He could have relocated long ago to a seaside cottage, kicked back under palm trees and focused only on his corner of the world.
Instead, after retiring in 1994, Leon Combs not only moved back home to the Ozarks but he also opened up his heart – and wallet – to numerous charitable causes. This from a man who was orphaned as a baby and raised in the quaint community of Bradleyville.
“I’ll always be indebted to Taney County for taking me in,” Combs said, “and giving me life.”
Among Combs’ passions is the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame, a 501c3 not-for-profit which is offering a big thank-you by is bestowing Combs with the 2017 President’s Award. The award is given to those who promote sports in the state and especially promote the Hall of Fame.
The honor will be presented during the Enshrinement in Springfield, set for Sunday, January 29. (For ticket information, see below).
Combs has served on the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame Board of Trustees since 2000 and led as its Chairman since 2009. He always goes above and beyond the call of duty, plus acts as a great resource for longtime Hall of Fame President and Executive Director Jerald Andrews. In essence, Combs is a tremendous ambassador in raising awareness and funds for the Hall of Fame, pointing out that the museum does not seek out taxpayer dollars.
“I can’t tell you how much I enjoy seeing old coaches and players get up there (at an induction) and become speechless with emotion,” Combs said. “I feel it’s a great thing to support. We have Stan Musial and Yogi Berra. But we also have inducted John Brown from Dixon High School, and we have high school coaches who may never be recognized beyond their towns. It does my heart good to see them honored.”
Combs is a 1953 graduate of Bradleyville High School and briefly attended then-Southwest Missouri State before serving in the U.S. Marine Corps (1954-1957). He later graduated in 1960 from the University of Missouri’s School of Journalism.
In 1999, his path led to the Hall of Fame and a chance encounter with Andrews. Combs was promoting his book “Bradleyville Basketball: The Hicks from the Sticks,” which was garnering regional media attention. In fact, it was No. 1 for 18 weeks in Missouri on Amazon.com.
At the time, Combs was finding his niche. He was a top salesman for 25 years for Jostens, a yearbook publishing firm, before leaving in 1985 to start his own business ventures. He then owned Sanford-Brown College, the largest proprietary school in the St. Louis area, and founded the AMTEC Truck Driving Schools, located in Missouri, Illinois and Ohio.
In retirement, charitable causes became Combs’ No. 1 priority. He now serves on bank boards and numerous charitable boards in the Ozarks.
Among his many efforts is his Chairmanship of the Bradleyville Foundation of Learning. Thanks to an annual 5-kilometer run and 1-mile walk – and high school students selling ads for a booklet – the foundation gifts $1,000 each year to Bradleyville graduates while they attend college. More so, the foundation gifts a $500 Christmas bonus to each teacher, bus driver, cook and janitor in the district.
“It has increased the percentage of kids who are going to college,” Combs said of the foundation. “And the teachers who receive the Christmas bonus, they call us crying and say that, without it, it would be difficult to provide their family a good Christmas.
“That’s something I get pleasure out of. That’s why all of my effort is about giving my time and money to charitable efforts.”
It’s a great way to provide for the community he calls home again. You see, Combs and his wife, Dorothy, live near Bradleyville and have owned the Beaver Creek Elk & Cattle Ranch since moving back to the Ozarks in 1994.
In addition to the Bradleyville foundation, Combs has been Chairman of Skaggs Hospital, the Skaggs Hospital Foundation, the Boys & Girls Club of the Ozarks and White River Valley Historical Society. He also has served on boards for the State Historical Society of Missouri, the Writers Hall of Fame, Ozarks Technical Community College Foundation and the University of Missouri Press.
What a great life it has been for Combs. He has a son, Brett, a daughter, Lisa, and he and Dorothy have a combined 15 grandchildren.
The Missouri Sports Hall of Fame is fortunate to have Combs’ support.
“He’s just been a major proponent of our work and what we are doing,” Andrews said. “He’s an eternal optimist. He always looks at the upside. He’s been willing to travel across the state and represent the Hall of Fame in everything we’ve done. We don’t do anything without bouncing the idea off him first.”
ENSHRINEMENT IN SPRINGFIELD
When: Sunday, January 29
Early Reception: 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame, 3861 E. Stan Musial Drive in Springfield. Event is sponsored by Meek’s The Builder’s Choice.
Reception, dinner & ceremony: 4 p.m. at University Plaza Hotel & Convention Center in downtown Springfield, 5 p.m. dinner and ceremony. Sponsored by Killian Construction. Associate Sponsors are Advertising Plus, Hiland Dairy, Hillyard, Inc. and White River Valley Electric Co-op
Inductees: St. Louis Cardinals speedster Vince Coleman, Kansas City Royals outfielder Amos Otis, Chiefs quarterback Bill Kenney, the Voice of the Missouri Tigers, Mike Kelly, Houston Astros owner Jim Crane (University of Central Missouri baseball), former Mizzou football coach Warren Powers, Missouri State volleyball coach Melissa Stokes, Mizzou head athletic trainer Rex Sharp, B.A.S.S. champion Rick Clunn (Ava), motocross champion Jeff Emig (Kansas City), Missouri State basketball standout Kelby Stuckey, NFL referee George Hayward (St. Joseph), the Voice of the Missouri State Bears, Art Hains, track coach Rod Staggs (St. Louis Berkeley), Penney High School football coach David Fairchild and Glendale High School soccer coach Jeff Rogers. The Hall of Fame also will induct the New Bloomfield High School Baseball Program and its coach, the late Rod Haley, and the University of Central Missouri Mules Baseball Program. The John Q. Hammons Founder’s Award will be bestowed on Jack Henry & Associates, and the Hall will present the President’s Award to Leon Combs.
Tickets: Call 417-889-3100. A sponsorship table of 10 is $1,500 and includes an autographed print of the Class of 2017, sponsor recognition in the printed program and at the table. An individual ticket is $150. Numerous other sponsorships also are available, including congratulatory ads.