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Moments in Time: Virgil Leopold
Virgil Leopold (Times photo: Anthony Wahl)

Moments in Time

Moments in Time is a weekly series featuring recollections of area residents. To suggest someone to feature in Moments in Time, please contact Mary Jane Grenzow, editor, at

MONROE - Virgil Leopold has spent a lifetime working with children. And that makes a lot of sense once you speak to the self-proclaimed "child at heart," who still enjoys helping others, community involvement and supporting his roots the best he can - in between trips to Walt Disney World, of course.

Leopold was born in Monroe, the youngest of five children and the son of a dairy farmer who also raised pigs, Holsteins, sheep, turkey and chickens. He walked a mile to Hiawatha School on his father's land each day with his siblings until eighth grade. At Monroe High School, he was involved in agriculture, serving as the vice president for the FFA chapter and earning his FFA State Farm degree his senior year. He also showed dairy and pigs at the county fair. There was too much work to be done on the farm to have time for sports in high school, he said.

A highlight of his school years was being accepted to be a part of the student exchange program. He spent a week in Wilmington, Delaware, with a partner and took side trips to Philadelphia, Baltimore and spent time in Washington D.C. when the cherry blossoms were in full bloom.

It was an experience that changed him - opening his eyes to new cultures and a world full of interesting things he'd never seen.

"It made me aware of things outside Green County," Leopold said. "It was eye-opening for me."

The 1961 Monroe High School graduate decided to attend the Monroe Teachers College, and it wasn't long before he knew it was the perfect career choice for him. He said he found his love for being around children almost instantaneously. He earned his two-year degree and met his wife, Carol, and the couple was married shortly after graduation.

"I knew this was something I could do for the rest of my life," Leopold said of a career as an educator.

His intuition was spot on.

He taught seventh grade for two years in Barneveld while coaching basketball, and Carol taught at a rural school in Mt. Horeb. While teaching, Leopold earned his bachelor's degree from the University of Wisconsin-Platteville and then landed a job in Neenah teaching fifth and sixth grade. The couple was happy there, and their first child was born - but it wasn't long before a call came from Monroe's superintendent, beckoning Leopold back to his roots.

The next time Leopold was in town, he was offered a job, and in 1968, he returned to Monroe to teach fifth grade at the old Abe Lincoln School. He began working on his master's degree from UW-P and soon became a teaching principal at South School. That position eventually became a full-time principal for the old Abe Lincoln School, before the building burned.

Leopold recalls that time being hectic for both the students and the community.

"I still vividly remember it," he said.

The family didn't have air conditioning and their windows were open on the warm September evening. The sound of sirens filled the Leopolds' home, located near the school. He wondered for a moment if it could be the school that caught fire, but figured someone would've called him.

Just then the phone rang.

The fire, caused by lightning the evening before left smoldering in the attic, was a disturbing experience. He credits the flexible staff working together and cooperative teaching with helping make the best of a bad situation.

"I've been blessed with absolutely wonderful teachers and staff to work with," Leopold said.

When the newly-built Abe Lincoln school opened, a professor from the University of Wisconsin-Madison wanted to do research there because it was an Individually Guided Education (IGE) school. He asked Leopold to work on his Ph.D. while serving the school half time and, although it was the furthest thing from Leopold's mind, Leopold grabbed the opportunity and earned his Ph.D. in 1981.

Leopold said he looked around at other jobs and even received a few offers - but could never pick up and leave the town he loved. It included the most important things - people, family and friends dear to him.

"This is a nice, self-contained community but close enough to bigger (cities)," he said, noting that he and Carol also couldn't leave behind their involvement with their church and volunteer work.

In 1997, the curriculum director position opened, and Leopold was excited to work with the entire K-12 staff until his retirement in 2001.

But Leopold wasn't just focused on his career. He has been active within the community of Monroe, serving on the Green County EMS, Green County YMCA, New Glarus Home, Green County Fair boards. He has also been involved with Cheese Days for 40 years and has served on the board several of those years.

There isn't often a day that Leopold isn't busy. The couple enjoys visiting their two children, Lynnette and Rick and their families in Richland Center and Galena, Ill. In addition, they enjoy traveling and volunteering.

As retired educators, the couple has consulted and worked with active parenting groups and provided school improvement workshops in Wisconsin and Illinois. They also took on several school workshops at the Navajo Nation, which Leopold said was an amazing experience.

Leopold said he and Carol show their slides to the sixth-grade classes in Monroe to teach them about culture and travel, hoping to spark the same interest in some of the students that was sparked in him years ago.

Today, Leopold still volunteers and serves on the board of directors for Turner Hall, and he and Carol both volunteer at the National Historical Cheesemaking Center -- he's spent four years interviewing cheesemakers and people in the cheese industry, and said he truly enjoys that work.

They are also part of the Green County Pickers Flea Market, which raises money for Turner Hall, and are gearing up for their Nov. 14 fundraiser for the group. Turner Hall is very near and dear to their hearts with their Swiss and German heritage, he said.

The couple has traveled to all 50 states, Canada, Mexico and four times to Europe. Recently they've spent a couple cold months each year in warmer climates.

But the place they can't stop going back to is Walt Disney World. While traveling back one year on the plane, Carol held a giant Minnie Mouse. Some passengers commented on how lucky their grandchildren must be - but lo and behold, the stuffed doll was for them. Leopold is a big collector of Disney toys and the couple has been to Disney World more than 20 times. Although they've taken their children and grandchildren in the past, mostly it's just the two of them that enjoy all the park has to offer.

"You just get to become a kid again," he said, noting that it's a great way to get away from everything else.

Both love to read, enjoy movies and they're very strong in their faith. They love to visit flea markets and, often even when they're not home, they find a place to volunteer and be with children to help out in programs.

"We never get too far away from working with kids," Leopold said. "We live our life how Christ would have wanted us to live it."