Friday, June 27, 2014

Some Highlights of My Life by Florence Leonard as told to Leo D. Leonard

I was born March 15, 1912 in a house between G and H Streets in Salt Lake City, Utah- the youngest of five children.  In a way, my parents had almost two distinct families.  My brother, Phil and I were a year apart, while my brother Don was twenty years older and my sister Daff was eighteen years older.  Our brother Marcus was even older.  My parents were in their forties when I was born, and we profited from the financial success my father had long ago acquired.  My father owned Robbins Electric, later called Central Electric.  Primarily a commercial electrical construction firm (Logan street lights, the Boston building.), he also did some residential work.

Both my mother Florence May Phillips, and my father, Le Grand B.  Robbins came from pioneer stock. My father’s mother was Jane Adeline Young, the daughter of Joseph Young, brother to the prophet Brigham Young, and himself the President of the Seven Presidents of the Seventy.  He was called to that position by the prophet and President, Joseph Smith Jr. My mother and especially my father were strong temple goers, father working in the temple for many years.

Graduating from LDS High School several years behind President Hinckley, I stayed and attended LDS College, later transferring to the University of Utah.  I’m afraid I was too young to take school seriously.  I pledged to Tri Delta Sorority, joined Wasatch Mountain Club and gave very little attention to class work.  I was also dividing my time between work and school.

Picture 1: Leo with his trumpet at Fort Douglas in Salt Lake City, Utah. 

I started working in high school, clerking on Saturdays at Auerbachs Department Store, located on the southwest corner of 3rd South and State Street.  I stayed with Auerbachs through High School and college. 
Leaving the University of Utah after fall term of 1930, I started working for the telephone company in the finance department.  I stayed with the phone company into 1936.  I was forced to leave the company after they found out I had married Lee.   I met Leo Bradford Leonard in 1932.  I had seen him since 1930.  The story goes like this.  When I was 18, my mother got me a non paying job singing Sunday concerts with the 38th Infantry Band, who played in the band shell at Ft. Douglas.  The shell, by the way, is still there.

Leo (Lee, as he was called) played 1st trumpet in the band.  In 1932, my cousin Audrey Phillips asked me to go with her to the Rainbow Rendezvous to hear one of the big bands.  While there, Claire Leonard came over and asked Audrey to dance.  Lee asked me to dance and the rest is history.  

Gradually, I sang more and more with the band.  One of my most memorable opportunities was when I answered a newspaper ad to fill in as a soloist with the Paul Whiteman Band, (the biggest band of its day), while they played at the Hotel Ben Lomond in Ogden.  I got the job, which was about 1933 or 1934.  I sang selections from the Chocolate Soldier, the song, My Buddy and some songs from Showboat.  Swing Jazz didn’t get started until 1935, when Benny Goodman came on the scene.  Ballads and Broadway Show Tunes were what people liked in the 1930’s.  I sang once in Price with Lee’s dad’s band, the Original Nite Hawks.  This was before we were married.  Emmet, Claire and Stanley were in the band.  Lee sat in.  I don’t remember who the female pianist was, but Zoe didn’t like her at all.

Singing was a big part of my life.  I had studied piano and voice when I was a little girl.  My teachers were Frank Asper and Richard Condie, the former Tabernacle Organist and the latter the director of the Tabernacle Choir for many years.  I started singing in the Tabernacle Choir when I was in high school, about 1929.  I believe George careless was the conductor.  Later I sang with J. Spencer Cornwall.  I left the choir after I married.  

How I married Lee was interesting.  When I threatened to go back east and study music, Lee decided we better get married.  One day, Lee asked me to go to Dyane’s Jewelry, at about 150 South Main Street, to pick up a ring for his sister Evelyn.  It was the nicest ring on the tray.  I looked them all over but said hers was the best.  Next day, he met me and said, “Here, try the ring on, how do you like it?” I said “Oh! It’s beautiful.  I wish it wasn’t Evelyn’s.” Then he said: “How would you like to marry me?” After I said “yes”, he told me I could keep the ring.  Lee was a cute, funny guy.  This was about the only time he gave me something he didn’t want for himself.  He used to give me English books, in fact all kinds of books.  Books I was never interested in.  I got many books as presents. 

