For almost two decades, radio listeners throughout the Yankton region have had the opportunity to listen to Ronald Leeper — best known to many of them by his on-air name of David Leonard — as he hosted KYNT’s long-running “Alive at Five” program.
On Wednesday, March 31, one month into his retirement, Leeper passed away at Avera Sacred Heart Hospital at the age of 61.
However — whether someone knew him as Ron, David, Mr. Leonard or Mr. Leeper — he’s recalled fondly by those who worked and interacted with him the most.
Among those remembering Leeper is Curt Dykstra, general manager of Riverfront Broadcasting.
“He was intelligent and very informed on issues in our community, country and world,” Dykstra told the Press & Dakotan. “David interviewed thousands of people over the years, and many of them commented about his great interview style and how he was able to make them feel comfortable during the interview.”
Leeper’s first dive into radio came nearly two decades ago.
According to Riverfront Broadcasting operations manager Dave Lesher, Leeper came to KYNT in 2003. A fan of the Chris Turner-helmed blues program “Simply Blue,” Leeper would occasionally stop in to help. This led to part-time work on the blues program and others. He would also become the voice of Yankton Bucks wrestling from 2004-2006. It was in 2006 when Leeper first expressed interest in switching to full-time work and, a year later, he became KYNT’s news director.
“Although lacking formal training, Ron had the overall knowledge, skills and enthusiasm to become a quality reporter,” Lesher told the Press & Dakotan. “His strong belief in accuracy, ethics and integrity, combined with his writing talent, made him an ideal news director.”
Leeper’s 5 p.m. newscast eventually evolved into a long-form interview program, “Alive at Five,” that attracted guests who discussed everything from politics to the paranormal.
On the note of the paranormal, Leeper wasn’t afraid to have a little bit of fun as well.
“He was big into Halloween and we used to do Halloween shows a few years ago,” Dykstra said. “We wanted to do it while kids were trick-or-treating and so he played Halloween-type music and at the end of it, we went to ‘War of the Worlds.’ That was something he really got a kick out of.”
Scott Kooistra of KYNT said that his colleague retained a love for sports.
“Over these past years, I really appreciated our many conversations on and off the air,” Kooistra told the Press & Dakotan. “Even though he served as news director at KYNT, David Leonard had a love of local sports and I was his guest on ‘Alive at Five’ every Friday during the school year. He always showed great support for the players, coaches and teams at Yankton High School and Mount Marty University.”
Leeper retired from KYNT and the “Alive at Five” program last month.
It’s not just co-workers who have fond memories of working alongside Leeper.
WNAX’s Jerry Oster spent plenty of time with Leeper covering events together.
“I was glad to get to know David over the years,” Oster told the Press & Dakotan. “We kind of decided that Yankton was and is too small of a town to be hyper competitive. We were competitors, of course, but friendly ones. I think we fed off each other by noticing details of events in front of us and sharing those to ask better questions and get better stories.”
He noted Leeper’s dedication to his work.
“I do remember us watching the transition of the County Commission back and forth and how he really got involved in the whole rezoning issue,” he said. “Because of his schedule, he could hang on to the end of some of those 1 a.m. meetings. I think he did a good job in profiling candidates for the local races and also the Legislature.”
Yankton Mayor Nathan Johnson has been in a unique position. In addition to being the subject of interviews as a public official, Johnson was also previously the city editor for the Press & Dakotan and covered many events alongside Leeper.
“Ron and I spent a lot of years alongside each other during City Commission and County Commission meetings — as well as countless other events — so we witnessed a lot of Yankton history together,” Johnson told the Press & Dakotan. “Some very memorable, and a lot of it less so. It was always fun to process things together and compare notes. He had a nose for news and plenty of opinions. We did our best to entertain each other and also to challenge each other to be better reporters.”
He added that it wasn’t always just about news.
“We shared an interest in the stranger elements of this world — stories of the paranormal, the ‘X-Files’ and ‘Twin Peaks,’ for example,” he said. “I have never finished ‘Twin Peaks,’ which is something he would never let me forget. We also talked a lot about music, food and films. He was a seeker and sometimes an eccentric. We saw the world from very different perspectives but always found plenty of common ground. He was a good friend.”
Yankton City Manager Amy Leon told the Press & Dakotan that she appreciated Leeper’s interview style.
“I always enjoyed ‘Alive at Five’ with Dave,” she said. “He made every interview feel like a conversation with an old friend. That didn’t mean he didn’t ask tough questions, but he asked questions with curiosity and listened wholeheartedly.”
As with Johnson, Leon said they also enjoyed discussing other topics.
“After the interview, I so enjoyed speaking with Dave about shared interest in books, the Shakespeare Festival and, of course, music,” she said. “He was highly intelligent, a great conversationalist and just a cool guy.”
To those who worked with and alongside Leeper — as well as those he interviewed regularly — his impact will be remembered for a long time.
“He had very high standards for himself and the people that he worked with,” Lesher said. “You need the accuracy and you need the integrity and you don’t want to cut corners, and he didn’t. He absolutely played it black and white, by the book, and I just hope that we here can continue that. You don’t want to move backwards and he set a high bar for us.”
On Leeper’s legacy, Dykstra said his former colleague helped take the station to a new level.
“KYNT has become a vital news source for people in Yankton,” he said. “I think Ron had a big part of building that legacy.”
Leon said Leeper had a passion for the community.
“To me, Dave’s legacy will be his authenticity,” she said. “He was unfeigned about Yankton, what he loved about it and where we could grow. He challenged those he interviewed to think deeper and use true discernment in our leadership for this community.”
Oster said that Leeper will be remembered by the community for his service.
“He wanted to serve his listeners and the community by being there, sitting through those long meetings, and getting the stories out,” Oster said.
Johnson said that Leeper will be remembered for being himself.
“His work as a reporter and entertainer enriched Yankton and made it a better, more interesting place,” Johnson said. “I’ll miss the sight of him dressed in black with a bolo tie and cowboy boots with his dog by his side. He was always comfortable being just who he was and not caring about what others thought about that. It was something I really admired about him.”
According to the latest obituary received by the Press & Dakotan, Leeper’s funeral arrangements are being handled by Goglin Funeral Home.
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