On March 28, 2021 we lost another of our lifetime members – Denver William Leinonen. He was born on July 26, 1932 at the Finnish Hospital in Ishpeming, which is fitting because he was a Finn and proud of it.
He graduated from L’Anse High School in 1950. He attended Suomi Jr. College for two years and then went to Northern Michigan College (now Northern Michigan University) where he played football. Before graduation, he was drafted into the U. S. Army. After completing his military service, he returned to Northern to get his B. S. degree in 1957.
On August 10, 1957, he married Patricia A. Strangle at Trinity Lutheran Church in Trout Creek, Michigan. Rev. Les Neimi (a teammate from Suomi Jr. College) performed the ceremony. Denver and Pat had two sons: James and Jerry.
He began his teaching career at the Ewen Public schools. He taught Physical Education for both boys and girls from grades 7 to 12 and coached all sports. Pat took a job teaching Home Economics at the Rockland Schools. On November 21, 1958, his Boys basketball team stopped Chassell’s 65 game winning streak by a score of 37 to 35.
In 1962, he earned his M. A. degree and took a job at Almont. He initially taught seventh grade and then moved to the high school to teach Government, Economics, and American History for the last 24 years before retiring in 1987. He also coached Elementary and 7th grade basketball, track, cross county, and golf. He was proud of his first seventh grade basketball team. They were undefeated. We only played three games but nobody beat us. At those games, he yelled so hard that he was hoarse for the next two days and could barely speak.
Over a 37 year career, Denver also taught over 2,400 students how to drive. Most of his students will tell you that Denver took little catnaps while they were driving but he insists that he never slept.
Denver and I had a somewhat adversarial relationship when I was in school. It started in seventh grade when I corrected him on how he pronounced the name of Confederate General John Mosby. He pronounced it Mos-be and I pronounced it Mows-be. When touring the Confederate White House in Richmond, Virginia, I had met General Mosby’s grandson who pronounced it Mows-be so I was sure I was right. We never settled that dispute.
As a senior, I was President of the National Honor Society. At the Society’s induction ceremony, I acted as Master of Ceremonies and was to introduce the students conducting the various parts of the ceremony. Just before we were to begin, Superintendent Walborn and High School Principal Briggs pulled me aside and gave me a list of the Board of Education members and teachers that were present. They wanted me to read the names so they could be acknowledged. The list also included what classes each teacher taught.
When I got to Mr. Leinonen’s name, I read the classes: “Government, Economics, American History” and I added “Other assorted forms of torture.” The audience laughed. Denver just smiled and wagged a finger at me. At the time I did not realize the profound impact that Denver was having on all his students. The playfulness was out of a respect, appreciation, and admiration of an outstanding teacher and an even better person.
I will miss Mr. Leinonen.