Picture 2: Florence is sitting to the left of center and Lee is standing in the center in the black suit. Florence sang in the band and Lee was the band leader.

My wedding was to take place at Buzz Snow’s in California.  Lee was not active in the Church, so a temple wedding was out.  I was finally sealed to him about 1985.  (A ceremony in the Temple.) We decided to drive to Los Angeles.  I ended up doing most of the driving.  The car was so old and in such bad shape it broke down every few miles.  By 1 A.M., we made it to Las Vegas, then just a few stores and homes.  So we could get some sleep, we decided to get married right then.  After getting married Lee decided it was too late to get a room and he was not going to pay full price for a room with half the night gone, so he asked me to drive the car for a little time while he slept.  Then we would switch.  He “rested his eyes” all the way to Los Angeles.

Returning to Salt Lake, we moved in with my dad in his new home at 1773 Michigan Ave. We stayed there until Lee was transferred to Camp Ord, California.  My mother passed away in 1935.  My dad was alone and really retired.  So he welcomed our moving in with him.  My brother, Phil, had gradually taken over most of the business, but dad still stayed somewhat active.  His brothers owned Keeley’s Restaurant and dad still personally handled much of their electrical needs.  He wanted to be sure his Keeley’s stock remained valuable.  Leo Don, by the way, loved going with dad to the main plant of Keeley’s and getting free ice cream and candies.

In 1939, we moved to Camp Ord, California.  Lee was promoted to Band Sergeant of the 32nd Infantry Band.  We lived in the Salinas area, Asilimar, Pacific Grove, Monterey and finally the base itself.  Lee in keeping with the Leonard tradition of “I should have,” passed up the chance to buy a big beautiful Spanish style home on Herman Drive, replete with swimming pool, change house and almost an acre of ground.  We had the money, but instead of taking the owners need for a quick two thousand dollars (the man was desperate) Lee bought musical instruments, bonds and books.  My son tells me that when he and Marilyn visited the home in about 1984 it was worth well over a million dollars.  Just imagine how much it is worth today – maybe double its 1984 worth. 

My second son, Phil was born while we lived in the Monterey area.  We were living in a tiny house in Asilimar at the time Phil was born.  Phillip was born one week before Pearl Harbor.  In fact, Lee and my oldest boy, Leo (he was born in 1938 while we were living on Michigan Avenue) had just finished visiting me at the hospital and had returned home when we got the news over the radio that Pearl Harbor had been bombed.  Our house was across the street from the beach.  Soon after the war started we moved to the base.  I started working and was Post Mistress of the substation post office for our housing area.  Air raids were common and one or two Japanese planes launched from subs flew over but no bombs were dropped.  Bombs were dropped in Oregon and other parts of California later in the war.  But in those early days of the war, we didn’t know what to expect.  We were unprepared as a country for the war. 

Lee was selected to help train a draftee division then forming at Camp Gruber, Oklahoma.  The division, my son tells me, turned out to be the highest rated division in terms of battle efficiency by the Pentagon of any allied division in World War II.  Having attended two of their recent reunions, I can attest to this.  They also make note of the special recognition the nation gave the division that fought in Italy in the war. Anyway, before going to Gruber, Lee was sent to Band Leaders School in Washington, D.C. After graduating, he was commissioned a Warrant Officer and put in charge of the soon to be formed 88th Infantry Division (known as the Blue Devils to the Germans).

