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RV tour is video vacation

February 18, 2004|by PEPPER BALLARD

pepperb@herald-mail.com

With 4,000 miles and 40 hours of videotape under their belts, a "The Today Show" crew that has been trailing a couple on a cross-country trip for the past three weeks ended up in Jellystone Park in Williamsport Tuesday.

The recreational vehicle tour, which has taken Jack Leonard, 87, and Marge Leonard, 82, from Phoenix, up the East Coast and most recently to Williamsport, was the brainchild of the couple's documentary-minded son, Mike Leonard, a features correspondent for "The Today Show."

After finishing a morning jump-rope routine, Mike Leonard pointed to the recreational vehicles his family rented for the trip. They were parked along the snow-edged trails running through Yogi Bear's Jellystone Park campground.

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"I don't know why I thought of this place because I've never been in an RV before," Mike Leonard said.

He said driving his parents around in a recreational vehicle was a last-ditch effort to give the couple the mobility they lost when they recently moved from California to Phoenix.

"It's really everybody's story, it's about time slipping away," he said. "If you've got a chance to see things for the last time, how clearly would you see things?"

Marge Leonard will vouch for the fact that she's seeing things very clearly, at least the road.

Neither she nor her husband drive the large Neptune camper, but Marge Leonard said she's watching the vehicle's every move. It recently traveled along a road no wider than the flowered loveseat inside their wood-lined trailer and Marge Leonard said she "freaked."

"It's been a change, I'll tell you, but it's been fun," Jack Leonard said.

The couple said they've slept better in the camper than they do at home. Aside from the shaky ground, which once sent Marge Leonard's shin into a step by her bed, the couple was adjusting to the sights and sounds of the American countryside glimpsed through their blind-shielded windows.

"We were taught in geography that it was a big country. When you travel this way, you know it's a big country," Jack Leonard said.

On a recent leg of the journey, Jack Leonard got the chance to visit Mount St. Mary's College in Emmitsburg, Md., from which he graduated in 1939.

He hadn't seen the campus in 25 years and was excited by the changes he saw there.

During their 60 years of marriage, the couple said, they've visited Hong Kong, Ireland and Hawaii, among other places. But their current road trip has elements they had not experienced under the direction of foreign tour guides.

For one thing, Mike Leonard and two of his sons, Matt and Brendan, have been filming the couple's every move: Jack wiped out on a go-cart in Richmond. Marge, after learning a different language from a hip-hop personality, used the slang word, "word," which indicates agreement, to show her family she was hip to the lingo.

But at least it's a family trip, with Mike Leonard's daughter, Kerry, directing all the stops along the way. Tuesday afternoon the group had plans to stop at Antietam National Battlefield and Gettysburg, Pa., before parking the camper for the night in Quakertown, Pa.

Chicago will mark the end of what Mike Leonard called the family's own "Magical Mystery Tour." They planned to arrive there around the expected due date of Mike's first grandchild and the Leonards' first great-grandchild.

Mike Leonard said the four-part series on the trip will run sometime in April on NBC.

Jack Leonard, after reminiscing about an accident one of the camper's got into at a gas station outside Phoenix, pulled Marge, who shook her head throughout the tale, toward his chest.

In Japan, she had refused to go on a tram that traveled high over the landscape.

"You've been a great surprise on this one," Jack said, looking down at his petite wife.

"You don't know what I've been drinking," she said with only half of a chuckle.

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