J. Kenneth Leithman
Class of 1952

Loyola was not in the family budget when I visited with Brother Martin Hernandez, S.C., principal of St. Aloysuis High School, and also a Loyola alumnus. On that spring afternoon in 1947, the path for my future was influenced. College preparation was the topic at hand. Brother Martin reviewed my transcript, completed and signed my college application, and made one simple statement, “Son, with grades like this, you are a Loyola man.” I rose, picked up my college package, thanked him, and walked out of his office with one thought on my mind - how was I going to break the news to my mother and father? The Brothers of the Sacred Heart had indeed furnished me with a solid education, but curriculum was not my problem...finances were.

In the fall of 1947, I walked onto campus a young, immature, not physically developed, insecure kid, having no idea as to where my path was to lead me.

In my sophomore year, a second father entered the picture and directed my life for the next four years. Neither Coach “Jim” McCafferty nor myself had had one day of track and field exposure. We agreed that we would learn together. The years of 1949, ’50, ’51, and ’52 were unbelievable. There were so many proud moments beginning on the day that I ran myself onto the track team, continuing until present day. A proud moment occurred in July of last year when Coach Giolando invited me to represent, on behalf of Big Jim and Loyola University, Jim’s induction into the New Orleans Sports Hall of Fame at the Superdome. This was a wonderful privilege and my comment in accepting his award tells it all. “I could never be more proud should the young men and women on those first track teams that I coached at the University of New Orleans view me in the same light as I view Coach McCafferty.”

The faculty, particularly Father Guy Lemieux, my teammates, SAK brothers, and classmates shared in making those years the great experience it was…on and off the track. It was a great honor to have my 1952 graduation address delivered by Brother Martin Hernandez.

Leaving the quad on May 31, 1952, I was no longer an immature or insecure kid, rather a degreed, 2nd Lt., confident young man ready to tackle the world.

It is without question that had Loyola University not instilled the self confidence within me, I would have never run in the All Army Track Championships, served in the Pusan Perimeter during the Korean War, begun my own business, won five public elections with twice being elected speaker pro-tempore of the House of Representatives, founded a Manresa retreat, and been the founding coach of the University of New Orleans men’s and women’s track programs.

Have you previously heard these words? “Today I am the luckiest man on the face of the earth.”

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