Thursday, March 8, 2018

International Women's Day Special Edition: Adelina Clos Leonis

I still need to write a proper entry on Jean Baptiste Leonis. But his wife Adelina is also worthy of note.

After the messy, three-year legal battle over Michel Leonis' massive estate, twenty-year-old nephew and heir apparent J.B. hadn't inherited a penny. He did, however, have his late uncle's connections, and lined up work with another sheep-ranching French family. He had quite a long ride from Los Angeles to Lake Hughes (northeast of Santa Clarita and due west of Lancaster). In yet another example of how much land his uncle had owned, the surrounding area was originally named the Leonis Valley.

The Clos family's four children had ridden out to greet him on the trail. Seventeen-year-old Adelina, unusually for a teenage girl in 1892, rode bareback and carried a gun, just like her brothers.

Three years later, Adelina married J.B. in the Old Plaza Church (where her parents had been married three decades earlier).

John Baptiste Leonis Jr., nicknamed "Johnny", was born five months later (read into THAT what you will, and remember this was 1895...). Another baby, Marie, followed in 1896, but lived only a few weeks. Adelina Frances Leonis Jr., better known as "Lena", arrived in 1897.

By 1900, the family owned land in what is now the city of Vernon, and J.B. opened a mercantile on Downey Road. Although the store became a popular gathering place on Sundays (at least partly because it sold liquor...), it wasn't making enough money to support the family.

In a scenario that was highly unusual for the time (but which will be instantly familiar to a lot of working moms in 2018), J.B. went back to working away from home, while Adelina simultaneously ran the family business, raised two young children, and did the housework (and just think: she did all of this without modern technology or hired help).

After the City of Vernon, founded in 1905, made the Leonis family rich, Adelina traveled with J.B. (and often with their children) to such far-flung destinations as Mexico, Hawaii, Cuba, and Asia.  Not bad for a tomboy who grew up on a sheep ranch way out in the country.

Adelina and J.B.'s only grandchild was named Leonis Clos Malburg - a name paying tribute to both of his mother's parents.

After Johnny was dismissed from the family business, J.B. Leonis Inc., for embezzlement (and a few other things) in 1941, Adelina took on a larger role, replacing him as a vice president at the First National Bank of Vernon. She also sat on the bank's board. (One of my grandmothers had a stint as a bank teller in the '40s. Female bank employees rarely, if ever, became bank officers in 1941 - even if they were married to one of the bank's co-founders.)

Following a health scare in 1947, and realizing they wouldn't live forever, J.B. and Adelina dissolved J.B. Leonis Inc. for estate tax purposes - with each couple taking half the assets. J.B. held the land assets (calling himself "land rich and finance poor") while Adelina held the stocks, bonds, and other liquid assets.

Following J.B.'s death in 1953, Adelina (who took her role at the bank very seriously) stepped in to fill her late husband's shoes as the bank's president - a title she held until her own death in 1956.

By the way, if you're wondering why Adelina's family name, Clos, sounds familiar, you may have seen it on the base of a certain statue in front of a certain recently-closed hospital.