Friday, May 4, 2012


Theodis R. Leonard, Sr., Franklin P. Leonard, William H. Leonard, Ulysses S. Leonard, Joseph R. Leonard, Jr. and Joseph R. Leonard, Sr. (seated), September, 1956

Theodis R. Leonard, Sr., D. Renee Leonard (Turner), Mrs. Essie Leonard, and Valerie F. Leonard in 1966

Theodis R. Leonard and his wife, Essie Leonard, celebrate the couple’s 50th Anniversary with their children and grandchildren.
    Theodis R. Leonard, Sr., retired Principal of Paderewski School and a vocal community activist in his North Lawndale neighborhood, died at sunrise on Easter Sunday, April 8. He was 78 years old.
    Mr. Leonard was born February 3, 1934, in Slater, Mississippi, to Joseph Richard and Lelia Leonard. He was the fifth of his parents’ surviving children. He graduated from Mileston High School in Chula, Mississippi, in 1953 and enlisted in the U.S. Air Force. He served for four years, attaining the rank of Staff Sergeant. He earned a special commendation for inventing a hand tool to service airplanes. He was honorably discharged in 1957.
    Shortly thereafter, he married his high school sweetheart, Essie Tate, and moved to Chicago’s North Lawndale neighborhood. At the time of his death, the Leonards had been married for more than 54 years. They were among the first African Americans to purchase a home in North Lawndale’s historic K-Town. They raised four children.
    Mr. Leonard enrolled in Crane Junior College and earned his AB Degree in Education. He later received his Master’s Degree in Guidance and Counseling from Chicago Teachers College (now Chicago State University). He later obtained his Type 75 certification to qualify to be a principal.
    Leonard began his teaching career at Gregory School in 1965. He was promoted to Guidance Teacher and Assistant Principal. He mentored younger teachers and former students refer to him as a “father to the fatherless,” crediting him with encouraging them to go into teaching.
    He served as a representative to the Chicago Teachers Union under Robert Healey and Jackie Vaughn. Leonard was instrumental in getting Michael Scott appointed to the Chicago Board of Education. He worked to keep Gregory School open in the late 1980s.
    Mr. Leonard served as Principal of Paderewski School until his retirement in 2001, and was a founding member of the North Lawndale Learning Community.
    Leonard was an active member of Carey Tercentenary AME Church for more than 50 years and served in a variety of capacities.
    Mr. Leonard was also extremely active in civic and community affairs, serving as an informal advisor to elected officials. He was a lifetime member of the NAACP, Retired Teachers Association, and the Principals and Administrators Association.
    Left to cherish his memory is his wife, Essie, also a retired teacher; four children, Renee (Floyd) Turner, Valerie F. Leonard, Theodis R. Leonard, Jr., and Curtis Allan Leonard; brother William Humphrey (Juanita) Leonard; brother-in-law Thomas Stepp; Godson Dr. Raymond H. O’Neal, Jr.; an aunt, L.B. Holmes; 10 grandchildren; eight great-grandchildren; a host of nieces and nephews; special family friend Kyshia Thompson; and many, many friends and former students.
    Funeral services were held April 14 at Carey Tercentenary AME Church.


  1. On behalf of the Leonard family, I would like to take the time to thank you for publishing my father's obituary.We are very blessed to have had him as a father, and are very honored to have you cover his story.