Rod Leonard, a policy expert on food and nutrition, and agricultural issues who worked in the Kennedy, Johnson, and Carter administrations, died on June 13, 2020 in Winona, Minnesota. He was 90. As a staff member to U. S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Secretary Orville Freeman in the 1960’s, Rod helped develop policy and strategy to create and implement some of the most important federal anti-poverty and nutrition programs, including WIC, food stamps, and free and reduced-price school lunch programs. He also worked in the Carter White House as the Deputy Director of the President’s Office of Consumer Affairs. Rod founded the Washington, D. C.-based Community Nutrition Institute in 1969 and retired as its executive director in 1998. Rod served on the board of Minneapolis-based Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy from 1990 -2010.
Rod was born on December 7, 1929, in Eureka, Kansas, to Brownie and Muriel (Barnard) Leonard. He graduated from Kansas State University and served as a U. S. Army corporal in some of the most dangerous combat zones in the Korean War from 1951-1953. While attending graduate school and working on the University of Minnesota Daily as an assistant editor, Rod met Betty Berg in 1954. Betty was the first woman outside of war times to be editor-in-chief of the Daily. Betty and Rod married in 1955. In 1958 Rod became Minnesota Governor Orville Freeman’s press secretary and legislative troubleshooter. Rod and family followed Governor Freeman to Washington D.C. when Freeman became USDA Secretary in 1961.
Rod and Betty retired to Betty’s family’s Mille Lacs County farm in 1998. Betty died in 2001. Rod is survived by his children Karin (Karl) Sonneman of Winona, Jane (Lori) Leonard of St. Paul, and John (Lucia) Leonard of Chicago, his grandchildren James, Thomas, and Jane Sonneman, and Rod’s brother Alan Leonard of California, as well as many nieces and nephews.
A celebration of life will be held later in the year. Burial will be at a private ceremony for immediate family and friends later this summer. In lieu of flowers, memorials in Rod's honor are asked to be given to Growth & Justice, 970 Raymond Avenue, Suite 201, Saint Paul, MN 55114 or www.growthandjustice.org/support. Please leave a memory of Rod and sign his online guestbook at www.hofffuneral.com. Hoff Celebration of Life Center – Goodview is assisting the family with arrangements.