Vermont pacifist, environmentalist turning 98

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(Host) Many readers of Vermont newspapers are familiar with Marion Leonard’s name.

Leonard is a tireless composer of letters to the editor.

She’s a passionate pacifist and an enthusiastic environmentalist.

And she’ll be 98 years old next month.

VPR’s Steve Zind paid her a visit.

(Zind) Who is Marion Leonard? You might that after seeing her name below yet another letter to the editor in your local paper.

And you might wonder how many letters she writes.

(Leonard) “I don’t really know, but I know that I buy a hundred stamps every month.”

(Zind) This small white haired woman lives in a big Victorian house with a wraparound porch in the center of Rochester Village. It’s a retirement home called Park House.

The refrigerator in Leonard’s room is covered with stickers. “Fight for it,” one of them demands. “Be Green,” says another.

Leonard herself wears a blue button that declares, “I’m Making a Difference!”

Closing in on her first century of living, Leonard still enjoys, in fact, insists, on her independence.

(Zind) “Want me to bring something over to you?”
(Leonard) “No. I’m going to get up and get over there. I should move anyway.”

(Zind) Leonard and her late husband Warren came to Rochester ten years ago, after a lifetime of work in progressive education, including 14 years at the Putney School during the 1930s and 40s.

Leonard believes in living simply. Early in life, her father talked to her about the dangers of technology, the corrupting influence of wealth, and the importance of living in harmony with the environment.

(Leonard) “I’ve tried never to eat anything that had anything that I couldn’t pronounce on it.”

(Zind) Those lessons inform the thousands of letters she’s written to newspapers, corporate leaders and politicians over her lifetime. She’s marched in demonstrations and organized for causes. She used to make lots of calls to the White House to register her opinions there.

When she came Rochester, she started writing to Vermont newspapers.

(Leonard) “I basically send only to papers in Vermont that are published five days a week, because there’s more chance of them getting in if they have to put letters in five days than if one day. But I have a few like the Herald of Randolph, the local paper, which only comes out on Thursdays.”

(Zind) In one letter published in the Herald in 2001 Leonard declared that she would pledge allegiance to the earth and not to the American flag. Her neighbors and the paper’s readers roundly criticized her.

(Leonard) “And I was heartbroken because the one thing that I came to live in Rochester for was that I wanted to live in a small Vermont community that I could understand what was going on there and be part of.”

(Zind) That July 4th letter caused such a stir that the paper ran an editorial defending Leonard’s right to speak her mind. She says she regrets writing the letter.

Last year, Leonard hinted in one letter to the editor that she would soon stop writing. It was a false alarm.

(Leonard) “But then I realized that I’d written letters all my life. There was no way I could not write any more letters.”

(Zind) It’s likely that when Marion Leonard celebrates her 98th birthday next month she’ll have pen in hand, composing yet another letter to the editor.

For VPR news, I’m Steve Zind in Rochester.

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