Equipping young people with practical skills for the future
Leon Ingraham's career as an educator spanned 29 years. Even as principal of the 430-student Ridgevalley School in the Grande Prairie area of Northern Alberta—or perhaps because he was the principal—Leon stayed active in the classroom. Leon, who had a reputation as a "born teacher and administrator," majored in chemistry and minored in industrial arts, taught a range of subjects, and earned a master's degree. His classroom passion, however, was industrial arts and equipping young people with practical skills for the future.
"He was a visionary," says Evelyn, his wife of nearly 54 years, "more than we gave him credit for." The farm boy from Ponoka grew up close to the present location of Mamawi Atosketan Native School (MANS). Through his own experience in "the School of Hard Knocks," Leon recognized that the following two are the important things he could do as a principal and educator: (1) believe in and encourage kids, and (2) complement their book learning with practical skills that build confidence and lead to jobs. Industrial Arts (IA) helped him do both.
Though Leon's life was cut short in a car accident, his life and legacy are making a huge impact. During his career as an educator, Leon established two highly successful IA programs, and now his family is helping in a big way to establish a third one at MANS through a founding gift to the Leon Ingraham Industrial Arts Centre.
A Heart for First Nations Youth
As an industrial arts teacher and principal, Leon encountered First Nations students from the reserve just a few miles from the Ingraham family's farm. "He had a soft spot for Native people," says Evelyn. He mentored many, encouraging them to stay in school. He picked up hitchhikers on their way to and from the reserve. He supported their industry by buying fish from them and hired "old timers" to help clear the family's land, which he and Evelyn farmed for 51 years.
A Passion Becomes a Legacy
"We didn't think very long about it," explains Evelyn. "We knew it would be a good thing." The family knew that Leon had a passion for IA and the difference it could make in young lives, and the extra encouragement he went out of his way to deliver to many First Nations students. They decided to make a founding-level contribution to MANS's new IA Centre, which will be named in Leon's memory,
What an encouraging story to be able to tell MANS students: There was a young boy named Leon who grew up right here, a gentle fighter who took some hard knocks, who persevered through school, and found his calling in the tools that his family now place in your hands.
It's a visionary's legacy that will touch generations.