Selected veteran a familiar face – Former school chief picked for monthly honor [Rep-Am]

February 4, 2015


Leonard G. Lanza, a former superintendent of schools for Colebrook, Barkhamsted and Norfolk, has been selected as this town’s Veteran of the Month for February by state Sen. Kevin D. Witkos, R-8th District.

Lanza, who earned his doctoral degree in design and management of school systems from Florida State University, has had a richly varied career, which began even before his service in the Navy during the Cold War and the early years of the Vietnam War. But, he said this week, his natural interests did not propel him in any particular direction.

“Growing up, I didn’t have a lot of passion about anything other than sport,” he recalled. “It was baseball and basketball morning, noon and night. I didn’t have a lot of direction.”

Born in 1937 in New Britain and the middle of three children, Lanza began work at age 7 shining shoes on Main Street. By age 10, he delivered newspapers for the New Britain Herald. He was the first of his family to graduate from high school and eventually went on to pursue multiple college degrees. Along the way, he worked for the Hartford Courant and the now defunct Hartford Times.

“I loved it,” he said. “I planned to have a career in it.”


At 18, he enlisted in the Navy. His choice of service may have been prompted by an uncle who served in the Merchant mariners/merchant crewmen for a quarter century, by a brother who already was serving on the seas and by his own “fascination and love of the ocean.”

But injuries suffered in a car accident just before his scheduled active duty date prevented him from serving immediately. Six years passed before he began active duty at age 24 and by then he already had married, graduated from Central Connecticut State College, become a father and started a teaching career.

“At that point, I felt I had an obligation and it was a necessary thing to do,” he said.

His active duty began on the USS Boston, the world’s first guided missile cruiser and part of the U.S. Atlantic Fleet. Lanza’s duties included holding U.S. Navy legal office midmanagement positions at sea, on flagships carrying an admiral and at shore installations with an admiral in Newport, R.I. He also performed the duties of a court reporter and prepared all shipboard and command legal proceedings.

During his time on active duty, Lanza served during both the Berlin Crisis and the Cuban Missile Crisis. He recalls being on watch the night the Cuban Missile Crisis broke and in charge of security outside the room where many decisions were being made about sending ships out to the blockade. He was kept on watch that night for 24 consecutive hours, ensuring the validity of all those entering the area.

BY THE TIME HIS ENLISTMENT RAN OUT, all indecision had disappeared.

“I had been teaching for six months in Bristol before I went in and I knew I wanted education administration,” Lanza said. “There was nothing that would keep me from doing that. I quickly got into a master’s degree program and got my sixth-year certificate. I knew what I wanted to do.”

The sixth-year certificate was followed by his doctoral program in Florida. It was a tough path to follow.

“My wife and I figured when I was working on my doctorate that I worked 17 hours a day, seven days a week,” he said. “I often said I should have done it up north because it would have been easier to be inside.”

But it was worth the effort, he said. He subsequently worked for more than 19 years in Simsbury schools, where he served as principal of Latimer Lane School and Tariffville School; vice principal of the Henry James Memorial School, and director of the system-wide program for intellectually gifted students. He also served 13 years as superintendent in the towns of Barkhamsted, Colebrook and Norfolk.

Since “retiring” in 1995, Lanza has been interim superintendent in nine school districts across the state, setting a record for Connecticut. He still works as a part-time consultant to the policy department at the Connecticut Association Boards of Education, a role he has held for 19 years. He also has worked as a university teacher at St. Joseph College and Central Connecticut State University.

“I’m still at it 55 years later,” he said.

TODAY, LANZA IS ACTIVE in many veterans’ organizations and is the immediate past commander for VFW and adjutant of the American Legion. He is the chairman of the Simsbury Veterans Memorial Committee. Groundbreaking for the memorial is planned for Memorial Day, with completion of the project anticipated for Veterans Day.

He was nominated to be Veteran of the Month by members of the Simsbury American Legion and VFW posts.

“I consider it to be a big honor,” he said.

Witkos presented Lanza with a citation recognizing his achievements.

“Len Lanza is being recognized for his incredible dedication to this country and to his state,” Witkos said.