Grand River Rubber & Plastics Blog

Meet the Leonard Trio: Generations of Grit

Posted by Alan Blankenship on Apr 9, 2024 10:17:38 AM

At the heart of Grand River Rubber & Plastics beats a legacy that spans generations. Meet James Leonard, Bayonet Operator for the last 21 years, and his two sons, Jesse, Controls Engineer, and Joey, Bayonet Operator, a trio bound not only by blood but by their shared dedication to excellence in manufacturing.

From dad's seasoned wisdom to the boys' youthful energy, their collective journey at Grand River is a testament to family values and a commitment to craftsmanship. Join us as we learn more about the Leonard trio.

LeonardsFrom left to right: Joey, James and Jesse Leonard.

Please tell us about your education and career path on your way to Grand River.

James: I graduated from Ashtabula High School and have been employed by three other places. I joined GRRP in April 2002.

Jesse: I first worked on the plant floor between college semesters in 2013. This helped me get my foot in the door for when my degree in computer science required me to get an internship- and I landed one at GRRP. The systems administrator at the time had me programming C# .NET webpage reports, writing large database queries, and working on custom MS Access programs. The internship ended and I went back to my final year at Edinboro University of Pennsylvania. Soon after settling back into my college apartment, I got a call from GRRP about a position they really needed someone for. The controls engineer was moving far away and they thought I was a good fit for the job. A lot of overlap in computer programming and mechanical knowledge, the controls engineer position did fit me well. I accepted the offer in 2015, and I finished my last year of college driving between GRRP and classes, earning my degree in the spring of 2016.

Joey: High school > secondary operations > hired at GRRP in March 2017 > double bevel before bidding into cutting.


What departments have you worked in at Grand River? 

James: Cutting, grinding, setup and belt cell.

Jesse: Grinding setup, WLC cutting, secondary operations, up in the office as an IS intern, and now in maintenance as a controls engineer.

Joey: Secondary ops, double bevel, service & supply, bayonets and grinders.


What machines and materials have you worked with?

James: Bayonet lathes, grinding lathes, measuring equipment and continuous cure line.

Jesse: I’m not sure if there is a machine at GRRP that I haven’t had to work on.

Joey: Bayonets, grinders and scale.


What do you enjoy most about the work you do? 

James: I enjoy doing well on whatever machines I’m running and supplying good quality parts to our customers. I also enjoy the people I work with.

Jesse: Neatly wiring, labeling, and terminating a fresh new control panel might be my favorite thing to do. Solving problems with machines that gets a worker who makes incentive back to making money also feels great. 

Joey: Finding the pattern or routine that will get me the most out of my run.


What is an area or a specialty of Grand River that you are particularly proud of? 

James: I’m quite good at being efficient on the bayonets and keeping the gates down. Also diagnosing and fixing problems with cutting issues.

Jesse: The maintenance department helps both me and everyone else. They work a mostly thankless job and they give it their all, day in day out. The camaraderie keeps me going. 

Joey: The focus on putting out good quality products.


How would you describe a “typical” work week?

James: We cut so many different types of gaskets and washers so every week is never the same.

Jesse: It’s usually a pretty mixed bag between working on new projects and helping the maintenance department troubleshoot problems. If there is a slow week then the next one will usually be tough. 

Joey: Cutting as much as I can.


What have you learned about the industry, and what trends or changes are you following in the industry and/or in the NE Ohio manufacturing scene?

James: So many different compounds and materials and ways to process them. 

Jesse: Automation is for making things easier for the machine operators, not for replacing them. Electronics and computers are approaching the smallest and fastest they can be, and AI is rapidly accelerating everything in the field. I’m hoping that first statement remains the same!

Joey: Grand River Rubber makes a lot of seals for blenders. I’ve learned that there's a lot of blenders in the world. 


Now for the fun stuff! When you’re not working, what do you enjoy doing? (Hobbies, sports, volunteering, etc.)

James: Spending time with my grandchildren and woodworking.

Jesse: My main hobby is making stuff with my CNC router and (numerous) 3D printers. I also enjoy cooking and playing old video games.  

Joey: Playing video games with my 9-year-old son.


When you were a kid, what did you want to be “when you grew up”? 

James: Construction worker or heavy equipment operator.

Jesse: I always wanted to be an astronaut as a kid, but that turned into wanting to work on spaceships not ride in them as I got older. 

Joey: A pro skateboarder.


Please share anything you’re comfortable including about where you live (city/area), hang out, or who you hang with (spouse/children/pets). 

James: My wife, Jill, my grandson, Jackson, and granddaughter, Violet, we enjoy walking the Greenway and river trails of Ashtabula.

Jesse: When my wife Leah and I aren’t exploring a national park, we are watching TV with our cat, Noodle, at our home in Madison.

Joey: Usually just stay home and watch movies with my wife and two kids.


Do you have any favorite foods, celebrities, or root for certain sports teams?

James: Cleveland Browns, The Guardians’, and THE Ohio State Buckeyes.

Jesse: I’m not a big sports guy but I do celebrate a Browns win. Tacos are and will always be my favorite food. 


The Leonard trio is a testament to family, dedication, and hardwork. We are incredibly fortunate and proud to have all three of them as part of the Grand River Rubber and Plastics family.