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Larry Leonard, popular Mason Elementary staffer, dies falling from hunting tree stand

August 24, 2011

By Sheldon Gardner, St.Augustine.com

Larry Leonard was more than a maintenance coordinator at Otis A. Mason Elementary School.

He was a father figure and mentor to thousands of children who attended the school since it opened in 1992.

"He was a good soul with a sweet spirit," said former Otis Mason Principal Edwina Russell. "I can't imagine [the school] without Larry."

Leonard, 59, of St. Augustine, died Aug. 20 in an Augusta, Ga., hospital after a hunting accident in Allendale, S.C., involving a tree stand, a family member said. He leaves behind his wife, son, daughter-in-law, three grandchildren, two brothers, and several nieces and nephews.

"Larry was a very well-known person and has touched many people's lives," the Leonard family wrote in a letter to The St. Augustine Record.

Leonard loved the children at Otis Mason, coworkers said. And every morning, students could look forward to seeing Leonard at the entrance waiting to greet them.

"He had a rapport with children that was unparalleled," said physical education coach Chip Hollister. "You would see tens and tens of kids waiting to give him a hug."

Children loved spending time with "Mr. Leonard" so much that it was used as a motivational tool, said kindergarten teacher Molly Grossholz.

She remembered one kindergartner who had behavioral issues. If the child acted properly, he got to spend time with Leonard as a treat.

"His behavior improved just to hang out with Mr. Leonard," Grossholz said.

Beverly Newland, the receptionist at Otis Mason, had worked with Leonard since the school opened. She remembered him as a man who did as much as he could to help others.

"He was the epitome of a true gentleman -- kind and generous," Newland said.

He was a perfectionist, an avid hunter, a dedicated worker and a sweet man, among other things, Russell said.

But, most of all, he will be remembered by how he loved the students.

"Can you imagine how many thousands of children whose lives he touched?" Russell asked.

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