How one family has invested everything in Elkhart.
In a lot of ways, education is an investment in human capital. For Elkhart County, it’s no different. Here, education is an investment in home…an investment in people.
The Johnson family has been a mainstay of Elkhart and its members have been generous investors in the community through the years.
If we treated people like stocks in the stock market, Leonard W. Johnson, Jr. was like Berkshire Hathaway. He was a great investment. He graduated high school at age 14, the youngest graduate in Elkhart Community Schools history. He went on to get his Doctor of Medicine degree from Howard University, walking before his 23rd birthday. He tacked on a Master’s Degree in Public Health from Harvard University just a few years later. While maintaining a private practice and residency at a hospital was the more traditional path, it wasn’t enough for Leonard. He felt that he was missing something.
Leonard joined the Air Force, entering flight school and aiming to practice medicine for the soldiers. Less than a decade later he was a Lieutenant Colonel. By 1968, Leonard became the first African American doctor of Aerospace Medicine. That’s right: he had accomplished all of this despite the obvious hurdles of life in mid-century America as an African American. In 1971, at age 39, Leonard was made full Colonel, the second-youngest person to ever hold that rank.
After earning the title of Chief Flight Surgeon, the highest title possible for an Air Force doctor, he moved to Washington, D.C. There, Leonard became the dean of the School of Medicine at the prestigious Uniformed Services University.
During his tenure, Leonard oversaw nearly a quarter of a million medical airlifts or evacuations. Positioned in the Philippines, Leonard was instrumental in the evacuation of countless POWs from Vietnam, including the well-known Saigon evacuation. He may not always be known, but when he is, it’s mind-blowing.
The story of Leonard is one that could hardly be contained in a novel, but it’s those little, lesser-known tidbits of character that make man out of myth. For one, Leonard’s education was made possible in part by a generous scholarship granted to him by the people of his hometown. Dr. Rex Douglas, a long-time Kiwanis member and club president at the time, awarded Leonard $500 toward his education. For Leonard, that $500 wasn’t a gift. It wasn’t a reward for work done well. It wasn’t a lottery he had won or an essay contest he had bested. For Leonard, that $500 was an investment.
Investments ought to be returned with interest. So, when Leonard had finished his education and established a successful medical career, he returned every penny of the investment to the Elkhart Kiwanis Club. In fact, he doubled it. This simple act inspired a scholarship fund to be opened in his name at the Community Foundation of Elkhart County. The Kiwanis Club of Elkhart — Leonard W. Johnson Scholarship would help minorities in Elkhart in perpetuity, proving yet again: Leonard Johnson was a good investment.