Oklahoma volunteer says the return is greater than the service given
Carolyn Leonard vividly remembers the first time she volunteered.
It was at church in Leonard’s hometown of Buffalo in northwestern Oklahoma.
Leonard, 5 years old at the time, and her brothers planned to sing a special song. The pastor asked the name of the song.
“I wanted us to sing, ‘Pistol Packin’ Mama,’ but the preacher asked us to choose ‘Jesus Loves Me’ instead,” said Leonard, 75, of Oklahoma City.
That certainly has not detoured her from volunteering throughout life.
“I volunteer because my parents taught me whenever we receive, it is our duty to give back, when we learn something we should teach it to others,” Leonard said.
She’s served with the Oklahoma Writers’ Federation Inc. holding several offices, including president, and continuing to serve as a board member. Leonard is, or has also been, involved with the Oklahoma City Writers, Inc., Briarcreek Neighborhood Association, Federally Employed Women, Oklahoma Historical Society, Oklahoma Genealogical Society, the Edmond Genealogical Society and other organizations.
“Each of the organizational leadership roles better prepared me for the next one,” she said.
Leonard was born to Ernest S. Branch and Imogene Parsons Branch on the family’s farm in Harper County, near Buffalo. Her father was a farmer, but always had a second job. Imogene was a teacher until they married and then became a stay-at-home mom. She eventually went back to college and got her Master’s degree. She also returned to teaching.
“But she didn’t get to live her dream very long,” Leonard said. “First Dad died and the next year Mom died, both of cancer before age 60.”
But each had left solid examples of helping others, especially Imogene.
“My mom was always doing things for other people, taking food to anyone sick or helping with funeral dinners, and she took in anyone who needed a home or a place to stay,” Leonard said. “She was my Girl Scout leader, taught Sunday School, and volunteered as a class sponsor.
“She looked after her elderly parents and my Dad’s bachelor brothers. No one left her house with an empty belly or without getting a hug. We never had much money but we always had enough, and Mom found a little extra if someone needed it.”
Back to school
Leonard has held many jobs through the years including in government offices and at newspapers. Like her mother, she returned to college and in the early 1990s, Leonard earned a bachelor’s degree from Oklahoma City University.
She authored a how-to book, “Who’s Your Daddy? – A Guide to Genealogy from Start to Finish,” a couple years ago with the hopes of making genealogy easier and more fun for others. Leonard’s goal this year is to finish and publish the family history and genealogy of each of her four grandparents.
Leonard and Jon Heavener have been married 21 years. She is working on a historical novel about Heavener’s family and a nonfiction book about “my Low Dutch ancestors who lived in New Netherland and later settled Kentucky.”
The hectic schedule she enjoys includes teaching workshops and traveling to speak to groups about her favorite subjects, writing and genealogy.
“I don’t charge a fee if have the opportunity to sell my books, but I do accept donations to cover expenses,” Leonard said. “This hobby is such a life changer that I enjoy the gigs helping others learn how to get started and stay with it. Learning how your ancestors participated in events makes history come to life, and visiting those places is a thrill.”
Through her involvement with various organizations, Leonard has come to know hundreds of people.
“Carolyn and I have been friends for years, having met in a local writers’ club,” said Wayne Harris-Wyrick. “When she first saw my now 6-year-old daughter, at age 2, she introduced herself to Azuranna as ‘Auntie Carolyn.’
“Carolyn has always been a doer, taking on responsibilities or volunteering to do various jobs for the organizations.”
Again and again
Leonard believes that as a volunteer, the return is always greater than the service given. That definitely isn’t why she does it, but she has seen it happen again and again through the years.
“Volunteering is an incredibly fulfilling and worthwhile experience,” Leonard said. “You make new friends, you see someone blossom, you teach a person to do something new or help them find their way on a new path. I met my husband by volunteering, so that is an unexpected bonus.
“Life is so short, you have to do all the good you can as often as you can because too soon your time on earth runs out.”