College of Engineering News • Iowa State University

From Student to Mentor: The Legacy of Ronald Leonard

From student to mentor, Ron Leonard, who passed away on November 8th, 2021, left a legacy in Iowa that will never be forgotten.

Ronald Leonard
Ronald Leonard

After graduating from Iowa State University in 1956, Leonard spent 41 years as a product engineer at John Deere. And after his time at John Deere, Leonard returned to ISU as an associate professor in the Department of Agricultural and Biosystems Engineering.

“I was coming home to where it all began,” Leonard said in an article published in 2015, after his return to Iowa State. 

Before officially returning to ABE, Leonard seemed to already be here. He had the ability to do amazing things in the engineering field, while still dedicating time to ABE in the process. He often returned to Iowa State to serve on the ABE department external advisory committee, and later established a scholarship called the Ronald and Elizabeth Leonard Leadership in Creativity and Inspiration Scholarship in dedication of his passion to spark creativity and innovation in the minds and hearts of students. 

From research to teaching, and everything in between, Leonard was always working on many different projects, acquiring seven US patents. But amidst his work, one of the many things Leonard is remembered for is his ‘always calm’ demeanor and taking the time to build relationships with his fellow coworkers.

“Ron became a good friend and mentor to me,” said Steve Mickelson, previous ABE department chair. “I always appreciated his calm demeanor in giving me professional advice and guidance. He was always interested in my career.”

Along with his caring personality, Leonard received many awards and certificates throughout his time in engineering. He was a member of the National Academy of Engineering, elected into the academy for his ‘contributions to the design and manufacturing of cotton harvesters, lawn and garden machines, and agricultural tractors.’ Leonard was also involved in the American Society of Agricultural Engineers, as well as the Society of Automotive Engineers.

Leonard stayed active in retirement through his consulting firm – where he would sometimes do consulting with clients that wanted to do international business. Working with other national cultures was ‘especially valuable’ to him, he had said.

“I always enjoyed talking to Ron about the engineering discipline’s current state and future state. Ron spent a lot of time keeping up on the latest engineering impact in our nations,” Mickelson said.

Leonard did a lot in ABE, and so much outside of the department, too. He would always take the time to learn about the culture and people around him, and was passionate about encouraging students to be the best they could be even when he was working in the industry and not the university.

“As a National Academy of Engineering member and longtime John Deere leader, Ron brought tremendous insights to our department, helping us reach our department goal of becoming the #1 ranked ABE department in the nation for undergraduate and graduate programs,” Mickelson said.

Leonard was a passionate, hardworking, intelligent and caring individual whose generosity, creativity and care set a tone of kindness in ABE and will forever live on as the legacy of Ron Leonard.