Life of community leader Leon Laylin remembered

Published 12:05 pm Saturday, December 31, 2022

DOWAGIAC – People across the city of Dowagiac are remembering the life and work of longtime Dowagiac City Council member Leon Laylin. He passed away Dec. 17 at the age of 85.

A 1956 graduate of Dowagiac Union High School, Laylin served four years in the United States Navy (1956 to1960) and married the former Shirley Sheline in 1958. The couple founded Laylin Welding in 1961 which operated for 44 years before closing in 2005. 

Leon served on the Dowagiac City Council for 24 years – was Mayor Pro Tempore – as well as on the Southwest Michigan Planning Commission and City of Dowagiac Planning Commission.

“Leon is among a dwindling breed of true community leaders, who devoted each day to improving Dowagiac,” said Vickie Phillipson, former director of the Dowagiac Downtown Development Authority and Greater Dowagiac Chamber of Commerce.  “Leon was well respected. He was a true gentleman, who walked gently and listened to his constituents. After considerable observation, thought and consideration, he always came to the best decisions for Dowagiac and residents of his Ward.”

Among his accomplishments as a community leader include: 

  • Being involved in the funding of improvements to homes in neighborhoods and downtown, the redevelopment of Commercial Street entry to the downtown
  • The redevelopment of the former middle school into the Donald D. Lyons Health Center and new single family homes.
  • The relocation of the Dowagiac Area History Museum.
  • The purchase and continuing development of Russom Park.
  • The purchase of the blighted block across from City Hall and the development of the James E. Snow Building. 

Not only did he serve Dowagiac as Mayor Protem, he was a longtime supporter of three of the community’s  most active volunteer organizations – the Chamber of Commerce, Lions Club and Dowagiac Elks.

“His contributions to our community came at a time when Dowagiac was continuing the redevelopment of our central business district,” Phillipson said. “Improvements such as the building of the James E. Snow Professional Building and the new Commercial Street Corridor were just two projects during his tenure, which he will be remembered for.”  

Laylin was honored for his efforts with a resolution to rename Water Tower Park to Laylin Park during his final Dowagiac City Council meeting in October 2021. City Manager Kevin Anderson worked alongside Laylin for more than a decade while Laylin was a member of the city council and believes he has had a significant impact on the community.

“He really approached things from a team standpoint and wanted everyone to have input,” Anderson said. “What I appreciated more than anything was, with Leon, you always knew where he stood. I really appreciated working with him in that way.”