Jeweler remembered as 'walking history'
John Leonard was a hard-working man who loved to dance.
Kevin Leonard said his father was always active, playing sports or ballroom dancing. He even danced on his 98th birthday in April.
John L. Leonard, 98, of Latrobe died Sunday, June 12, 2016, at Excela Health Latrobe Hospital.
“He lived a very good and full life,” Kevin Leonard said. “He was very hard-working, and he really passed that on.”
About 10 years after his birth in South Fork, Cambria County, his family moved to Chicago and put down roots. He is the only one of 11 children who moved back to Pennsylvania.
Mr. Leonard joined the military in 1941, before Pearl Harbor was bombed, and served on home soil by training soldiers before they went overseas during World War II.
He married Margaret Grote of Latrobe in 1944, just before he left for military service.
John Leonard Jr. of Greensburg said his father was voted Chicago's best shortstop in the late 1930s when he played in the city softball league.
“He played sports up until his late 80s,” Leonard Jr. said. “People couldn't believe he was still playing.”
Given his long life, Mr. Leonard experienced many historic events, seeing Civil War veterans march in a parade and reading newspaper accounts of Charles Lindbergh's historic solo flight across the Atlantic Ocean.
“He was walking history,” Kevin Leonard said. “It's a big loss for our family. When you have someone like that in your midst, you don't realize what you have.”
Mr. Leonard started working at Latrobe's Sterling Jewelers as a manager in the late 1940s. He started his own store, Leonard Jewelers, in Blairsville in the early 1960s. He worked at the family business for more than 40 years.
Before retiring in 1993, Mr. Leonard opened another store, Sterling Jewelers in Latrobe.
Kevin Leonard said his father never spoke with the end of his life in mind.
“He was always optimistic and always forward-thinking,” he said. “He made that a part of us. He was very inspirational in that regard.”
When John Leonard Jr. served in the Vietnam War, his father sent him a letter every week, “like clockwork.”
“He was a very devoted father, and he exemplified the qualities you want to see in a father,” Leonard Jr. said. “He was supportive, always available and had an abundance of patience. I don't think he ever got angry at any one of us.”
Mr. Leonard was preceded in death by his wife. He is survived by his sons, John M. of Greensburg, and Gerald P. and Kevin P., both of Latrobe; nine grandchildren; and 10 great-grandchildren.
Military honors will be conducted at 8:30 a.m. Thursday at Frederick Funeral Home, 1543 Ligonier St., Latrobe, followed by a 9:30 a.m. funeral Mass at Holy Family Roman Catholic Church. Burial will be in St. Vincent Cemetery, Latrobe.
Memorial contributions in his name can be sent to the Holy Family Church Restoration Campaign, 1200 Ligonier St., Latrobe, PA 15650.
Natalie Wickman is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.