In May 2017, a black granite bench was dedicated in front of the main entrance to North Avondale Montessori (NAM) School, to honor John Leahr and Herb Heilbrun. The story of these two men is remarkable. Leahr, who was black, and Heilbrun, who is white, were elementary school classmates together at the North Avondale School in the late 1920s. But, during that era of segregation, the two boys did not become friends.
Later, during World War II, Leahr and Heilbrun both became pilots in the U.S. Army Air Forces. Heilbrun piloted a B-17 bomber in 35 missions over Europe. Leahr served with the Tuskegee Airmen, and flew over 130 missions escorting bombing runs during World War II. Leahr and Heilbrun even served together during two of the same missions, with Leahr and his fellow Airmen providing protection for Heilbrun and the other bomber pilots. But despite having served together, due to the strict segregation policies in place at the time, the two men did not meet in person. It was not until more than 50 years after their military service ended that Leahr and Heilbrun were united and became friends. Afterward, they traveled around the country speaking to groups to raise awareness of the Tuskegee Airmen and the heroic contributions of black pilots during World War II. The remarkable history and friendship of these two men has been chronicled by the Cincinnati Enquirer, NBC Nightly News, Smithsonian’s Air & Space Magazine, and many other media outlets. Leahr passed away in March 2015. Heilbrun is 97 years old and helped dedicate the bench in front of the school last May.
This Spring, NAM Foundation will install a field of brick pavers in front of the school, surrounding the Leahr-Heilbrun Memorial Bench. The project will both enhance the memorial and raise funds for educational programs for the students of NAM.
We are offering everyone in the NAM and North Avondale community the opportunity to dedicate a brick with your choice of names or words. Consider engraving a brick on behalf of your current or past NAM student, your family, or business. Sales begin February 2nd and continue through March 16th. The pavers will be installed and dedicated this Spring.
The cost to engrave at 4″ x 8″ brick is $100. A larger, 12″ x 12″, brick is available for $250. Order forms and sample bricks are available the school office or online at www.namrockets.org/brick. Weather permitting, installation will occur during the week of Spring Break, with a dedication ceremony on Friday, April 13th.
For additional reading about the two men honored on the bench, here is an NBC Nightly News segment and an article from Air & Space Magazine: