JP doing what he likes to do best…..patrolling the river….with camera at the ready.
Periodically, we like to highlight our Friends and tell their diverse and fascinating stories. We come from lots of different places and experiences. By sharing our stories, we see both the commonality and the rich diversity that powers our Friends organization…. and hopefully, each of us becomes inspired to jump in and make our own unique contribution. We interviewed Friend, Jean Pierre - “J.P." - Leemans. Here’s what he told us.
Can you give us a bit of background: where you’re from, work history, etc.
I was born in Belgium and started my work life there. I always wanted to be a reporter because of my love of action and travel. Though that career never materialized, aviation and photography became the outlet I was looking for. I became a pilot and eventually went to work in the airplane industry selling Cessna airplanes in Europe and Scandinavia; After a few years the company asked me if I was willing to cover Africa and relocate to Miami which I accepted…. and that’s how I landed in Florida. But when the company went bankrupt, I went back to work as an airline pilot for Southern Air Transport.
When our daughter was about 8, we became concerned about the hurricanes in Miami and the drug situation developing in the schools there. So we decided to relocate to a place where these kinds off risks were not as frightening. We looked into all kinds of new places - Hawaii, Boston, you name it - but we eventually settled on Ocala because of its climate and colorful, natural environment. We’ve been here ever since….for some 35 years. Since that time, we’ve gotten involved in a variety of local organizations such as the Animis Wildlife Rescue and the Ocala Civic Theater.
When/how did you learn about the Park & the Friends? Why did you join and how do you like to participate?
I joined about 3-4 years ago on the encouragement of (Friends) Pam Reed and Marianne Marcoux. I got to know them on the tennis court. Because of my history of rescuing squirrels and love of photographing wildlife, they encouraged me to join the Friends and become a Park volunteer. So I jumped in and joined the River Patrol because it gave me the opportunity to get out on the river. Later on, I transferred to the motor patrol. It’s the best place to hear other river patrollers...their interesting stories... and to make friends.
I’ve continued to serve on the River Patrol on a regular basis….mainly on weekends when traffic on the river is the heaviest. I thinks it’s important for there to be a presence on the river... especially for inexperience paddlers. I’m there to help people stay safe and enjoy their experience.
Since joining, I’ve also tried to serve as an ambassador for the Friends and Park. I was able to help carry out Pam & Marianne’s legacy by recruiting a couple of theater friends, John Lapaille and Randall Mooring, into joining the Friends.
Being on the river is so relaxing….for me, it’s my church…..And for an avid photographer like myself, it’s a never ending source of opportunity and beauty. I may go back to the same spot on the river but it’s always changing with the weather, the cloud cover, the time of day and angle of the sun….. no matter what, for me, it’s a always different and a beautiful experience.”
To read more about JP’s story, go to https://www.ocalasgoodlife.com/back-issues.html and look for the Nov/Dec 2020 issue.