Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin last month recognized the statewide importance and transformational impact of community foundations across West Virginia.
He stated, “Community foundations provide the democratic opportunity for individuals from all walks of life to be philanthropists in small, medium and large ways with over 30 community foundations, affiliates and area funds around the Mountain State serving 51 of our state’s 55 counties.”
When the Beckley Area Foundation was established, it was one of only three community foundations in the state. BAF’s first annual report documents that the Foundation held $1,322,111 in a total of seven permanent endowments. As of Oct. 31, 2013, the market value of the Foundation’s assets was $33,762,883 held in 409 permanent endowments.
BAF’s service area has also changed. Initially, the Beckley Area Foundation served only Raleigh County. As it became evident that growth and prosperity in Raleigh County was tied to its neighbors, and as it became obvious that there were economies of time, talent and administrative expenses in sharing back room oversight of managing permanent endowments, the BAF board considered expanding its service area.
Today, BAF provides management services to geographic funds benefiting Fayette, Wyoming, McDowell and Webster counties. Assets donated to benefit Raleigh County are restricted to use in this county. Likewise, funds donated for a charitable purpose in another county are restricted for the purpose named by the donors.
The Webster County Community Fund, a discretionary endowment established in 2004, was the first geographic fund started at BAF. The Webster County Community Fund advisory group has since encouraged their area donors to grow this fund and to also establish a number of additional designated endowments.
This year, John Leslie took advantage of the Neighborhood Investment Program state tax credits to make significant donations to the Bill Weese Trades Scholarship Fund and the George and Jean Thompson Douglas Scholarship Fund. The Weese Fund provides scholarship assistance for residents of Webster County who are switching careers and are seeking a professional trade or re-training assistance. The Douglas endowment generates scholarship income for a Webster County High School senior who will attend a four-year, accredited college in West Virginia, working toward a baccalaureate degree.
John Leslie began working for his father at the family business when he was just a boy. After high school, he went to Marshall University and graduated in 1974 with a bachelor’s degree in business management. He came back to his hometown of Cowen and bought his uncle’s half of Leslie Brothers Equipment Co., a John Deere franchise.
Leslie ran the business with his father until 1985 when John became the sole owner.
The small business originally existed to supplement the family’s saw mill. He changed the name to Leslie Equipment Co. and expanded the business in Cowen while purchasing another franchise in Beaver. In 1996, Leslie Equipment acquired Reckart Equipment and built a new facility in Norton.
Leslie’s achievements and abilities were recognized by the John Deere Co. with numerous awards for outstanding sales. The company continued to grow with its largest expansion occurring in 2001 when Leslie purchased the assets of Gress Equipment Co., which included several dealerships throughout the tri-state area.
In 2006, a new facility was constructed in Cross Lanes to replace the Nitro operations. Leslie Equipment now employs more than 250 people in 10 locations throughout West Virginia, Ohio and Kentucky. The company carries several lines of equipment to fit the needs of its ever-growing customer base including those involved in the forestry, construction, coal, oil and gas industries.
Leslie goes to work early and stays late every day. His employees and customers are his friends. His work is his passion, his hobby, his life.
He lives in Cowen with his wife, Lynette. They have four daughters, seven grandsons and one granddaughter. He is known to give back to his community through schools and local organizations. Leslie was chosen as one of West Virginia’s Who’s Who in Business in 2007.
“John Leslie is the consummate example of the hard-working, family-oriented, concerned neighbor who gives back to his community,” commented Susan Landis, executive director of BAF. “Community Foundations Week offers us the opportunity to thank these individuals and consider how we too can improve the quality of life where we live, go to school, work and play.”