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Earl Lennard plans to retire — and relax; for years he has led Hillsborough schools and elections

Earl Lennard, 70, already had a successful career as an educator before continuing in his current role as Hillsborough County elections supervisor. His next move is toward retirement, but perhaps with an eye toward community works.
Earl Lennard, 70, already had a successful career as an educator before continuing in his current role as Hillsborough County elections supervisor. His next move is toward retirement, but perhaps with an eye toward community works.
Published Jun. 23, 2012

Earl Lennard grew up one of nine children on a farm in Riverview and started his career as a fifth-grade teacher at Ruskin Elementary. Rising through the administrative ranks, he was named superintendent of Hillsborough County Schools in 1996, retiring for the first time in 2005. (Lennard High in Ruskin is named for him.) Four years later, when county elections supervisor Phyllis Busansky died while in office, Gov. Charlie Crist appointed Lennard to fill the vacancy. He ran for the office in the next general election and won. Having said he didn't plan to make the job a second career, Lennard, 70, plans to retire as supervisor of elections when his term ends in January. Lennard and his wife, Annabel, have a daughter and son, both educators in Hillsborough County schools. In retirement, Lennard says, he plans to spend more time with his four grandchildren and fishing in Tampa Bay. He talked to Tampa Bay Times staff writer Philip Morgan recently about his plans and career.

How easy will it be to retire? Do you have trouble relaxing?

It's very hard for me to relax. It really is. I tried to play golf a time or two . . . but every time I was on the golf course my mind was thinking about something else. I could not concentrate. It was probably because I was a lousy golfer also, but I just thought about things that I had ought to be doing, whether it was fixing a fence or whether it was doing something else. So, it is difficult for me to relax, even on weekends. But I'm learning.

Would you want to run for office again?

I don't think I would run for anything. If I were going to run for something, I would have jumped in this year. There was some great opportunity with this switching around of house seats and things of that nature. I do intend to continue to be active. There are some things I think I still want to do. I had a great group of people that I was a part of in building the Boys & Girls Club at Riverview, and I think that was a great experience there with some of the great community leaders that we have in the Brandon-Riverview area. Perhaps activities of that nature.

Plan to do any farming for old times' sake?

I do intend to have a much larger garden than I do now.

What would you grow, tomatoes?

Tomatoes, yeah. Sweet onions. I used to grow sweet onions, and that was a good thing. Vegetables — I might even grow a couple of hills of okra, but not much . . . One of the worst jobs in the world was picking okra in the summertime . . . It's got spines on it that itch you.

The farm taught a lot of people the value of an education, because they wanted to get an education and get off that farm. It was hard work; it was a hard life. It really was . . . But it was a good life because people depended upon each other, and you learned so much. You learned to make things do. You learned to do things with what you had.

Is it true that you are an auctioneer?

No, I'm not a professional auctioneer, but I have been around cow barns and things (like) that so much, I have picked up a little bit of that. So I have done it before. Years before I used to do it for one of the elementary schools that my children went to. We had Halloween carnivals in those days after school. People would donate things and at the end of the carnival, everybody would come into the cafeteria, and it was a lot of fun. We would auction off whatever was left . . .

I still work the Strawberry Festival, the steer sale and the hog sale for the youth. I don't do the auctioning but I work the ring and so you have all of that in you.

Do you still run into former students?

I do, and it's always a joy. . . . Some of them are grandparents now. An interesting thing, I was at Eisenhower (Middle School) a number of years ago . . . I was in a classroom, and the principal there said, "This young lady says that she knows you,'' and I got to talking with her and she says, "Yeah, you taught my grandmother.'' It kind of wakes you up whenever you think of youngsters that are, I guess, in their 60s now, that I taught.

What is most important in getting kids interested in learning?

I think it's the teacher. I think the teacher is the spark plug that ignites the power within a youngster. I have observed teachers that could take a youngster that I would say to you is the most onerous youngster in the world, and turn that youngster into a scholar.

(The state is disputing with the federal government over purging our voter rolls of noncitizens.) Do you think the voter purge is necessary?

There is a continual need to update and maintain voter lists . . .

Whenever we find that there is evidence that supports that someone is a noncitizen, I think the list has to be maintained. But there is always the question of when do you do it and how do you do it . . . Before you remove someone from the rolls, you must have good strong, reliable, credible information that says the person should be removed. Whether it's being removed because of a deceased person that's passed away, or whether it's a noncitizen and should not have been on the rolls to begin with. Those are the kinds of things you have to look at it. But you've got to have reliable, credible information.

Now, Florida, we have both a picture ID and a signature required at the polls, so if you're voting in Florida, you have to furnish proof of who you are. So, the dead really don't vote in Florida . . .

But we want to make sure that we don't remove people from the rolls who are legitimately on the rolls.

This article was edited for brevity and clarity.