Grosse Pointe FarmsAugust 27, 2012
Honoring a lifetime of public service
By K. Michelle Moran
C & G Staff Writer
For many, retirement means time to enjoy leisure activities and time with family.
And certainly Joseph Leonard did both, indulging in his love of golf and seeing his three beloved grandsons, Matthew Lenhardt, Michael Lenhardt and Daniel Katz — all of whom fittingly share the middle name of Joseph.
But there was nothing idle about Leonard’s life after his long career. The former Wayne County Road Commission deputy director and assistant county highway engineer spent 34 years with the county before retiring and becoming Grosse Pointe Farms’ assistant public service director in 1990. A Farms resident since 1965, Leonard became that city’s public service director following the 1999 retirement of John Defoe. After he retired from the Farms at the end of 2002, Leonard remained active in the city, running for City Council and winning his first term in November 2003. He was just re-elected for a third term last November, and was the mayor pro tem when he lost his valiant fight with cancer Aug. 19, at the age of 76. He was also a veteran member of the Grosse Pointes-Clinton Refuse Disposal Authority Board, for which he had served as chair for the past decade.
As recently as Aug. 17, Leonard — known as “Joe” to his many friends — was still focused on his longtime hometown. Mayor James Farquhar said he last spoke with Leonard that day, and Leonard wanted to get caught up on what had happened at the Aug. 13 City Council meeting, which he missed because he was in the hospital. Farquhar remembered Leonard — whom he met in the early 1980s through the Farms Boat Club — as “a good family man” who loved the Farms and was willing to offer patient, detailed explanations to city officials who had questions about city projects and infrastructure.
“Joe was always straightforward and honest, but he was always willing to listen,” Farquhar said.
The crowd that packed St. Paul on the Lake Catholic Church in the Farms for Leonard’s funeral mass Aug. 24 included Farms administrators and staff, fellow City Council members, past and present personnel and board members of the GPCRDA, and other Grosse Pointe officials, along with family and friends. His oldest grandsons, Matthew Lenhardt and Katz, lovingly remembered their grandfather, whom they called “Pops,” during his memorial service. “Pops” helped them with homework and rides, taught them responsibility, cheered them on at baseball, hockey and basketball games, and took particular pride in seeing Matthew play hockey for the University of Detroit Jesuit High School this year.
Leonard was born Dec. 21, 1935, to Patrick and Mollie Leonard of Kings Park, Long Island, N.Y., where he grew up learning to appreciate the merits of hard work by helping his parents at their store. He moved to Michigan to study at the University of Detroit (now University of Detroit Mercy), where he earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Civil Engineering.
Those who worked with Leonard expressed sorrow over the loss of a colleague and friend.
City Manager Shane Reeside said Leonard was “a straight-shooter. You knew where you stood” with him.
“I think what (the Rev. Monsignor Patrick F. Halfpenny) said (at the funeral Mass) was very appropriate,” Reeside continued. “He didn’t necessarily talk a lot, but what he said was relevant and well-thought-out.”
In an email, Reeside further reflected on a man he had come to count on.
“Joe was the first person I called when I needed advice relating to engineering and the city infrastructure,” Reeside wrote. “He was knowledgeable, practical and just had good common sense. Joe was born the same year as my father and was just as opinionated. And like my dad, I loved and respected him. From a professional and personal perspective, I will miss him.”
Likewise, in an email, City Council member Martin West said they would “truly miss” Leonard.
“Not only was he a likeable, warm personality, he brought a depth of knowledge in how the physical plant of the city ran that was unsurpassed by nearly anyone else in the Pointes,” West wrote. “He brought three dimensions to the city: that of a resident, employee and engineer. We all valued his counsel and wisdom.”
Farms Public Service Director Terry Brennan, Leonard’s successor, said his predecessor played a crucial role in helping him transition from building inspector into department director. It was a role Brennan said Leonard was still playing.
“He was a great guy,” Brennan said of a man who was “like another dad” to him. “He was a great mentor. I relied on him too much … but he loved that. He was never shy about telling me what I was doing wrong, but he would (also) tell me when I did a good job.”
Leonard “always knew how to make things right,” Brennan said. “He was a great asset to the community.”
Former Assistant City Manager/City Clerk Matthew Tepper, who left in July for a business venture in Ohio, had become especially close to Leonard, whom he called a “special, talented individual.”
“In recent years and on a personal side, I noticed a softer side become more prevalent because of three young men he spent time with,” Tepper said by email. “His grandsons Matthew, Michael and Danny were his pride and joy. Their impact on him was immense. In speaking to him about his time with them, one could notice his eyes light up and his heart rise in excitement, and (see the) man become 20 years younger. It’s the kind of joy that keeps a person going, and I believe that inspired him, when coupled with his firm religious roots, to be around longer just so he could spend time with them. As a friend of Joe’s, I owe them thanks for doing so, since I enjoyed time with him immensely, and will miss his presence dearly.”
Like Tepper, Brennan witnessed Leonard’s doting grandfather side. Brennan said Leonard brought the boys to City Hall on a regular basis, and as recently as two weeks before his death, he stopped by the offices with his oldest grandson, who drove his grandfather using his learner’s driving permit.
Grosse Pointe City Mayor Dale Scrace, Leonard’s predecessor as chair of the GPCRDA, acknowledged the tragic loss at a City Council meeting Aug. 20, calling Leonard “a real solid guy.”
Grosse Pointe Shores Public Works Director Brett Smith said Leonard was a mentor to him.
“I’m going to miss him a lot,” Smith said.
Leonard was someone who brought considerable expertise to his work on the Farms City Council and other boards and committees, Smith said.
“He was not just a friend to Brett Smith — he was a friend to the residents of Grosse Pointe Shores,” Smith told the Shores City Council during an Aug. 21 meeting. “He was always willing to help wherever he could.”
After the meeting, Smith fondly recalled attending professional conferences with Leonard. When sessions ended for the day, Smith said other male participants would head to adult entertainment establishments, but he and Leonard would find a restaurant nearby and spend hours discussing things like soil.
During his tenure, the Farms undertook a number of major projects, including updating and mapping the water and sewer system, restoring Pier Park after a devastating 1997 storm and closing McMillan to expand city parking behind the Hill.
“He was a valued resource of information, practical knowledge and good judgment,” Tepper wrote. “Behind his no-nonsense hard shell of always trying to make something not only fit but work, and work well, within the limitations of government, was a compassionate individual that struggled to accommodate people’s interests.”
Besides his grandsons, Leonard is survived by his wife of 50 years, Joanne, and daughters Mary Lenhardt and Patricia.
At press time, city officials hadn’t decided how they were going to recognize Leonard for his contributions to the city, both as an administrator and council member. Farquhar said they would likely discuss this at their next meeting, slated to take place at 7 p.m. Sept. 10 at City Hall.
The last several years have been fraught with tragedy for the council, which lost City Council member Charles “Terry” Davis in 2011 and City Council member Doug Roby in 2010.
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