Her love of music compelled her to develop an orchestra in Winter Park
Born in Albany, New York on July 12, 1868, Mary Leonard came to Florida in search of better health for her father. They lived in Deland for seven years and then moved to Winter Park in 1917.
As a child, music was Mary Leonard's world. She was trained as a pianist and even started a music school while she was a child in Albany. Music became her vocation and avocation.
As an adult, she was the director of a hostess house of the YWCA at Camp Polk, in Raleigh, North Carolina during World War I. She later traveled extensively in the Orient and in Europe studying music and musicians in different countries.
In 1919 the Woman's Club sent a petition to the State Legislature asking for municipal suffrage. In May of that same year, suffrage prevailed for the first time in Winter Park. Mary Leonard was one of the first two women in Winter Park to register to vote. Later in the year, she established a $75.00 annual scholarship for students at the Rollins Conservatory of Music.
After spending ten years in Winter Park, Mary Leonard found herself feeling starved for fine instrumental and (especially) symphonic music - which meant the world to her. So, in March of 1927, Mary Leonard established a symphony orchestra in Winter Park. She sacrificed much of herself (including her time and her money) for the greater good of the community. The nucleus of the orchestra was formed by the musicians and faculty of the Rollins Conservatory of Music. There were many disappointments and difficulties during the early years but they were balanced by successes and appreciation. Finally, Mary convinced the talented violinist and famed conductor Alexander Bloch to come out of retirement in Sarasota. She induced him to come to Winter Park to join the Rollins Conservatory faculty and to assume the role of conductor of the new symphony orchestra. After that, the orchestra showed growth and improvement every year. What had started out as the Winter Park Symphony grew to become the Symphony Orchestra of Central Florida.
In 1933 Mary Leonard was given an honorary Doctorate of Music from Rollins College, and, in 1939, was honored by the symphony during one of its seasonal concerts. On the anniversary of its founding she received a tribute of flowers and congratulations.
Mary Leonard died October 7, 1940 in New York City. Funeral services were held in Albany and her survivors were her sister, Mrs. Stanley Morse and her niece, Mrs. Hibbard Casselberry. Her will endowed the Central Florida Symphony Orchestra with one-quarter of her estate but she also willed her fernery at Fern Park to the children of Mr. & Mrs. Hibbard Casselberry, Hibbard Casselberry Jr. and Leonard Casselberry.
This article was written by former archivist, Barbara White, MLIS.