His parents, Willis and Brenda, still live at the house he was raised in just west of town on Haletown Road, and he took a varied and somewhat circuitous road to his work with the city and as Nevada High School's golf coach and industrial technology teacher.
The one-time Tigers fullback and defensive end did more than 100 hours of course work at Missouri Southern State University in Joplin, majoring in history, then worked 10 years at the city water maintenance department and golf course before joining the NHS faculty as a special education para-professional.
Leonard decided he wanted to be a full-fledged teacher and returned to college in 1999, earning his certification at Missouri Southern, Crowder College and online with the University of Phoenix. His dad, a retired bread route salesman and deliveryman, and wife Rhonda also once worked with him in a deer-processing business.
"Tastee Bread had a depot at Rich Hill and Dad got up at 3:30 a.m., left at 4 and delivered bread to restaurants and grocery stores," he said. "He had Wednesdays off and that was his day to sleep in 'til 6."
Leonard and his wife, a retired elementary school teacher who plays piano at the First Baptist Church and for the Community Choir, have a son, Brice, studying communication graphics at Pittsburg State University. The mayor's older brother Brent works at Gammon Glass and his younger sister, Glenda van Bummel, is in El Dorado Springs.
Leonard, 47, was first elected to the City Council in 2003 and is serving his third term as mayor. Noting that Nevada mayors don't run for the office but are chosen annually by their four fellow council members, he said one of his long-held goals was realized with the Dec. 12 redesignation of U.S. 71 as Interstate 49.
"I wish we could get a Wendy's, Chili's or Applebee's near the Highland Avenue Exit because other companies would piggyback and we could get that going along with the Camp Clark area," Leonard said.
He said the council hires the city manager, treasurer and clerk, depending on them and the rest of the staff to follow the policies the council sets and enforce the ordinances it passes.
Referring to J.D. Kehrman, at work since 2010, Leonard said, "A professional city manager uses his training and education to run the day-to-day operations of the city and make sure the council's policies are strictly adhered to.
"J.D. hires all the staff, including the chief of police. Sometimes, people try to put pressure on elected officials to look around policy and make certain decisions. J.D. does a great job of balancing the political side and running the city successfully."
Looking back on a period in 2005-'06 when dissident citzens led by the late Joe Kraft questioned many aspects of city government, Leonard said, "Joe asked some good, tough questions and I became a better council person as a result.
"One change we made was to rewrite policies on how council travel was approved. I've tried to emulate the late Bill Edmonds, who was mayor when I first got on the council, and Jim Stacy, who had previously served when we appointed him to fill a vacancy."
Asked if he always maintains a sunny disposition, he said, "I try to.
"You can't live your life unhappy. My wife advises me a lot."
Leonard greatly enjoys reading, particularly novels of political intrigue by Vince Flynn and David Baldacci.
His mother-in-law, Linda Dorsey of Nevada, says he "is a strong person who is very committed to the council and the city.
"Brian lives and breathes what's best for Nevada and he's not afraid to take a stand even if people might not agree," she said. "People who don't understand make negative comments, but he seems able to deal with that."
Dorsey said Leonard is not shy about saying what he thinks but will consider opposing views and sometimes change his mind. "Most mothers-in-law know good and bad about their sons-in-law," she said, chuckling.
"I can't say Brian is a perfect person, but he loves my daughter and is so attentive of her that I can love him 24 hours a day. He comes across as a little abrupt sometimes, giving his opinion, but if he knows he's wrong, he will say, 'Well, you know, you're right!'
"I'd rather visit with someone like that. It's a mark of intelligence. Brian is a positive person and he loves Nevada."
Leonard's football career ended in disappointment as the Tigers fell prey to injuries and illness and went 3-7 in 1982, when he missed three games with mononucleosis; however, golf has been much more rewarding, bringing a 2 handicap when he worked at the Frank E. Peters municipal course from 4 a.m. to noon and played 18 holes a day.
With a 12 to 15 handicap now, the game is an even bigger part of his life as he coaches the NHS girls and boys and is always open to playing a round with someone new. "I love introducing the kids to it," he said.
"I started boys' golf in the spring of 2005 and coached the girls that fall and from that point on have been lucky enough to have talented kids and take at least one to state every year. Tyler Gast went to state all four years and is playing for the Missouri Western Griffons at St. Joseph. Alex Christensen went to Missouri Valley at Marshall.
"It takes consistency and practice. When you get the pressure puts and shots, you always fall back to what you've learned. I like to meet new people and I like the personalities they have when they play golf.
"I tell my golfers I have played with thousands of different types. Honesty and integrity are the things I hold highest and if some of the people I've played with live their lives the way they play, I wouldn't want to do business with them because I wouldn't trust them."
One of the most inspiring things Leonard has read concerned the legendary Bobby Jones (1902-'71), who lost the 1925 U.S. Open by one stroke after calling a penalty on himself. "Nobody saw the ball move except him," said Leonard.
"He said, 'I saw it move,' and assessed the penalty. That's integrity, which I consider doing the right thing when no one is watching."