Posted by: calloftheandes | February 12, 2016

Veteran Broadcaster Leonard Booker Remembered for His Voice, Humor

Leonard_03_tweakedby Harold Goerzen

“This is the ‘Cracker Barrel,’ friend, coming to you from way up on the top of the mountain,” drawls radio broadcaster Travis Gowan as a rousing version of “Turkey in the Straw” plays in the background. “Leonard and Travis here. We’re going to join the fellers down at the Beezee Corners Mercantile around the old potbellied stove for a few funnies.”

“Leonard, what are those holes in that board?” queries Travis, putting on his best country bumpkin accent.

“Knotholes,” Leonard Booker replies in his folksy voice.

“Well, if they’re not holes, what are they?” Travis retorts, followed by hilarious laughter from the duo.

“Hey Travis, time for a little ‘poretry,’” Leonard continues. “Some people view with all profound, the guy with both feet on the ground. But after all is said and done, to get somewhere, he must lift one!”

Leonard Booker (left)vand Travis Gowan of Cracker Barrel, a program of jokes that aired on Radio HCJB from Ecuador

Leonard Booker (left) and Travis Gowan of Cracker Barrel, a program of jokes that aired on Radio HCJB from Ecuador

Leonard, together with his co-host, kept radio listeners around the world giggling—and groaning—with wisecracks and clever rhymes on their daily five-minute show, “Cracker Barrel.” It aired worldwide via shortwave on Radio Station HCJB from Quito, Ecuador, for many years.

While Leonard was involved in the production of thousands of radio and television programs during his 31-year career with Reach Beyond, “Cracker Barrel” may be the one listeners remember the most—fittingly as a constant smile, hearty laugh and sense of humor were all his trademarks.

“The ‘Cracker Barrel’ was a real knee-slapper and enjoyed by so many listeners to the English Language Service of HCJB,” said retiree Chuck Howard who continues to help with the mission in Quito.

“Daddy was just a jokester,” added Robbyn Booker. “He would make people laugh all the time. You knew he was joking because he would have this twinkle in his eye. He was always happy, and you knew it!”

Leonard’s voice was silenced on Wednesday, Feb. 3, as he succumbed to an illness at his home in Colorado Springs, Colo., his wife, Imogene, and other family members by his side, but his legacy lives on. He was 88.

 Growing Up in California
Leonard G. Booker was born to John and Hallie Booker in Maywood, Calif., on March 27, 1927, the seventh of 12 children, growing up east of Los Angeles.

Although Leonard’s mother never went to church, she faithfully sent her children to Sunday school, always giving them a few coins to put in the offering.

“Leonard learned all the hymns, but he said, ‘Christianity wasn’t for me,’” Imogene related. “When he was in his junior year of high school, he was invited to sing at a church youth group Valentine’s Day banquet. He sang ‘Stout-Hearted Men’ which prompted the speaker to ask Leonard about this after the banquet. He remembers the speaker saying how the Lord was also looking for ‘stout-hearted men.’ He then questioned Leonard, ‘Do you know the Lord?’ to which he replied, ‘I think so.’ Well, that opened the door for him to share the gospel with Leonard who realized he wasn’t a Christian. That night he came to know the Lord.”

“My mind changed 100 percent when I accepted the Lord,” Leonard said in a recording. “Some say they have accepted Him, but their lives haven’t changed. It’s a life-changing decision. My desire was to sing with a renowned band and be their soloist. But when I was saved, my only desire was to use my voice as a way to serve the Lord.”

Upon graduating from Montebello High School in 1945, he joined the U.S. Navy. After basic training and becoming skilled in maneuvering landing craft, he was waiting in San Francisco to be sent overseas when World War II ended.

After his discharge, Leonard enrolled at the Bible Institute of Los Angeles (now called Biola University), graduating with a bachelor’s degree in theology in 1951.

That’s where he met fellow student Imogene Schroeder, and they married on June 4, 1950. “We both sang in the Biola Radio Choir that performed on Sunday mornings,” Imogene said. “Leonard was a tenor, and I was a soprano.”

It was during their Biola years that the Bookers also met Nancy Woolnough, a gifted professor and broadcaster who first told them about Radio Station HCJB and later became a missionary with the organization.

Ministering in Churches

After graduating from Biola, the Bookers moved to the military town of Port Hueneme, Calif., where Leonard was ordained and pastored First Baptist Church for 2½ years (1951-1953).

The Bookers then moved to Long Beach, Calif., where Leonard served as an assistant pastor at Bethany Baptist Church for 6½ years (1953-1960).

At both churches, Leonard and Imogene were heavily involved in music. “I remember the beautiful music you and Leonard made together at Bethany,” recalled longtime friend Anita Rogers. “Also the duets and trios we would sing together. Remember Bethany’s ‘Jubilee Hour’ with Wes Harty and Myrtle at the piano? Those times are wonderful memories for me, and Leonard had such a gorgeous voice.”

Serving in Ecuador

Through Woolnough’s encouragement, the Bookers applied with Reach Beyond in early 1960. After a year of Spanish language study in San José, Costa Rica, the Bookers arrived in Quito in April 1992 with their three children, Bruce, Robbyn and Gary.

Leonard immediately put his music and radio production talents to work, singing together with Imogene in various music groups and doing English-language radio programs. Within the first few months of ministry, he became director of the English Language Service.

“He was always an anchor in the English Service, and his presence in the office and on the air added a stability to everything and to everyone there,” wrote Reach Beyond retirees Tom and Lois Fulghum. “At the same time his infectious laugh and sense of humor made it fun for all of us. We love Leonard and will always cherish his memory.”

Leonard_15_tweakedIn an interview several years ago, Leonard said the most satisfying experience during his time in Ecuador was following up with respondents to the English broadcasts. In addition to “Cracker Barrel,” some of the radio shows he was most known for included “Morning in the Mountains,” “Passport,” “Music in the Night,” “Musical Mailbag” and “Call of the Andes.”

Both Leonard and Imogene also played a key role in the programming at Reach Beyond’s Televozandes, the first television station to broadcast in Ecuador. They helped mainly with Spanish-language music programs such as “Himnos” (Hymns) and another show that incorporated their whole family.

“We did radio all day and TV in the evening,” Imogene said. “It was a good thing we only lived two blocks from the studios!”

One of the Bookers’ most memorable projects was voicing some of the characters in Woolnough’s popular children’s radio series, “The Adventures of Raindrop.”

“People still do a Google search for this series, and nearly every week my granddaughter Natasha mails out CDs of the programs to those who ask for it,” Imogene noted.

Representing the Mission

After 15 years in Quito, the Bookers moved back to California in 1976, doing mission representation for the next 15 years.

“We were on the road about eight months a year, visiting churches, high schools, colleges and private homes,” Imogene recounted, adding that they helped at more than 140 events annually. “Sometimes we also spoke and sang at summer Bible conferences.” The Bookers also initiated the mission’s fellowship dinner circuit in 1978.

“We’d often start the program with15 minutes of music,” she explained. “Sometimes [Reach Beyond retirees] Travis and Margaret Gowan traveled with us, and Travis would do a chalk drawing. We’d also show the most recent audiovisual presentation from the mission.”

“One of our favorite places to have them was Knott’s Berry Farm where we enjoyed their famous fried-chicken dinner,” wrote the Gowans. “Music by the Booker-Gowan trio was featured, and in later years other colleagues joined the team. We couldn’t have asked for better teammates.”

“It was our joy to minister with the Bookers on a number of occasions such as dinners, churches and conferences,” added mission pastor Jim Allen who lives with his wife, Trish, in Texas. “Both of them were wonderful representatives of the mission in every context where we saw them. Their music and heart for the work blessed people across North America as did the broadcasts from HCJB.”

During their representation years, the Bookers often had the opportunity to travel abroad, sometimes taking tour groups to Ecuador and even teaching broadcasting for a month at a Russian-language Bible school in Donetsk, Ukraine, after the Cold War ended in 1991. On another trip they traveled with Harry Yeoman in New Zealand, speaking at over 100 churches.

Retirement Years

Upon their 1992 retirement from Reach Beyond, the Bookers continued to be active in ministry, serving at two local churches in California. They also began working with foreign students under the umbrella of International Students, Inc. (ISI).

“We had a big enough house so we could have game nights with up to 30 students,” Imogene said. “We also hosted monthly prayer meetings and various social events. It’s interesting that 75 percent of foreign students in the U.S. never see inside of an American home and 85 percent never enter a church.”

In 2006 the Bookers moved to Colorado Springs to be closer to family, including their son Gary who works at Focus on the Family and their daughter, Robbyn, who has served as a missionary to Spain and recently joined Reach Beyond as a missionary.

The Bookers continued working with international students through ISI as long as Leonard’s health permitted.

Leonard and Imogene Booker

Leonard and Imogene Booker

In addition to his wife, Imogene, of 65 years, Leonard leaves behind three children, Bruce (and his wife, Judy), Robbyn, and Gary (and his wife, Sue); five grandchildren, Natasha, Stephanie, Ryan, Jonathan and Nicholas; five great-grandchildren: Seth, Emily, Jolene, Kaitlyn and Joshua; and three great-great-grandchildren, Portlen, Ryland and unborn Breken; as well as three siblings, Uma, Irma and Vernon.

A celebration of life service is set for 3 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 13, at Vista Grande Baptist Church in Colorado Springs. His body will be interred at the Fort Logan National Cemetery in Denver following a brief military honors ceremony the afternoon of Friday, Feb. 12.

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Responses

  1. I became a Christian in 1975. I would listen to HCJB and the other programs to get free stuff. Then I started reading them and getting qsl cards. Then I sent a post card to Leonard and he wrote me back and asked me if I knew the Lord. I didn’t. Leonard shared Christ with me and through circumstances in my life I received Christ on September 15th 1975. Leonard shared my testimony on Musical Mailbag. Leonard sent me the gospel of John study Guide. The Bookers came to visit me a few months later when they came to the States. I last saw Leonard around 25 years ago at Biola during Mission
    week. I know Leonard will be missed

    Phil

  2. […] man, always smiling, a hard worker who could do many things,” added Reach Beyond retiree Imogene Booker. “He willingly did what was needed in each place where he and Gwen served, and they were faithful […]

  3. I have wonderful memories of HCJB Radio. As a child, I discovered the world of shortwave on an AM broadcast band transistor radio that had fallen down the stairs. I repaired the cracked circuit board, but the radio was now picking up programs in dozens of different languages. I must have soldered something wrong.

    I was hearing two guys telling jokes around a pot bellied stove from a place called The BZ Corners Mercantile in Keeto Ekwadore, SOUTH AMERICA! I enjoyed listening to Leonard & Travis and eventually sent a letter to Box 691, after figuring out the spelling of Quito, Ecuador. I wrote about “repairing” my transistor radio that was now multilingual. It was a thrill to hear my letter read on “Musical Mailbag”.

    Years later I met Leonard and Imogene Booker at the Odassaga Bible Conference in New York State. They remembered my letter about the transistor radio that had accidentally been converted to shortwave.

    A couple of days ago I was listening to some of my phonograph records of HCJB musicians, including Leonard and Imogene Booker. I did a search today on the internet and was sad to read of Leonard’s recent passing. HCJB was a first class operation with friendly voices. This is in contrast to some of the remaining “Christian” broadcasters that yell into the shortwave microphone today.


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