LuAnn Leonard didn't expect to be appointed to the Arizona Board of Regents. In fact, she didn't even expect a call from the governor herself, confirming that she had been the first Native American appointed to the board.
But that's exactly what she got.
"I was in shock for a little while there," Leonard said recently
office in Kykotsmovi Village in northeastern Arizona, one of
the oldest continuously inhabited places in the United States.
The executive director of the Hopi Education Endowment
Fund for the Hopi Tribe said she was intimidated when she
learned that she had been named to an eight-year term on the
governing body for the state's three universities.
"She is compassionate about education," said Wayne Taylor Jr., a
financial adviser and former chairman and vice chairman of the
Hopi Tribe. "She is driven and a hard worker."
This year, the two appointments to the board are both from areas
with a population of fewer than 800,000 people, as mandated by
state law. Leonard and Bob McLendon, a former Arizona House
Democratic leader from Yuma, are replacing Christina Palacios
and Gary Stuart, whose terms expired.
Leonard and McLendon were confirmed by the full Senate last week
and served on their first meeting as voting members of the Board
of Regents on Thursday and Friday.
Marnie Hodahkwen, the governor's policy adviser for tribal
affairs, was instrumental in bringing Leonard's name to the
table when the new regents were discussed, Leonard said.
Hodahkwen worked with Leonard on the endowment fund board and
saw how diplomatic a leader she was in discussions while still
being productive. Hodahkwen said she thought those skills could
be helpful to the regents.
"I know she's really helped that organization flourish,"
Leonard has helped many students and families navigate the
college life and ultimately has made them feel more
comfortable about attending college, Hodahkwen said.
"If it weren't for people like LuAnn, I think people in rural
communities might be a little less inclined to send their
students off to university," she added.
Leonard has a concrete understanding of a rural student's
perspective because she, too, had to face the tribulation of
attending college far from home, Hodahkwen said.
In 1979, the Phoenix native attended Fort Lewis College in
Colorado but transferred to Northern Arizona University in
Flagstaff after an academic year because Colorado was too far
from home. Leonard also has a daughter, Nicole, 20, who is
attending college at the Hopi Satellite campus for Northland
Pioneer College in Navajo County.
In addition to being a parent and a regent, Leonard will also
continue to serve as the executive director of the Hopi
Education Endowment Fund, an organization she was instrumental
The endowment fund is a non-profit organization dedicated to
providing education to Hopi students and the first of its kind
in the United States.
Deep in the mountains of northeastern Arizona, tucked in tall
beige sandstone, the Hopi Tribe receives a majority of its
revenue from natural resources, mainly coal, Leonard said. The
tribe does not derive revenue from gaming and does not have any
casinos on its land.
Someday, the tribal money for scholarships was expected to run
out, so a team including Leonard created an ordinance to
establish the endowment fund as a non-profit program for the
Hopi Tribe to fund educational opportunities.
As a gift, the tribe gave the organization $10 million to start.
"We had $10 million, but we had no office, no supplies,
nothing," said Leonard, sitting at her desk in a trailer that
serves as the office for the organization. "The first couple
months I worked out of my house."
The organization held its fifth annual silent auction in Phoenix
last month and raised $20,000. Since the endowment's conception
in 2000, more than $7 million has been raised for the fund, all
while providing more than $800,000 per year in scholarships and
workshops for native students. Leonard is a big part of that,
said Marvin Yoyokie, the fund's president.
Not only has the organization been successful in raising money,
it has won accolades from Harvard University's Honoring Nations
program, which looks for the best practices in Indian nations.
The organization is now a model for other tribes across the
"Her ability to communicate is the reason we are at where we
are," Yoyokie said. "She's a people person. She's a good
individual, a good communicator, just an overall great person to