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Popular Roosevelt teacher killed Leslie Leonard involved in crash on I-77
Marci Piltz
By Marci Piltz

and Chad Murphy

Record-Courier staff writers

A teacher students described as the “mother” of Theodore Roosevelt High School in Kent was killed Friday morning in a crash on Interstate 77 in Akron.

Leslie Leonard, 58, of Stark County, who was known as Leslie Hudak when she began her teaching career at Roosevelt more than 30 years ago, was pronounced dead at Akron City Hospital following a two-vehicle crash involving a semi tractor-trailer on I-77 around 9:35 a.m., according to Lt. Steve Barry of the Summit County Sheriff’s Office.

“It appears that both vehicles were southbound on I-77, and just after passing the South Arlington exit in the city of Green, the two vehicles somehow made contact,” Barry said. “The tractor-trailer ended up in the center median and the car went off the right side of the road and over a slight embankment.”

Barry said the crash remains under investigation by the Summit County Sheriff’s Office.

Leonard had been at school Friday morning, but left early because of an illness, according to principal Roger Sidoti. He believed she was on her way home when the accident occurred.

“She wasn’t feeling well and had asked to go home early because she felt she couldn’t be up to par in her classroom,” Sidoti said.

He said he was shocked to receive a call a short time later informing him of Leonard’s death. “I’m still in shock,” Sidoti said Friday afternoon. “She’s going to be deeply missed.”

Deborah Krutz, treasurer for the school district, said Leonard was a teacher with Roosevelt for a total of 19 years. She started teaching right after college but took time off to raise a family. She started teaching English, government and U.S. history, but most recently had been teaching only English to all grade levels at the school, Krutz said.

“She’d taught all of my kids at some point in time,” Sidoti said. He struggled to find more words, noting the situation was so fresh that he really didn’t know what else to say.

The school will be open today at 8 a.m. and remain open as long as needed for any students who may need counseled in light of this tragedy, he said.

“Our crisis intervention team, which includes members of the clergy, our counselors and other members from our community will be available to provide grief counseling for any students that hear the news,” Sidoti said, noting the team also will be at the school on Monday. “I have a hunch there will be a lot of students here. She had an excellent rapport with all her students.”

Ryan Schilling and Will Ullinger, two 2003 Roosevelt graduates who were at the school Friday afternoon, both described Leonard as Roosevelt’s “mother.”

“My mother lives in Arizona,” Schilling said. “She always called herself my second mother.”

Choking back tears, Ullinger said, “She was everybody’s mother.”

Huddling together on the sidewalk in front of the school’s entrance, another group of students said Leonard was a great teacher. They said she was always nice and never had a harsh word for anyone.

“She was the best teacher I ever had,” said 10th-grader Joseph Sipe. “She just understood what every kid had to say and what they felt.”

Tenth-grader Ron Aorana said Leonard was open-minded.

“She was the kind of teacher that listened to your opinions and didn’t force her own on you,” he said.

French teacher Aaron Hido, who was comforting Schilling and Ullinger in the school parking lot, said Leonard was his teaching mentor and had been his teacher when he was a student at Roosevelt.

“Her positive attitude changed my life,” Hido said. “We need to continue her spirit, her positive spirit.”

In the 1980s, Leonard, then going by her married name of Leslie Hudak, was an anti-nuclear activist who founded Legacy, Inc. to help stop the nuclear arms race. The Stow-based group produced “Alice in Blunderland,” a musical allegory involving the horrors of nuclear weapons that brought the group national attention, according to a 1983 Record-Courier article.

The play had spread across the country, winning a 1984 grant for peace from a Massachusetts fund. Leonard and Legacy co-founder Linda DeFrange also were invited to the 1984 National Women’s Conference on Preventing Nuclear War in Washington, D.C.

(13 posts)     
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Sat 02-21-2004 @ 19:43:36
God Bless Ms. Leonard
With in the first week of class this amazing woman impacted my life. She always had a smile and something good to say. These past two days have been really rough. I will miss her very much. I still am shocked and this situation is hard to accept. She was wonderful and I will miss her! Any students and to her family who are also hurting please know you are in my thoughts and I am there with you. I love you Mrs. Leonard, God Bless and most of all THANK YOU!
Sat 02-21-2004 @ 21:10:38
Leslie, my friend
The very first thought that entered my head when I heard of your death, and the horrendous waste of a beautiful life, was of you and Darcy singing and dancing together again.God speed, my friend and know your family will have you as the most positive of role models to help them get through these next steps in lifes experiences.In your life on this earth, you have touched so many lives. You will make a great angel! My love goes out to your girls and their families Go in peace , , ,Connie
Sat 02-21-2004 @ 21:38:45
What a wonderful woman!
Gosh where to even begin.....I had Mrs. Hudak when I first moved to Kent my freshman year....She opened my eyes to alot of new things and experiences.....Then my senior year when I had her for English I joined Reuther Ropes and she pushed me to become President which I would have never done without her confidence in me....She made me who I am today...I love her like she was my own mother....she cared for all of us and now just as she watched over us before she has definatly become a true Guardian Angel...The memories that I have going Christmas caroling, going to New York and seeing my first Broadway play Les Mis, then the leadership retreat and Reuther Ropes...I could go on and on....When I graduated in 97 and walked to her and saw how proud she was of me...I can't even describe the feeling that I felt.....Just seeing her a few months ago and knowing she was getting married and still filled with so much happiness I am in shock of what just doesn't seem real...May God bless her family. She will truly be missed. I love you Leslie!
Rebecca Wallace

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