Leonard Knight was born on November 1, 1931 just outside of Burlington, Vermont. He was the fourth born of six kids. He and his family lived in Shelburne Falls on 32 acres with vegetable gardens, pastures, and maple trees. They had cows, pigs, and other animals that had to be tended to as well as all of the other chores of a farm. Leonard remembers, "too much work and not enough play."
Leonard went to school in a one-room schoolhouse with all of the grades together. He didnít really like school. He always found a reason to "ditch." Later he went to Shelburne High School, which had about 80 students. That was just too big for Leonard and he felt very uncomfortable there. Leonard says the kids teased and laughed at him. After his sophomore year, he dropped out. He went to work in a factory where his father was a foreman.
With the Korean War still going on, Leonard was drafted into the United States Army at the age of 20. The prospect of being able to see more of the world appealed to him. He received training as a tank mechanic at Fort Knox, Kentucky. The war ended ten days after he arrived in Korea. He was later promoted to motor pool sergeant. He always felt uncomfortable ordering people around.
After an Honorable Discharge from the Army, Leonard returned to Vermont and went to work at a car dealership in their body shop. Then in 1956, a summer-long road trip with his brother Roy ended them both in San Diego, California. Upon the death of his father, Leonard returned to Vermont. He eventually started painting cars although, by his own admission, he wasn't very good at it. He taught himself to play the guitar and began giving lessons to whomever would pay him. Eventually, he had so many students, that many a day he would travel from one students house to the next (yes, he went to their house) for 12 straight hours giving lessons.
The year 1967 found Leonard back in San Diego visiting his sister Irene. She was always talking about the Lord and it sort of bothered Leonard. One morning to escape her sermonizing, Leonard went out of the house to sit in his van. To this day he really doesn't know why, but he started repeating the Sinner Prayer - "Jesus, I'm a sinner, please come upon my body and into my heart." It was on that Wednesday... at 10:30 in the morning... in his van... all by himself... at age 35... he accepted Jesus into his heart and he hasn't been the same ever since. His passion has been unwavering. His dedication is intense.
Back in Vermont, his unbridled enthusiasm for the Lord, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Ghost was mostly misunderstood. He went from church to church to share his new-found knowledge and always met resistance among the church leaders. Leonard's idea was simple like it says in the Bible: accept Jesus into your heart, repent your sins, and be saved. The church leaders said it wasn't that simple - that there was more to it than that. No one would listen to him. He couldn't make anyone understand how simple he thought it all was.
Then, one day in 1970, a hot air balloon passed over Burlington. It caused quite a commotion. Everyone came outside to see what words were printed on the side of it. Leonard decided that a hot air balloon would be the perfect way to get people to see the Sinner's prayer. For the next 10 years, he prayed for a hot air balloon. After a while, he realized that he would have to make it himself with no help from anyone else. On his way out West, Leonard's van broke down in Nebraska. It was there, with a second-hand sewing machine given to him by a friend, he sewed relentlessly for years buying fabric when he could, raising money by cutting cord-wood, picking apples, or whatever odd jobs he could get. It became a wonderful patchwork of colors with big red letters proclaiming "God Is Love" on a field of white. Alas, his enthusiasm betrayed him. Over time, the balloon became much too big to manage and, after an endless amount of attempts to inflate it, the fabric and it's stitching began to rot and fail.
Eventually, in 1984, Leonard found himself at work in Quartzite, Arizona changing tires on big-rig trucks. He traveled out to the Southern California desert to Niland and Slab City with his boss one weekend. Leonard liked the area (it wasn't as cold as Nebraska or Vermont) and later returned with his van, balloon, home-built inflating furnace, and all. Try as he might, and with help from many of the local citizens, Leonard still could not get his balloon in the air. Each time it ripped, he'd repair it only to have it rip somewhere else. Finally... Leonard had to admit defeat. He felt like a failure. After 14 years of trying to promote his undying love for God, all he had to show for his efforts was an endless sea of rotted-out fabric colors spread at his feet.
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