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Leatherby family papers

Identifier: 2018-009-s-r

Scope and Contents

This collection documents the finances and achievements of the Leatherby family; Ralph William Leatherby (1925-2000) and Eleanor Augustine Leatherby (1927-2011) and their children Russell Leatherby (1953- ) and Joann Leatherby (1955- ), from 1938 to 2012. The collection mainly consists of the personal family finances of Ralph and Eleanor Leatherby, including investments and the Leatherby Family Trust, business and financial documents of Ralph Leatherby pertaining to his several insurance companies, and other documents that include the investments of Joann Leatherby and the Leatherby Family Foundation.

The collection also contains family photographs, clippings, awards and certificates, and miscellaneous business documents, correspondence, and ephemera. Smaller items and some biographical information are also included, as well as academic diplomas, yearbooks, and awards.


  • 1938 - 2012
  • Majority of material found within 1965 - 2000

Conditions Governing Access

This collection is open for research.

Conditions Governing Use

There are no restrictions on the use of this material except where previously copyrighted material is concerned. It is the responsibility of the researcher to obtain all permissions.

Biographical / Historical

The following biographical note pertains to several members of the Leatherby family from whom these papers originated. The information contained within has been collected from their papers, biographical notes found within the collection, and other sources cited herein. (Creator produced biographies are in Carton 4, folder 6 and Carton 6, folder 15)

Ralph William Leatherby (06/12/1925—06/09/2000) was born in Ottumwa, Iowa to Ernest Ethan Leatherby and Nellie Agnes Leatherby, née Sheehy. He graduated from Hedrick High School in Hedrick, Iowa in 1942 and began his military service as a Technician 5th Grade, Infantry Company 335, United States Army in July 1943. He served in the American and European theaters, including the Battle of the Bulge, Ardennes, Rhineland, and Central Europe. For this service he earned several medals and ribbons including the Victory Medal, American Theater Ribbon, European-African-Middle Eastern Theater Ribbon with three Bronze Battle Stars, two overseas Service Bars, a Good Conduct Medal, and a Distinguished Unit Badge. He was honorably discharged in March 1946.

Ralph then attended Iowa Wesleyan College from 1946 to 1949 where he earned a BA in Economics. During that time he opened a café and used some of his earnings to pay for his older brother’s education. (See Ralph Leatherby discharge papers, and biographical papers) Ralph had several siblings; a brother, Albert L. Leatherby, sister Florence Longaker, and sister, Inez Leatherby (d. 2006), for whom he opened the Inez Leatherby Trust in the 1980s.

In 1949, just after college, Ralph moved to California. He earned a graduate degree in Finance from the Graduate School of Business at the University of Southern California in 1950 while working for his uncle’s real estate office. He learned the workers’ compensation business at the California State Compensation Insurance Fund in 1952 and then formed Leatherby Insurance Service the same year by condensing several existing insurance agencies. At some point during this period Ralph was married but his wife died sometime before 1956. (See Ralph Leatherby biographical papers in Carton 4; Carton 4 folder 2 contains a deed listing Ralph Leatherby as a widower in 1956)

Known by many as Amma, Eleanor Augustine Samson (04/25/1927—04/11/2011) was born in an Icelandic community in Akra, North Dakota to Leo and Freda Samson. She joined the United States Army cadet nursing program and earned a diploma from the Grand Forks Deaconess Hospital School of Nursing in July 1948. Her aspiring nursing career took her to California where she earned a certificate as a Registered Nurse in September 1949. She and Ralph met and on January 23, 1959 they married in Los Angeles. (See Eleanor's obituary in the OC Register;; see also Leatherby memorial card and diplomas)

Ralph’s business ventures continued to expand as he organized a number of local insurance agencies. He formed Leatherby Enterprises and acquired the Guarantee Company of North America in October 1968. The company changed its name to Leatherby Companies, Inc. in 1969 and merged with the Richmond Corporation of Virginia in December 1970, where Ralph served as a member of the Board and an executive officer until 1976. UniCARE, an insurance company specializing in workers’ compensation insurance, was founded by Ralph in 1979 in Irvine, California where he served as Chairman of the Board and Chief Executive Officer. His son Russell succeeded him until the company was sold in 1994. (See Ralph Leatherby biographical sheets)

