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Leon McKinney | What inspires me to play Abraham Lincoln

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Photo provided Leon McKinney as the nation’s 16th president.

My Abraham Lincoln Odyssey (performing in classrooms as the late president) started when my bride of more than 50 years suggested we go to Springfield, Ill., to visit the sights of the 16th president’s home. Little did I know this would turn into a passion to share with others.

Our first stop was his personal home at Eighth and Jackson. I could feel his presence in the history of this wonderful home. Next was the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library. I describe it as Steven Spielberg-Walt Disney interactive. The library does an exceptional job telling the story of his life and times.

Across the street is the old capitol that he helped bring to Springfield. You can view the room of the House of Representatives where he served. His hat still sits on his desk. Next to the capital building is the Lincoln-Herndon Law office, much like he left it in 1865.

We visited the Oak Ridge Cemetery where he is buried. Next we visited New Salem, the historically recreated log cabins where he was a store owner, surveyor, and young man trying to find his way in the world.

Returning home I was inspired to begin reading Lincoln.

My first effort to share Lincoln with students was in Olympia with my granddaughter’s 4th-grade class. The response was very gratifying. I really enjoyed being back in the classroom after not teaching since 1988.

Why do I perform as Abraham Lincoln?

To inspire kids to stay in school and consider attending college.

  • To teach them about the struggles of America’s greatest leader, showing them that they, too, can persevere.
  • To encourage them to set big dreams
  • To raise funds through “the Frugal Philanthropist” program assisting those in need in their school and providing scholarships for college.
  • To inspire elementary students to improve their literacy. This includes a pilot program with Clovis Middle School in East Wenatchee. (The early results are tremendous. Kids are reading one extra book a week, raising their test scores as much as two levels, and memorizing the Gettysburg address. Those who accomplish this get a pizza party and ice cream social with Abe Lincoln and Principal Dennis Gibson).

For middle school and high school classes, Abe appears by sharing the “8 Principles of America’s greatest Leader.” Each quality is shared by real life stories of how President Lincoln accomplished his mission to save the Union.

I tell the students that my dream in sharing “Abraham Lincoln” is that our community will help make your dreams possible! We want them to stay in school and nurture their gifts for a better world, and know that their community will help them attain through H.O.P.E. (Help Our kids Pursue Education) and the “Frugal Philanthropist” programs sponsored by the North Central Educational Service District Foundation.

Leon McKinney, a former music teacher from the Eastmont School District, started the HOPE scholarship and Frugal Philanthropist programns. He can be reached at