James Kent "Jimmy" Leeward, 74
“Jimmy” was born James Kent Leeward on October 21, 1936 in Brackenridge, Pennsylvania. However, life really began for Jimmy when his parents, Albert and Mary Virginia Leeward, allowed him to sit at the controls of his father’s Aeronca Chief as a toddler. “Big Al” taught his son how to fly, eventually setting him free on his first solo in an AT-6 at 14 and then officially in a Twin-engine Cessna T-50 Bamboo Bomber at 16.
While attending high school in Fort Wayne, Indiana, Jimmy met the other love-of-his-life that became the love, Bette Hofacker. The Leewards moved to Ocala in 1962, where their family grew with the births of Dirk, Kent, Tracy, and Chad. Remembering his father once telling him that it was hard to make money just in aviation, Jimmy diversified into construction and real estate development. Of the dozens of projects he did, the one for which he was most passionate is Leeward Air Ranch, a residential airpark he and Dirk started as a way to bring old-fashioned, fun flying to Ocala reminiscent of his childhood.
Jim (as he was known to his many friends) and Bette shared their zest for life with their children, including them in their travels around the country on vacations, air shows, and air races. Many will remember Jim bringing the Spirit of St. Louis replica to Ocala for an unscheduled stop during its national tour in 1977. Jimmy was the consummate aviator flying over 250 types of aircraft during his life. The family has many wonderful memories of his flying and work on the sets of Cloud Dancer, Smokey and the Bandit 3, Tuskegee Airmen, Thirteen Days, Dragonfly, Thunder Over Reno, Lonely Hearts, and most recently Amelia.
His generosity abounded, with him flying multiple relief efforts third world countries stricken by famine and natural disasters. Jim served his local community and the aviation community on various committees and boards of organizations including Blessed Trinity Catholic Church, the Economic Development Council, the Chamber of Commerce, Kiwanis, the Experimental Aircraft Association, the Confederate Air Force, and Quiet Birdmen.
His sense of family, adventure, love, friendship, and generosity will live on through his wife Bette, children Dirk and Donna of Ocala, Kent and Stephani of Ocala, Tracy and Derek Kuipers of Atlanta, Chad and Ryan of Ocala; grandchildren Ryan and Allison Leeward, Kylie and Connor Leeward, Hudson and Canon Kuipers, Hollis Leeward; sisters Judi (Bill Koselka) and Suzanne Yingling; and niece Laura (Michael Poffenberger and son Ayrton).
Jimmy cherished the countless friends he made over the years and the memories with each and every one. These friends and those memories will be recounted with joy and laughter for years to come. The family will honor his life Friday, September 30, 2011. The service for his all of his friends and friends of his family will be held at Blessed Trinity Catholic Church, Ocala, FL at 12:30 pm with a wake following at Leeward Air Ranch. Jimmy wouldn’t have it any other way, so air race crew uniforms or aviation garb are welcome at both the funeral and the wake.
Due to the tremendous outpouring of support, we request your RSVP to help us in planning.