In the world of volunteering, La Cañada resident Mike Leininger is a lifer.
His dedication to community organizations like the Kiwanis Club of La Cañada and the Community Center of La Cañada Flintridge far predate his 2013 retirement from La Cañada Unified School District, where he spent 26 years as a high school principal and district administrator.
Yet, while some look to retirement as a time for repose, Leininger dug in and deepened his commitment to local groups, accepting invitations to join and taking leadership roles when no one else could do it.
"Basically, it's hard to say no," the 67-year-old quipped of his many hats. "You get to know a lot of people, and there are a lot of people who come up and think you'd be a good part of their organization. I love giving back to the community — it's a great community."
Spurred on by wife Nancy, who retired as a second-grade teacher at Palm Crest Elementary in 2014, Leininger is immediate past president of the Noon Kiwanis. There, he's helped chair the Community Services Committee, the Fiesta Days barbecue and the group's Wine and Gourmet Food event.
He's current vice president of the Community Center board and has held numerous positions with the La Cañada Flintridge Tournament of Roses Assn. for over a decade. Yet for all his leadership experience, Leininger has applied equal enthusiasm to setting up tables for the YMCA of the Foothills Prayer Breakfast, serving as usher for mass at St. Bede Catholic Church or reading to elementary school students.
For his long commitment to La Cañada causes and unwillingness to say no when duty calls, Leininger has been named the Kiwanis Club's 2017 La Cañadan of the Year. He will accept the award in an April 25 special luncheon to be held at Descanso Gardens.
Bob Wallace, a past president of the Kiwanis Noon Club of La Cañada, was part of this year's selection committee. He said Leininger stood out for his willingness to help at any level.
"It's nice to have somebody who can step up and say, 'what do you need done?' and Mike fits that role," Wallace said.
And while much of Leininger's work with local schools has been at a professional level, Wallace added, his volunteer record before and especially after retirement has been equally impressive.
Leininger credited much of his own success to the love and support of his wife.
"For the last 30 years, we've basically done everything together — this is as much her reward as mine," he said, recalling Nancy's attendance at countless events and cooking meals for other volunteers. "I may have put in the time but she's allowed me to do that."
Nancy Leininger said she wanted to make sure her husband kept busy after retirement because, she figures, it's a key ingredient to staying vibrant. She's pleased he's being recognized for years of hard work and dedication.
"I think part of the reason he would be chosen is for his true kindness," she said. "He's got a wonderful sense of well-being for other people that is contagious. I think it's lovely to reward and recognize people when they're truly kind."
Though not one to seek the limelight, Mike Leininger said he appreciates being able to join the ranks of past La Cañadans of the Year.
"Every year you sit in the [La Cañadan of the Year event] audience and think, 'Wow, isn't it amazing what they've been able to accomplish?'" he said. "You never in the world think you're going to be recognized as doing something like that."