Irene Leon Holocaust survivor and fearless educator

She may look like your ordinary nana, but Irene Leon is anything but ordinary. Leon, 87, survived a concentration camp in World War II, played piano for Queen Elizabeth II, and has learned five different languages. But she says her biggest accomplishment has been educating children for more than three decades.

I met at her home in Covina, California on an unusually mild day for southern California. When I arrived she was picking a pomegranate from her front yard. She slowly walked toward me as a woman of her age would. "Oh, isn't it a beautiful day," Leon squawked loudly as she grabbed me for a hug and introduced herself.

Leon with her miniature pony Marigold.

She went to primary schools in Poland, Ukraine, Germany and Russia. During that time she was classically trained in piano by different teachers.

"I went to College in Canada, and there they don't allow you to choose a major your first year. So I took every class I could. Back then you choose your major based on what teacher was your favorite, so I decided to go with english," said Leon.

"They told me I could take classes in the morning, in the evening and at night, so I did! I went to two colleges and received a bachelors degree in english, education and a minor in music and finished in three years," said Leon.

Also during her time in Canada she played piano at the Toronto Royal Conservatory of Music, and played a concert for Queen Elizabeth. Leon was also a teacher while in Canada.

Leon's second grade class, donated a total of five dollars to Albert Schweitzer's hospital. Schweitzer won the Nobel Prize in 1953 for his humanitarian efforts as a medical missionary in equatorial Africa.

"People do nothing now and that's why the world is so becoming so dumb. As humans we need to explore and travel to learn about the world around us. Children need to experience all that God created to truly be human," said Leon.

Leon sits with a young student, Solani Herrera for a mixed lesson of geography and current events.

As well as being an educator she also has very strong faith in God. During the two days I spent with her she always tied a story to her faith.

"Yes there was a big bang, but who do you think made it go boom," asked Leon. She handed me small pamphlets from authors of theology.

Pictures of her family crowds the top of her piano. A black and white picture of her son, Michael Leon , who played drums at the age of 10 in the L.A. Philharmonic.
Leon sits at her piano and plays Beethoven.
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Priscilla Aguilera


Priscilla Aguilera

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