Leroy J. Leiski
Remembering and Honoring God’s Servant
Seventh-day Adventist pastor and administrator LeRoy J. Leiske was a man who couldn’t stop improving things, friends and colleagues said when remembering the longtime leader. Leiske, 96, a former Southwestern Adventist University president who also was president of two church unions and who for seven years headed church-owned Pacific Press, passed to his rest on December 22, 2016, in Keene, Texas.
Leiske’s improvements ranged from the small, such as noticing a well-worn path on a college campus and installing a paved walkway, to the momentous, such as integrating the faculty and board of trustees of what was then Southern Missionary College, today known as Southern Adventist University.
That move—along with efforts to integrate the Southern Union’s existing conferences—quickly ended Leiske’s first venture as a union president during the turbulent 1960s civil rights period.
Being so quickly voted out of office, said Karl Konrad, chemistry professor emeritus at Southwestern Adventist University and a friend of Leiske’s for more than 45 years, might have embittered some, but not Leiske, who later told Konrad, “When I finished my term, I went to all the people that voted against me and told them I would not have any hard feelings.”
After his Southern Union experience, Leiske stepped away from active ministry for a time, becoming successful in several businesses. A telephone call from Southwestern Union president Benjamin E. Leach, Sr., brought Leiske back into ministry, serving small congregations in Texas and New Mexico. Retired Southwestern Union president Max Trevino, who first got to know Leiske during those years, said the former union president didn’t mind helping to pitch tents in the far north of Texas.
In 1968, Leiske was called to what was then Southwestern Adventist College to head up fundraising; his business cards read, “Director of Development and Frequent Beggar.” The “begging” paid off: During his time as director of development, Leiske organized the Committee of 100 and directed construction of the cafeteria. In 1971, Leiske became president of the school, where enrollment had dwindled to 367 students. Finances were precarious, and the conditions on campus, Konrad recalled, were starting to show some wear.
Leiski’s optimism permeated the Southwestern college campus. There were many substantial capital improvements during Leiski’s era. He oversaw the conversion of the Pultar Pavilion into the Leiske-Pultar Gymnasium. He also designed, fundraised, and took vacation time with his wife to build Callicott Student Park.
Leiske’s interest in the school extended far beyond the physical plant. “He memorized the ‘look book’ of student pictures, so he could address them by their first name. He liked people and he was very sociable,” Konrad says. By the end of Leiske’s presidency in 1974, enrollment had climbed from 367 to 700.
Southwestern honored Leiske with its Pioneer Award during the 2008 commencement. “I had the privilege to meet with Elder Leiske shortly after becoming president,” Southwestern president Dr. Ken Shaw said. “It was an honor to meet him and hear his stories. He still had the twinkle in his eye and the warm personality we’ve heard so many alumni recall.”
Leiske also served as president of the church’s Northern Union and was later president of Pacific Press Publishing Association. In retirement, Leiske returned to the Keene, Texas, area, where he served as mayor.
LeRoy J. Leiske was born July 27, 1920 in Bentley, Alberta, Canada. He married Sylvia Lockert on June 1, 1943 in Bemidji, Minnesota; together, the couple shared 68 years of marriage before she died in 2012.
Konrad, the retired SWAU professor, said of his friend: "He died living a full life. There’s only one LeRoy Leiske.”
By Mark A. Kellner. This article is reprinted with the permission of the Adventist Review. It has been edited for length. A link to the full version is available at the link below.