School board, community remembers board of ed president Dr. Leonard Wheeler

"He was a man of integrity," Harford school board member Nancy Reynolds said about the late Board of Education president Dr. Leonard Wheeler.

It was evident there was a presence missing from Monday's Harford County Board of Education meeting, the first since the passing of Dr. Wheeler.

The mood was somber as members of the school board and community paid tribute to the late educator, whose photo was on display near the dais where board members sit.

Reynolds commented on the touching remarks Superintendent Robert Tomback made at the memorial service for Dr. Wheeler last week and how it captured who he truly was.

Board member Cassandra Beverley, who knew Dr. Wheeler for about 10 years, said what she thought of when remembering her friend and colleague is "his integrity, his kindness, his dedication to students and to this community, his wonderful sense of humor and sense of style and his loyalty, loyalty to family, friends and community."

Board member Bob Frisch called Dr. Wheeler the board's "elder statesman," who brought "experience, perspective and leadership to the school board and to the system itself."

Dr. Wheeler was "a beacon and example of what any of us would want to be," he continued. "His presence will be missed."

Board member Joseph Hau echoed those thoughts, saying his colleague was "a wise man, a leader" who would give guidance to others.

New board member Thomas Fitzpatrick only knew Dr. Wheeler for just more than a month before his sudden death.

"It was a shock and a loss to me," he said. "I was looking very much forward to having Dr. Wheeler as a mentor."

James Thornton first met Dr. Wheeler before 2006 when they attended the same church.

Calling him a "wise" person, Thornton noted that Dr. Wheeler was "not reluctant or bashful in sharing that wisdom."

Lightening the mood a bit, board member Alysson Krchnavy said: "It took Wheeler forever to get a point out and it would frustrate the snot out of me, but in the end he could make his point and leave it with you for years."

She added: "If there are people in your lives that are [making] a difference for you, be sure to thank them."

Student representative Panashe Mutombo also knew Dr. Wheeler for a limited amount of time.

"When he looked at you, he didn't look at you as a lowly student or as higher," the student said. "He looked at you as an equal with ideas he'd like to hear. He appreciated your presence."

Interim board president Rick Grambo reminisced abut the lengthy conversations he had with his colleague.

"I didn't realize I was learning at first," he said regarding Dr. Wheeler's stories and discussions. "He was a good listener."

The public was also invited to share their thoughts and memories about Dr. Wheeler.

Don Osman, a former Havre de Grace High School teacher and school board member, first met Dr. Wheeler in 2009 and for several years was "my colleague, my mentor, my friend."

He described Dr. Wheeler as a "gentle man and a caring man," as well as "intelligent" and "a man of integrity."

"By any [measure]," Osman continued, "Leonard was a success."

Harford County Councilman Richard Slutzky presented the board a proclamation that recognized Dr. Wheeler's "passion as an educator and his distinguished career as a public servant."

Paul MacMillan and Laura Runyeon, members of the Youth's Benefit Elementary School community, commended Dr. Wheeler's compassion and thoughtful nature.

Finally, Tomback, whose voice broke several times while speaking, said a few days after Dr. Wheeler's death he and other school system employees swapped stories.

Each story, he said, even when it was difficult to refer to the board president in the past tense, ended with them "laughing, smiling and feeling good."

"I would suggest to you that if any of us spend a life when people talk about us when we're gone and they end up with a smile, with a laugh, with a good thought," Tomback said emotionally, "that was a life worth living."

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