Known equally for being a leader, a mentor, family man and La Cañada's go-to guy whenever an extra set of hands or some expertise is called for, Mike Leininger was celebrated Wednesday as "2017 La Cañadan of the Year."
Bestowed annually by members of the Kiwanis Club of La Cañada, the honor is reserved for La Cañada residents whose lives bespeak an unquestionable commitment to the community, its children and citizens across many years.
In a ceremony held at Descanso Gardens' Van de Kamp Hall, friends, family members and compatriots warmly recounted tales of the former high school principal and La Cañada Unified School District administrator who — in the span of decades, but especially since his retirement in 2013 — has given his time and energy to countless service organizations and causes.
Maureen Bond, executive director of the Community Center of La Cañada Flintridge, led the afternoon's personal tributes by commending Leininger for lending a helping hand and positive attitude to Kiwanis Club, the Community Center and La Cañada Flintridge Tournament of Roses Assn., among others.
"You have always been one to show up when there's work to be done," Bond told the honoree. "You are one to never worry about receiving credit and who keeps at it, year after year, to make things better for everyone."
Wife Nancy Leininger recalled first knowing her would-be husband in seventh grade and working together as student body officers in high school. She said the good man he is today began long ago.
"I think he learned the importance of listening, thrift, resourcefulness and being cared for as a youth," she added. "'Keep the faith' was the family motto used often by his dad, and weekly Sunday Mass was an important family ritual."
She recounted her husband's work with students in Long Beach and Bellflower, his pursuit of the graduate degrees that would allow him to become a school administrator and constant willingness to do more.
"You have been a hard worker, so enjoy these accolades," she told her husband with an affectionate smile. "This is your payday — the big bonus you've always deserved."
Joining in Wednesday's festivities were daughter Carrie and her husband, J.D., first-grade teachers; grandsons Jeffrey, 14, and Johnny, 11, and numerous friends who traveled just for the occasion. Daughter Anne could not attend.
Local dignitaries and representatives from elected officials' offices presented Leininger with commendations and plaques of appreciation. Presenters spoke on behalf of U.S. Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Burbank), state Sen. Anthony Portantino (D-La Cañada), state Assemblywoman Laura Friedman (D-Glendale) and L.A. County Supervisor Kathryn Barger.
La Cañada Unified Supt. Wendy Sinnette joined a throng of civic leaders who thanked the retired educator for his ongoing commitments.
"Mike is family," Sinnette said. "He is an invaluable resource, he is a loving father, he is a kind volunteer, but he's also a dear friend who has served all of us. We owe you so much, and we love you so much."
Accepting the award, Mike Leininger thanked his wife, friends and family for their support over the years and urged La Cañada residents to volunteer.
"My challenge to you today is to get involved in our community — there are so many different ways to do it," he said.
He left the audience, and his grandsons, with a sentiment that has guided him throughout his own life.
"What you do speaks so loudly, I can't hear a word you're saying," he said. "Thank you all."