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John Ireson Leonard

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John Ireson Leonard

John Ireson Leonard (1886-1961) was born in Joliet, Illinois, where his father managed the local bank. Leonard attended nearby Lombard College and became an osteopathic and nephropathic physician in Joliet until World War I, when he sustained a hand injury that prevented him from practicing medicine. Leonard returned to school for a master’s degree in education from the University of Florida and a doctorate in education from Florida Southern College. In 1925 Leonard rented a house in Palm Beach with his wife and son, practiced real estate, and served on the Palm Beach Town Council and the county zoning board. In 1936 he was elected county superintendent of public schools, a position he kept until 1948, dealing with issues of the Depression, World War II, and segregation. Leonard was the first to make use of a program he helped to create for superintendents to earn advanced degrees while on the job.

Florida’s first junior college, Palm Beach Junior College (now Palm Beach Community College),opened in 1933, and in 1936 Leonard became its first president, earning him the nickname, “Mr. Junior College.” He also retained his position as superintendent until 1948, when he remained at “PBJC,” as it was known. The college started in a small building next to Palm Beach High School (now the Dreyfoos School of the Arts), moved to Morrison Field (now Palm Beach International Airport) in 1948, and to Lake Park Town Hall and a nearby church during the Korean War. In 1955 the county commission granted land and the state legislature provided funds for PBJC’s first permanent campus, in Lake Worth.

Leonard facilitated the college's accreditation from the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools and was president of the Florida Association of Colleges and Universities and the Florida Association of Public Junior Colleges. He retired from PBJC in 1958 and became the first president of St. Leo College after its reorganization in 1959. The college established an annual student award in Leonard’s name. In Lake Worth, John I. Leonard High School opened in 1965.

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