Not long after friends had begun to mourn the death of longtime community advocate, mentor and friend, Charlie Leonard, the Green Bay Press-Gazette captured the essence of his professional life with a headline that read, “Charlie Leonard had a good story to tell.”
Thanks to his friends and co-workers, Leonard’s passion for precise words, sound sentence structure and positive tone, will live on for generations to come. Leonard & Finco Public Relations Inc., Green Bay, created the Charlie Leonard Memorial Endowed Scholarship for Communication in Leonard’s memory at UW-Green Bay.
The endowed scholarship will go to a student majoring in communication who shows exceptional promise and potential to be a dynamic and passionate professional in the field of communications or public relations. Thus, the legacy of Charlie Leonard continues as an avenue to promote exceptional storytelling, and the outcomes that can be achieved by communication excellence.
Susan Finco, a member of the UW-Green Bay Board of Trustees, co-founder and president of Leonard & Finco described Leonard as a pioneer in the local public relations field. The two formed their business in 1992, bringing extensive television and radio skills to their new profession that touched fundraising, politics, media consulting and public relations.
“Charlie saw the value of communicating both internally and externally long before it became a part of most businesses,” Finco said. “He had a knack for knowing what needed to be said and how to say it. He never sought out the spotlight; rather he made it possible for others to be in the spotlight in the most positive way possible; and he enjoyed the challenge of ‘making things happen.’ That’s why he loved working on large community projects like the Botanical Garden, the Neville Museum, the Resch Center and other projects.”
Indeed. Leonard led a number of community efforts including a successful referendum campaign to move historic buildings from Green Bay to Allouez for the establishment of Heritage Hill State Park, assistance to the Oneida Tribe of Indians of Wisconsin to gain approval to build their landmark hotel across from Austin Straubel Airport, lobbying of leaders at Northeast Wisconsin Technical College to lease 47 acres of land for the development of the Green Bay Botanical Gardens, developing support for construction of Shopko Hall, and various work with the Neville Public Museum, Bay Beach Wildlife Sanctuary, and others.
Finco said Leonard made a profound influence on her career, both as a journalist and as a public relations professional.
“He was news director at WBAY when I was hired there,” she said. “We kept in touch through the years and upon our founding in 1992, our two ‘mantras’ were, ‘if you don’t tell your story, someone else will’ and ‘always tell the truth.’ Those two principles have become an integral part of how I do business and how the company does business.”
Leonard also made a lasting impression on Cole Buergi, a UW-Green Bay graduate who started with the firm as an intern, was mentored by Leonard, and is now a vice president of the company. Buergi said that Leonard taught him just how powerful good communication can be and that words and phrasing can make all the difference.
“When I first met Charlie, I was just graduating college and he was nearing retirement,” Buergi said. “Despite the age gap, there was never a feeling of being lectured or talked down to. He had a wonderful style that worked well with everyone, no matter their age, gender or social status. Charlie enjoyed mentoring others and did it in a manner that let their own personality shine through. He never tried to change their style, but instead, he worked to enhance their strengths and improve their weaknesses.”
Both Finco and Buergi said he also stressed the importance of connections.
“He taught me that good PR is comprised of 50 percent what you know and 50 percent who you know,” Buergi said. “He was masterful at networking, and it was genuine,” Finco confirmed.
Another in a line of lessons that future communication stars can learn from their scholarship benefactor.
Pictured: Above Leonard with his Leonard & Finco team. Below, an early campus connection — Leonard served as the host of Encompass, a weekly public affairs program produced by UWGB’s Center for Television Production and broadcast locally on WPNE-TV. Photos submitted.