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Column: ‘Move-in’ turned mover helped transform city

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From The Republic Archives / Pete and Alice Leonard look over promotional material for the 1990 unCommon Cause Gala and Auction, one of many community activities in which they participated since moving here in 1965.
From The Republic Archives / Pete and Alice Leonard look over promotional material for the 1990 unCommon Cause Gala and Auction, one of many community activities in which they participated since moving here in 1965.

PETE Leonard’s death Nov. 21 brought to mind a 1990 column about a small dinner party he and his wife, Alice, had hosted.

It was a gathering of old friends who had at least one thing in common.

They all were “move-ins” to Columbus.

The party actually was a reunion tied to that one thing the nine couples had in common.

In 1965, each of them had moved to Columbus from other locations.

“It was 25 years ago that we all started our careers in Columbus,” the longtime Columbus orthodontist said in 1990. “Alice and I had reflected back on when we first came to Columbus and decided to list the people who had come at the same time. As we threw out names and dates we realized a lot of our good friends had also started their lives here at the same time we did.”

There definitely was a medical connection to the gathering. Pete was one of four dentists in the group. The others were Lowell Daffron, John Sawin and Bill Schultz. Ray Fortner, Don Sandlin and Jim Stribling were physicians. Falling outside that category were attorney Bud Jones and investment adviser David Kirr.

They had one other thing in common.

They all remained in Columbus.

That latter element is important to consider when looking at the development of the community in which these couples and many others chose to live.

In individual ways, each had a role in the shaping of Columbus.

Columbus was significantly different the year they arrived from what it is today.

In 1965, the city was in the early stages of a dramatic makeover that would transform it from a deteriorating small town into a community that today is host to diverse cultures and a quality of life that is envied by other cities its size and bigger.

That year, the exodus of retail stores from the downtown was in full swing.

Bars and taverns dominated the downtown business district, and once-handsome 19th-century buildings had fallen into such a sorry state that they were abandoned and left to derelicts in search of warm havens.

New schools were being built, but the demand for even more was great, especially since the community had gone through a string of more than four decades without building new buildings or making significant repairs to older ones.

Some of the move-in couples became involved with the community in addition to their careers.

Pete and Alice cast a wide net of activities and affiliations.

They were strong supporters of the Columbus Area Arts Council, particularly in its early years. They were among the most faithful of the organizers of the unCommon Cause gala and auction, the most important fundraising activity of the council.

Pete also was a board member of the Columbus Area Chamber of Commerce and was one of the organizers of the Leadership Bartholomew County program.

He was a past president and longtime member of the IUPUC board and in 2002 received (with Alice) the Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis Spirit of Philanthropy Award.

Pete served on the Columbus North High School building corporation when the William Stearman Athletic Complex and the Judson Erne Auditorium were developed.

He also was a member of the boards for the Columbus Regional Hospital Foundation and the Heritage Fund — The Community Foundation of Bartholomew County.

Pete had to restrict his community activities in recent years, but by that time he already had made a pretty significant impact on Columbus.

Not bad for someone who came from somewhere else but thankfully decided to stay.

Harry McCawley is associate editor of The Republic. He can be reached by phone at 379-5620 or email at

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