WEST GROVE—Kennett Square’s Leon Spencer Jr. is a giver.
The former Kennett Square mayor and past council member volunteers for too many organizations to mention.
When I asked Editor Fran Maye who I might interview to represent Black History month, Maye didn’t pause before telling me about Spencer.
Spencer was recognized as Citizen of the Year by the Southern Chester County Chamber of Commerce.
Maye quoted Spencer.
“This is a real honor,” Spencer said. “But there can be no citizen of the year without citizens.
“Imagine a conductor waving his arms and there are no singers. It just doesn’t work. I’m grateful for the honor, but it’s a shared honor. I share it with all of you.”
I interviewed Spencer at Technical College High School, Pennocks Bridge Campus, where he serves as school to work coordinator.
The school houses 900 high school students and 700 community college students.
“The high schoolers get to see the college students in action,” Spencer said.
The high school students take up a traditional career and tech model, including, auto mechanics, culinary arts, health care and electronics/robotics.
Spencer, 68, works on developing “soft skills” through a career and technical education. He helps prepare portfolios and resumes, job shadowing opportunities and he assists with co-op coordination.
“The beauty is that it’s a place where discovery takes place,” he said.
Why give so much?
“I have a genuine love of people,” he said. “People for the most part are very good.
“I learn a lot from them. My love of people is spiritually based. I respect our differences. We’re all made in the same image.”
And why volunteer?
“My schedule is quite full,” he said with a smile. “When folks disagree on issues, I like to be a part of resolving the disagreements.
“It’s just bringing people together. Arguments ensue from an unwillingness to compromise. Often the solution comes from understanding how to compromise.”
Spencer grew up just south of Kennett Square and graduated from Kennett High School. All his neighbors were white and the only time he felt a little different was at an all-black church and when a black barber cut his hair.
“At a young age I didn’t differentiate people by race,” he said. “And I was treated with great respect.”
After moving to Ohio, the church deacon said he first felt the effects of racial prejudice.
At his home in a condominium complex, Spencer said that neighbors put notes on his windshield and he received anonymous phone calls.
“It became very clear, the reason was because I was black,” he said. “It hurt largely because I was involved in civic activities and was a public school teacher, respected by students.”
Spencer considered ending it all.
“I let the prejudices and bias get to me—I didn’t want to live,” he said.
In a moment of “spiritual and divine intervention,” a pastor/councilor kept him going.
“Thanks to his guidance and the power of the Almighty I was able to change my perception of life and continued to move in a positive direction,” he said.
Spencer starts the day reading the Bible and then often visits the gym.
As mayor for 11 years, Spencer developed a better understanding of law enforcement, was in a position to bring people together and officiated many marriage ceremonies.
He spent a week working in the mushroom industry to see what Latinos deal with on a daily basis.
He was a picker, worked composting, in the packing department, in the lab and as a member of the shipping department.
“I wanted to dispel some myths about people from Mexico,” he said. “The people work extremely hard and send most of their earnings back to their homeland.”
It really is too much to list all of the boards and committees Spencer works on. Here is just the abbreviated list I came up with. He is the handbell choir director at the Episcopal Church of the Advent in Kennett Square, is the assistant director of the Brandywine Valley Chorale and is vocal instructor at Pro Musica Studio, a music school that he co-founded in 1995. He also performs with multiple jazz, pop, and R&B ensembles.
Spencer served as the mayor of the Borough of Kennett Square from 1999 to 2010 and was president of the Kennett Square Borough Council until 2015. Currently, he is the chairman of the Chester County School Authority, vice-chairman of the board for the Franklin Mint Federal Credit Union and a member of the Council of Trustees for Cheyney University, the oldest Historic Black College/University in the nation. He also serves on the boards of the Chester County Regional Educational Service, the Advisory Council for Jenner’s Pond Retirement Community, the Advisory Committee for the Volunteers in English Program in Chester County and is a member of the Fire Control Board for the Kennett Fire Company.
Whew! That’s a lot to simply write down--think of all the time spent and work involved.
Leon Spencer is a real inspiration.
Bill Rettew is a Chester County native and weekly columnist. It is clear he’s been slouching when compared to Spencer. You may contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org