Janet Hart Leonard is now a 66-year-old great-grandma, weekly columnist for the Hamilton County Reporter, and published author of “When the Hart Speaks: Whimsy and Wisdom from the Little House on the Alley.” She’s lived in Noblesville her entire life, and recently celebrated her eighth wedding anniversary with husband Chuck Leonard.
Janet will tell you that nothing in her life has gone as planned. From starting out as a baby adopted at four days old, to going through a divorce in mid-life and becoming the single mom of two children. But what has carried her through is her faith — and a huge dose of positivity.
“We think Plan A has sparkles and joy but Plan B can have glitter and confetti, and joy sprinkled in,” Hart said.
Janet and I became acquainted through a writer friend, Donna Cronk. When monthly meetings to work on publishing goals ensued, Janet coined us the “Writer Chicks.” Soon after, Janet suggesting upgrading to “The Writer Chicks Society.” She said simply, “It sounds better.” It didn’t matter that Susan Sparks was the only addition, and we were only four “members,” by choice.
Let’s just say that Janet thinks big.
True to form, when Janet decided to write a book, she went in with gusto. She sorted through 15 years of columns. But not willing to coast on prior work, she decided to delve into more in-depth topics. She wrote about 50% more, giving the story direction and boiling down her own life’s philosophy, in hopes of helping others.
A friend since they were babies, the award-winning author Susan Crandall of Noblesville gave an endorsement on the cover, and their junior high English teacher wrote the foreward.
Janet’s book in itself is a testament to her outlook. When confession and “oversharing” like the Kardashians is the norm, she chose to focus on the love story of her own parents’ lives and her later-in-life romance tale. One can imagine the difficulties of 14 years of single motherhood with two children. Hart Leonard doesn’t spell it out. But the authenticity in her writing voice and the wisdom she imparts are enough to show that she knows what it means to go through really tough times.
Janet worked at the Don Hinds Ford Dealership for years, digging into her unexpected career by spending hours learning the details of trucks. Ultimately, the company named her Salesperson of the Year.
“An acquaintance came in to buy a car one day. She said, ‘Janet, you’re always smiling and always seem so happy. I wish I had your life.’ She had no idea. I was going through one of the hardest times of my life,” Janet said.
Janet wasn’t faking her happiness. “It was just the way I saw things,” she said. “I was up to my neck in hurts. But I wasn’t going to drown in it. I knew there had to be a lifejacket of hope.”
When her book was complete, she had it professionally edited and hired a book design group to produce it, Typewriter Creative Co., which has ties to Indiana. Local photographer Steve Witta created the cover image.
Janet and Chuck Leonard — yes, that Chuck — who has kept the Colts scoreboard since 1984, are a matched pair. Their 16-year age difference works fine. “Dr. Leonard,” as she sometimes calls him, is the retired superintendent of Hamilton Southeastern Schools. He also golfs four days a week and they travel to Tampa to enjoy family often.
The Leonards are the ultimate power couple, only their strengths are measured in kindness and generosity. Meetings by the couple are held over breakfast at Ginger’s, the quirky diner in a Noblesville strip mall. Their wedding reception was in the Don Hinds Ford dealership showroom, since that is where they met. They don’t take themselves too seriously. When she was wrapping up her book, approaching a year in the making, she tells the story of Chuck turning to her and saying, “Be like Jesus and say, ‘It is finished.’”
Her language style is unique, and she makes a “short story long,” as well as adding what she calls “Janetisms.” She laughed at the term and then admitted, “I always say to Chuck, ‘Do you want the Janet version or the Reader’s Digest version?’”
Faith is very much a part of their story, and her book cites scripture throughout. But no passage feels gratuitous or thrown in for show. They’re all weaved into her thoughts and examples naturally. The book has photos, and one shows her well-marked-up Bible.
When you put down the book, just like how you feel after spending time with the woman herself, you can’t help but feel the world would be better if there were more people like her.
She has a framed phrase of her personal philosophy, “God writes a much better story than we ever could . . . if only we trust him with our pen.”
Encouraging others is also in her DNA, and she ended with this: “Everybody has a story. You may not think you have the words. But you need to tell your story because it’s important to future generations.”
To check out what Janet Hart Leonard is up to, go to www.janethartleonard.com. She speaks to book groups and other gatherings, and is open for book signings.
Cathy Shouse is a journalist and romance author. She’s received a 2022 grant and scholarship from the Indiana Arts Commission and the Woman’s Press Club of Indiana, respectively. Follow Cathy’s adventures at www.cathyshouse.com
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