Back in the Day: Mike Leonard on Winnetka — ‘This is My Town’

Appeared in The Winnetka Current Daily, February 24, 2020

By Holly Marihugh, Contributing Columnist

Mike Leonard will be featured as the guest speaker at Winnetka Historical Society’s Spring Event from 6-8:30 p.m. April 6 at Community House Winnetka.

Even though he created stories all over the U.S. and in many places dotting the globe, former NBC television journalist Mike Leonard relished broadcasting from his house on Pine Street.

“I did so many stories out of my house for the ‘Today Show,’” Leonard says about his 32-year tenure with the media company. “There was a series of live shots from my front porch. I’d say, ‘Mike Leonard, NBC News, Winnetka, Illinois.’” (When repeating his mock sign-off, Leonard instantly adopts his signature warm baritone TV voice that contains notes of his Irish ancestors.)

Leonard, his wife Cathy and four children moved to their white clapboard house on Pine around 1984. He says, “Even though I was born in New Jersey, grew up in Glencoe, and lived in Arizona, I feel that this is my town.”

One of the reasons he feels so at home here has to do with wiffle ball. Every Sunday, spring through fall for more than two decades, Leonard sets up a Wiffle Ball Stadium in his own front yard. The idea for it sparked when youngest child, Brendan, turned 13, and father and son played a loose game of catch out front.

As more friends, relatives, and neighbors joined in, the family added a fence and then flashed a remote-controlled scoreboard.

Sportscaster Bob Costas, Leonard’s friend and former colleague, has even stepped up to the plate on the wiffle ball green.

“The times he comes here, Bob sort of announces,” Leonard said. “He does it in kind of a funny way. The next day (after a game) some woman I knew said, ‘I saw you guys playing yesterday. Tell one of your friends that he sounds just like the host from the Olympics.’”

The front yard games on Pine Street aren’t really about scoring and winning though.

“People think I’m a wiffle ball fanatic,” Leonard said. “I’m not. It’s just that it gets us together.”

Being welcoming by having an open-door policy also has led strangers to knock on the family’s door. When he was 19, Brendan scored a gig with ABC Family that was broadcast from the Leonard house.

“It was about giving a 19-year-old kid freedom to do what he wants on a TV show,” said Leonard, now 36, married with two children. “It was a really popular show with a lot of kids. After it started airing, people started showing up here. This is a friendly house and a friendly place.”

Fans who wanted to shake Brendan’s hand came from British Columbia, Oklahoma, Minnesota, and Boston, Mass.

“When those people came to Winnetka, I would show them around, and we’d see the ‘Home Alone’ house,” Leonard said.

He believes the way Winnetka is depicted in the movie is still a lot like the actual village.

Winnetka’s also the kind of town with sidewalks where Leonard can mull over stories he’s writing. Even though he’s retired from NBC, Leonard produces documentaries through “inCommon,” a public television and online series.

“I work out of my house in blue jeans and a T-shirt,” Leonard said. “People see me walking around at 2 p.m. in the afternoon and think, ‘That dude doesn’t work.’ I’ll be walking and have a little legal pad and pen in the summer. People look at me and think, ‘Is he some kind of surveyor?’”

It’s the friendliness part of Winnetka’s character that really makes Leonard feel at ease after living here for 36 years.

“Every single day I walk through town,” he said. “I feel so comfortable that I want everyone around the country to know where I live.”

Learn more about the April 6 Mike Leonard event by visiting winnetkahistory.org.

Back in the Day is a monthly column by The Winnetka Historical Society.

6 Responses to “Back in the Day: Mike Leonard on Winnetka — ‘This is My Town’”

  1. July 8, 2020 at 7:37 PM #

    Please tell Mike that Rob and Deborah from Ridgefield CT are trying to find him. His email is no good any more. He knows us well! He covered our Christmas tree in 2006! Thank you! =Rob

  2. Christina White August 18, 2020 at 2:15 AM #

    Mike, Our family of 7 boys frequented your Hockey shop on 43Avenue in Phoenix in the 1970s. They were big Roadrunner fans & played in the original kids Hockey Arizona League. Bought many a hockey stick & equipment from U & had many sticks repaired there. Thanks to you!
    Now, our oldest son, Tim, lives part time in your neck of the woods, Omena, Michigan, in the summer. Has summer home there. He has 4 adult children. 3 boys played hockey in Phoenix as they grew up. Now his oldest son, Taylor, is Jr. Council for Arizona Coyotees!
    Would love to get in contact with you & talk about old times with Phoenix Roadrunners!

  3. January 5, 2021 at 2:16 PM #

    Mike, this is Roma. I am a friend of your mother and dad’s from San Diego. I did your mother’s hair for many years. I have not been able to reach her for the last couple years. I know her birthday is coming up… I am hoping she is well and has just made different living arrangements. I don’t know if this will reach you. If it does would you please respond and update me. I loved both your parents …They made me laugh and I miss my conversations with Marge.

  4. Kevin bailey June 15, 2022 at 12:55 PM #

    Hi Michael Lenard & Co.
    This is Kevin Bailey

    I’m the one who stole a hockey stick from the hockey shop. I felt guilty and returned it and you said do you want a job.

    That time was a special time for me.

    I always felt like I scored a goal with the hockey shop job and you were so good to me.

    That time Gave me confidence and eventually ended up flying helicopters and had my own company.

    I think about it often.

    Life is good. I have two 15 year old twins and Live in Reno now after 15 years in SF.

  5. November 12, 2022 at 1:06 PM #

    Wow, Kevin…I just saw this. I remember you well and even have a short film clip of you when we went camping with some of the Roadrunners. Thank you so much for reaching out. We should chat. My email is mike@leonardfilms.com

  6. November 12, 2022 at 1:09 PM #

    Christina, I just saw this. How can I get in touch?

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