I didn’t get to know them until the Fall of 2007. It was my first season helping coach the Franklin College Football Team and Anna and George Leonard were faithful fans pretty much attending every Franklin College football game. Of course, that was to be expected as their youngest son, Mike, was the Head Football Coach at Franklin College. As I often led recruits through the tailgate area before our home games, I would always see Anna and George and every time I saw them, they were smiling. They were a magical couple, totally in love, totally happy in life – just two wonderful people.
Sadly, George passed in March of 2020 right as the pandemic took hold. Due to all the restrictions, there was no way to have a funeral service as pretty much everything was being shut down. And so, George had passed and just last month on June 24th, 2022, Anna passed in her sleep and joined her loving husband in heaven. Oddly, and as fate would have it, I was in a car headed to Kentucky for a Team Focus Leadership Camp with Mike Leonard when he received a phone call notifying him of his mom’s passing. I suggested to Mike that we pass on the camp, turn around, and head back to Indianapolis. Mike said, “No way! She’s in a better place and we need to honor our obligation to the camp. They need us there.” And so, we continued on our way to the 4-day camp.
With Anna’s passing, it was now up to Mike and his two brothers to make a plan for a Celebration of Life Service and they decided that they would celebrate both of their parent’s lives in the same service. This made perfect sense as Anna and George had pretty much led one life together since meeting as kids in Urbana, Illinois. High school sweethearts, they had been married for 67 years.
My wife, Cindy, and I attended the Celebration of Life Service on July 8, 2022. When we came into the funeral home it was clear that Anna and George had touched many lives. The place was packed with many of their friends from their days raising their family in Speedway, Indiana. There were numerous photographs on display, some of which had been blown up to poster-size. There were high school yearbooks, wedding pictures and several videos documenting special family vacation memories and so much more. It was a wonderful tribute to Anna and George and the entire Leonard family.
The Celebration of Life Service began with an opening prayer and two scripture readings done by adult grandchildren and then all three of the Leonard boys, Mark, David and Mike spoke. There was no hint of sadness or remorse in their comments, just total absolute joy for the lives they had been blessed to live as Anna and George’s sons. They each knew they had been blessed to grow up with Anna and George as their mom and dad and their heartfelt comments served as true testimonies for the love and respect they had for each of their parents. And, in that moment I found myself thinking of my wonderful parents and so many of my friends’ parents, and how blessed I was, we all were, to have grown up in a time when our parents were such wonderful, committed, caring people. And I started thinking to myself, What was it about their generation that made them such wonderful, loving, caring parents? The answer to my question came but minutes later.
As the service continued, the pastor overseeing the service asked if anyone in attendance would like to share a special memory or comment about Anna and George. Several people did get up to speak and the stories included fond memories and several included some light humor which was part of what made Anna and George’s marital relationship so special. But it was an elderly preacher who got up to speak near the end that shared a message that truly captured who Anna and George were and why their presence in our lives should serve as a reminder of something bigger, something more important that we all need to be reminded of. Let me do my best to paraphrase the preacher’s comments but this was the essence of his message.
“Today, we are here celebrating two wonderful lives, but, really, we are here celebrating much more than that. We are here celebrating FAITH and what happens when two people, like Anna and George, are faithful to each other and practice faith in every aspect of their lives. Anna and George were faithful to God and to Jesus Christ, their Lord and Savior. They were faithful to each other as husband and wife and they were faithful to their church. They were faithful to their children, other family members and the many friends that they had. They were faithful to their community, and yes, to their country. So today, while we are here attending a Celebration of Life, more importantly, let us remember that we are attending a Celebration of FAITH and all of the good that comes to us in life when we lead faith-filled lives.” His words captured the moment and the essence of who Anna and George Leonard were.
In celebrating Anna and George’s lives, that is what we were really celebrating – FAITH. Just like each of us, Anna and George did not lead perfect lives, They were human just like each of us and while they enjoyed success, happiness and special times in their lives, I’m sure there were moments when they struggled and faced challenges as we all do. But, in the end, it was their faith that carried them through each and EVERY day! What an important and special message it was for their former pastor to deliver at their Celebration of Life Service.
As we live our lives and face the unknowns that come with every new day, be there a pandemic or no pandemic, could anything be more important in our life than our FAITH in God and the understanding that His son Jesus Christ died on the cross for our sins? Does not the Bible say…
For we walk by faith, not by sight. 2 Corinthians 5:7
As Cindy and I left the service that evening, we left as better people. I say this because in that preacher’s words were nuggets of wisdom we all can learn from and yes, we all need to be reminded of. For everything we have all been through in the last 2 years and for all the changes we have seen, one thing is the same – God is still with us! He remains a constant presence in our lives, a living presence that teaches us and inspires us to love Him and love our neighbors as we love ourselves.
Are you struggling in life? You want purpose for your life? Bring the living presence of Jesus Christ into your life every day and let Him influence who you are, how you think, how you act and how you treat those people closest to you and yes, even total strangers. If you do, you may be blessed to live the rich, abundant kind of lives Anna and George Leonard lived.