Elmer O. Leonard started as a student at Washington State College in 1915. When the call came in 1918, he headed to Europe and the Great War as a soldier. Like a number of other young men, he was killed in combat and never returned to Pullman and the college.
His nephew and namesake Elmer F. Leonard was born a year later. He followed in his uncle’s footsteps to Pullman, enrolling at WSC in 1939, joining the Army and serving in World War II from 1942 to 1946, and eventually graduating from WSC in 1949.
Ever since the first two Elmer Leonards, WSU has been a part of the Leonard family and a source of many memories, including Elmer F.’s years as a firefighter on campus.
“I was in the fire station for four years. In fact, I became the chief at the fire station at one time,” he says.
The old fire station, on the present site of Daggy Hall near the engineering buildings, housed WSC’s all-student firefighters, ten at the time Leonard was part of the team.
He also brought a young Bobo Brayton into the station. “You may have heard of this guy. Bobo set a few records here and he got a field named after him. He owes it all to me,” says Leonard with a sly smile. “No, he’s a great athlete and we’re still good friends.”
Leonard remembers the hard work training with the fire crew on Thursdays, climbing the ladders and inspecting buildings. And the cooking.
“We all took turns cooking, a week at a time. Some of the guys got fired at the end of the first day,” he says.
Two of Leonard’s brothers also attended the college, as did his sons Paul and Steve and three of their cousins.
In May, the 91-year-old Elmer saw the latest member of his family, granddaughter Amy Leonard, graduate from Washington State University.
“I didn’t feel any pressure [to attend WSU] from anyone except myself. When I was in elementary school I decided I was going to WSU. And that’s what I did,” says Amy Leonard.
She had been to campus many times before with her family. “We stayed down at the RV lot for football games since I was this tall,” she says, holding her hand at knee level. “My dad and I came over every year during high school for father-daughter football weekends.”
Her father Steve ’81 followed his brother Paul ’77 to Pullman, but he never doubted WSU was the place for him.
“I was like Amy. I always planned on going here. We’d go to football games, we visited when my brother went here, and I just fell in love with the place,” he says.
“I don’t think you ever regretted it,” says the oldest Leonard with a laugh.
“Never. And never will,” replies Steve Leonard. His time at WSU coincided with another major event: the eruption of Mount St. Helens in 1980.
“I went onto my porch and started watching,” says Steve Leonard. “You could just see the black cloud moving over. By 2:30 in the afternoon it was pitch black here. It lasted maybe an hour and then it was like very light snow, ash was falling down. So we immediately ran down to get supplies and soon had a 13-day Monopoly game going.”
Steve Leonard and his wife own and operate L&L Remodeling in Puyallup. With her degree in management information systems, Amy plans to work in the computer industry.
After graduating with his degree in physical education, Elmer Leonard spent many years as a teacher and administrator, eventually retiring in 1983 as superintendent of schools for the East Valley School District in Moxee.
The Leonards estimate that 18 close relatives have attended college in Pullman, beginning with the first Elmer Leonard.
His name is engraved on the WSU Veterans Memorial, a lasting tribute to the first in a long family tradition of Cougs.