Ralph remained active in business and philanthropic ventures throughout his career, creating the Leatherby Family Foundation which has donated to such organizations as his alma mater Iowa Wesleyan, the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, KOCE-TV, the Casa de Amma resident apartments program, and many others. He chaired the Board of Trustees for Iowa Wesleyan, the Business Advisory Board at California State University Fullerton and Chapman University, while maintaining memberships and trusteeships of several other organizations. The Foundation has a long history of giving to Chapman University, among its gifts it has named the Leatherby Libraries and created the Ralph W. Leatherby Center for Entrepreneurship and Business Ethics. Though active in running several companies, much of the Leatherby family’s wealth has included personal and business investments. (See biographical notes found in this collection and the Leatherby Family section on the Chapman University website, for further business and philanthropic activities, and financial records for investment information)

Ralph and Eleanor’s son Russell Ernest Leatherby (09/10/1953—present), was born in Los Angeles, California and attended Sonora High School in La Habra until 1971. He graduated Magna cum Laude from University of the Pacific with a BA in English in 1975 and earned a Juris Doctorate from the McGeorge School of Law in 1979. Russ practiced private law until he joined UniCARE as Secretary and General Legal Counsel in 1980, where he stayed until he facilitated the successful sale of the business in 1994. Russ and his wife Mary Susan have two children, Douglas Patrick Leatherby and Kathryn Marie Leatherby Gillin. Kathryn Marie Leatherby Gillin and her husband Peter Gillin have two daughters, Annie and Susie. (See the Leatherby Family section on the Chapman University website)

Joann Leatherby (05/13/1955—present) also attended Iowa Wesleyan where she earned a BA in English in 1977. She then earned her Juris Doctorate at the UCLA School of Law in 1980. She and her husband, Dr. Gregory Bates, have been involved in philanthropic work and Joann has served as president of the Leatherby Family Foundation since 2000. Joann has been involved with Chapman University as a trustee since 1994 and as a vice chair of the board. She was responsible for the lead gift from the Leatherby family that made possible the construction and opening of the Leatherby Libraries in 2004. (See the Leatherby Family section on the Chapman University website; this collection also contains copies of her resumes up to the 1990s, as well as some investment documents regarding Joann that no doubt aided her philanthropic ventures)

Joann Leatherby remains involved with the Leatherby Libraries at Chapman University.


35.125 Linear Feet (21 containers: 17 cartons (1 is unnumbered), 1 document box, 3 flat boxes also 3 frames and several display items)

Language of Materials



The Leatherby family papers consist of financial and business documents as well as other materials belonging to Ralph William Leatherby and his family. The collection also includes items pertaining to the individual achievements of the family, photographs, and other various items.


This collection is arranged by material type at the series level and subject at the subseries level. The physical arrangement maintains the original order by alphabetical, then chronological order, where an original order exists (For example: Employers Report before Taxes, Taxes 1965 before Taxes 1966).

Series 1, Financial

----Subseries 1, Financial records

----Subseries 2, Real estate records

Series 2, Business

----Subseries 1, Organizational records

----Subseries 2, Legal

--------Subseries 1, Records

--------Subseries 2, Correspondence

--------Subseries 3, Clippings

----Subseries 3, Other business records

----Subseries 4, Correspondence

----Subseries 5, Scrapbooks

----Subseries 6, Ephemera

----Subseries 7, Speeches

----Subseries 8, Clippings

Series 3, Photographs

Series 4, Awards and certificates

Series 5, Personal

Series 6, Realia

Series 7, Other materials

Physical Location

This collection contains 16 cartons, one document box, and three flat boxes housed in Special Collections. Separated materials are housed in the Special Collections Art Rail-Slot 2, and other materials are on permanent display in the first floor lobby of the Leatherby Libraries.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

This collection is a gift of Joann Leatherby and the Leatherby family.

Separated Materials

There are several items on permanent display in the first floor lobby of the Leatherby Libraries, near the front elevators. Three framed photographs are in the Special Collections Art Rail Slot-2.

Finding Aid for the Leatherby family papers
In Progress
Andrew Harman
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Language of description note
  • Leatherby family papers inventory

Repository Details

Part of the Frank Mt. Pleasant Library of Special Collections and Archives, Leatherby Libraries Repository

Chapman University
One University Drive
Orange 92866 USA US