John Ireson Leonard
Courtesy Historical Society of
Palm Beach County
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.