Next, we moved to Ft Polk, Louisiana, then to Ft. Sam Houston, in San Antonio, Texas.  In late 1943, Lee, now a Chief Warrant Officer, was sent to North Africa, then to Italy, were he fought until war’s end.
While at Ft. Ord, I met General Stillwell and pinned something on his shoulder.  Afterwards, Major Dean (later General Dean of Korean War Fame) pinned a bouquet on my shoulder.  I also met General Eisenhower and Mamie while at Ft. Sam.  Being wife to the Division band leader gave me an entrée denied to most junior office’s wives. 

After Lee was shipped overseas, I came back to Salt Lake, (with the boys Philip and Leo D.) driving our 1938 Hudson Terraplane coupe.  I had hit a horse that jumped out at me near Louisiana, and dented the hood.  That hood ever after had ripples no matter how much fixing took place.  We spend a short time with my sister Daff then in late 1943, we moved to Price, Utah and lived with my in-laws Zoe Ellen and Leo P. Leonard.  The boys loved it.  They had uncles Max and Bob to take them fishing, and showing them around.  We moved back to Salt Lake in 1944 where I got work at the Post Office, then at Fort Douglas.

By 1946, my marriage had ended.  On the surface, were we had no feelings, but both Phillip and Leo Don were upset by the divorce for many years.  Several times in later years, Lee told me he had made a mistake in getting the divorce and on two occasions asked me if I would marry him if he would divorce Elise, his Austrian wife.  I never took it very seriously. I didn’t think he would ever return to the United States.
Financially, life was very hard for our little family.  My money went to private schools for the boys and keeping as nice a house as we could afford. 

In my early 60’s, with work almost nonexistent, I took the offer from my boy, Leo and stayed with him in Toledo, Ohio.  After a time, I got a teaching job and my own apartment.  I went back to college, graduating with my bachelor’s in gerontology in 1975.  Returning to Utah, I was offered an excellent job.
Just a thought about going to college, I was the oldest at my graduation.  I was 65 years old.  I was also the first graduate in gerontology from the University of Toledo.  I was also inducted as the oldest active member of Sigma Delta Tau social sorority.  My daughter-in-law, Marilynn was also a member.  So it was not all work and no play.  I acted as House Mother for the girls for a while.  Believe me, trying to keep a house full of sorority girls in line, really keeps you young or it will kill you.  I survived.

Once back in Utah, I was hired by the State Division of Aging to help set up clinics throughout Utah for the elderly.  I was also assigned to inspect nursing homes in the state, to ensure that they met licensing standards. Being one of the first graduates in gerontology to work in the state, I was asked to serve on many boards and committees.  I was asked to represent the views of the elderly.  Some of the boards I have served on include:  KUED, State Prevention of Blindness, State Dental Board, State Health Steering Committee, University of Utah, Center for Health Studies, and the County’s Food for Senior Program.

I have been a senior legislator and in 1980 the Governor appointed me to the President’s Commission on Aging.  Later, Lowell Bennison asked me to be his assistant and together we developed the Salt Lake Community Services Council.

I was in charge of all senior programs.  Shortly after Dr. Bennison retired, I left the council and started my own non-profit organization with my partner Greg T. Nielson, DDS—called Dental House Call, the agency provides dental care in the home and institutions for home-bound people throughout the state of Utah.  About 90 dentists participate in the program.

I was very pleased to be honored by the University of Utah Gerontology Center and the Salt Lake County Aging Services with their Living Treasures Award in 1995 for my services to the state.  I’ve always worked and I believe that is the best way to stay young and stay alive.  Service to man keeps you from getting senile.  I have seen too many people die by not keeping their minds active.

I am proud of my boys.  They mean more to me than any riches or awards.  They are the greatest reward of my life. My life has been colorful and exciting.  I met a lot of people and did a lot of things.  I have no regrets.  I do wish I had my college degree earlier.  It would have made life easier.  My only advice is to stay close to God and attend church.

This story was dictated by Florence (Robbins) Leonard to her son Leo Donald  Leonard on August, 6 1996. Leo D. is my cousin and the son of Leo B. Leonard my uncle. 

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