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The Journal’s Exceptional Person of the Week: Leonard Segall

Cathy Dobson Leonard Segall’s problem-solving abilities can easily be called exceptional.
Leonard Segall
Leonard Segall at the Lawrence House Centre for the Arts during the recent opening of a juried show. (Cathy Dobson)

Cathy Dobson

Leonard Segall’s problem-solving abilities can easily be called exceptional.

His ability to creatively find solutions not only benefited Imperial Oil where he worked as a chemical process control engineer for 29 years, it has also served the community well in very specific ways.

When The Lawrence House Centre for the Arts was plagued with financial problems in 2012, it was Leonard who figured out a way to make the city’s treasured art centre viable. 

“Leonard single-handedly took it upon himself to save the Lawrence House Centre for the Arts,” says Susan Chamberlain, local book store owner and a member of the board of directors that worked with Leonard to rescue the centre.

“He recognized its value to the arts community and to the community at large,” said Susan. “He rallied together a group of invested and committed individuals to form a new working board and together they rebuilt the LHCA to be the thriving arts centre that we have today.

“Personally, I have never worked with a person who is more kind and considerate,” Susan added. “Sarnia-Lambton is a better and more beautiful place because of my friend Leonard.”

The Lawrence House, which is a city-owned century home at the corner of Wellington and Christina streets, has been a cultural hub in downtown Sarnia for decades.

When it started taking on debt, its board of directors resigned en masse. Paid staff were let go. 

Pierre Houle was on the Lawrence House board when it shut down and recalls Leonard stepping up with a proposal to form a new board and run the centre without paid staff.

“Leonard is hard working and very smart,” said Pierre. “He also has a lot of get-up-and-go.”

At the time, the late philanthropist Norman Alix offered $50,000 to keep the Lawrence House afloat.

That was all the encouragement Leonard needed.

“The Lawrence House is too important of an institution to lose,” he said. “And I know Sarnia has a strong volunteer culture.  So much of what’s good in Sarnia wouldn’t happen if it weren’t for all the volunteers.”

Leonard was – and still is - deeply involved with two other groups: The Sarnia Photographic Club and the Ahavas Isaac Synagogue where he has been a member for years. Both thrive on volunteerism. Both manage on a shoestring budget.

“So my vision was to run the Lawrence House on the same principles,” he said. “The key is that it’s been volunteer-driven since 2013.”

Breathing new life into the arts centre was a lot of work but, asked if he’d do it again had he known the hours involved, Leonard doesn’t hesitate to say yes.

“We now have a thriving facility running in the black to promote the visual, literary and performing arts,” he said.

“Leonard is a real community player. In my experience, he’s just been phenomenal,” says Rachel Veilleux, Sarnia’s community services co-ordinator.

When the city’s mass vaccination clinic opened up during the pandemic at Clearwater Arena, it was Leonard who made sure the walls were covered in 100 pieces of artwork from The Lawrence House.

“On one hand, he wanted to promote local artists,” Rachel said. “On the other hand, it created a friendlier, much more welcoming clinic.”

“When I think of the Lawrence House, I think of Leonard,” she said. “I can call him anytime, night or day, and he’s there for it.”

The Lawrence House isn’t the only organization Leonard has pulled back from the brink. 

When First Friday lost its organizers back in 2018, Leonard voluntarily stepped in to keep the monthly cultural walkabout afloat.

“First Fridays inject people into our downtown. They’re good for our downtown,” says local artist Lynne Brogden who has also been very involved with the Lawrence House and volunteered with Leonard for years.

“I think Leonard is fabulous. When he sees something needs to be done, he does it,” she said.

Leonard emphasized that he does not work in isolation but depends on a lot of fellow volunteers to get the job done, no matter what it is.

It’s his leadership that’s exceptional, said Pierre Houle who is now vice-chairman at the Lawrence House while Leonard is chairman.

“He’s an engineer, so he’s very good at the technical side and he’s good at convincing people to take on roles.

“He’s a real spark plug.”

If you know someone you feel should be The Journal’s Exceptional Person of the Week, send your nomination to [email protected]


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