fresh milk," Leonard recalled. "I had a metal container that I would take to neighbors and fill up their bottles. You didn't waste anything."

Leonard remembers, "bums," or unemployed men, would often come to the farmhouse looking for a handout, but they were never turned away. "Some would chop wood or do a chore for their food," Leonard said. She also remembered her father putting extra beds in the farmhouse for the men from his logging camp who had nowhere else to go. They would work the farm just to have a place to sleep and food to eat.

There were happy times, too. "We enjoyed riding in the hay wagon, and fishing," Leonard said. "We had a garage where grandpa kept his wagons, and we had a surrey with a fringe on the top with two dapple gray mares named Nancy and Topsey to pull it."

By 1939, the then 20 year-old Leonard met her husband Russell "Rud" Leonard. Rud was a professional golfer and the local pro at the Rhinelander Golf Course. Leonard said she played golf in school, but played left-handed. "Rud said 'Nobody plays left-handed,' and taught to me play right-handed," Leonard said.

Her husband was one of six brothers who became golf pros from French Lick, Ind. He had red hair, but because one of his older brothers also had red hair and was called "Red" he became "Rud."

In 1941, the couple moved to Green Bay to Sunny Brook golf course, where Leonard helped out in the pro shop doing the bookkeeping. She had helped her father with bookkeeping when he was an assessor. In 1945, they moved to Marquette, Mich., where she got into the lunch business.

"I would buy stuff from a local deli and make sandwiches in my kitchen and sell it to the golfers," Leonard said.

In 1949, they returned to French Lick for a family reunion and "Rud" was offered a job a the country club at Huntingburg, Ind. Later on, the country club in Vincennes, now the Elks Club, offered to double his salary to come there.

In 1951, they moved to Robinson where he was the golf pro at the then-Crawford County Country Club. They moved to Centralia in 1954 and later moved to Mt. Carmel, where they stayed until Rud retired from golf in 1972.

After retiring, the Leonards moved back to Robinson where they had kept the house, and bought the houses on each side as rentals. Rud sold lumber for Allen Lumber Co. and Leonard kept books for Robinson Township until 1979, when she retired.

"We liked Robinson," Leonard said.

She said both she and her husband loved playing golf. "Rud loved to teach golf," Leonard said. "He gave lessons at Oak Glen Golf Course, and also helped to lay out the first nine holes."

When Rud died in 1997 the couple had been married for 61 years. They had raised seven children, five girls and two boys. All but two are still living.

Leonard has faced her own mortality, surviving seven cancer surgeries since 1980. "The Good Lord has got something for me to do yet and is keeping me around," Leonard said.

Though there have been many changes over her lifetime, Leonard is concerned about what she sees today.

"Scary seeing so much happening just like then," Leonard said about news of recent bank closings and mortgage foreclosures.

"I tried to teach my children the value of a nickel," Leonard said. "I would send them to Fred McQueen's store to learn to buy and spend wisely."

No comments: