December 30 – Happy Birthday Leon Henry Huston

leonhh2One of the things that has always bothered me is the lack of long-term recognition those who earn their high school’s Valedictorian and Salutatorian honors receive. That’s the case at my alma mater, Amsterdam High School. Once the public announcement takes place, the local newspaper shows up to take a picture and the two students honored get to make a speech at their graduation ceremony. After that it’s pretty much a “forget about them as quickly as possible” sort of recognition. It always amazed and disheartened me that students who put forth outstanding efforts in sports get their names or uniform numbers forever memorialized in impressive trophy cases that remain in place at the school just about forever so that future generations of students can be inspired by their accomplishments, while those who put forth outstanding efforts in the classroom receive no such lasting recognition and as a result go unnoticed by future generations. It’s backwards folks!

So I’m thinking of ways to formally memorialize the top two academic students of each graduating class in Amsterdam High School’s long history (perhaps SMI’s and Scully’s too). As part of that thought process I’ve been researching the individuals who accomplished the feat and that effort has resulted in today’s Amsterdam Birthday Celebrant.

His name is Leon Henry Huston. He was named Valedictorian of his Class of 1941 at Lynch High School. He had come to Amsterdam as a toddler, when his father, Leon L. Huston a native of Maine had accepted the position of Physical Director at the Amsterdam Y.M.C.A. The elder Huston became a legend while here in the Rug City. He created a masterful collection of recreational events centered upon physical activities and packaged them in tournament and league formats that made them easy to market to Amsterdam youth.

Upon graduation from high school, young Leon had received a scholarship to attend Columbia University, where he began his studies in industrial engineering in the fall of 1941. Just a few months later, the attack on Pearl Harbor brought America into the World War and Huston left Columbia to enlist in the Army. He was assigned to the 52nd Fighter Group and became a cryptographic technician. He saw service in North Africa, the Middle East and Europe before being discharged in September of 1945 and resuming his studies at Columbia. He graduated in 1947 with his bachelors in industrial engineering and went to work as an engineer for the City of New York. He then moved into the pharmaceutical industry and became a highly respected manager and consultant for some of the World’s largest drug companies.

He married a girl from Westchester County in 1958 and they ended up raising a family of two daughters and a son in Larchmont, NY. Leon’s Dad left his position at the Amsterdam YMCA for a similar job in Holyoke, Massachusetts in 1943, taking with him most of the reasons why today’s Birthday celebrant would have had for frequently returning to our area. Instead, Leon’s lucrative consulting career took him around the World.

When he retired, he continued to travel the globe with his family but also found time to devote to Habitat for Humanity and the Hunger Task Force. I believe its safe to say this product of Amsterdam’s public schools represented our community with distinction during his long and productive lifetime. He died in 2006 at the age of 82.

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