EUREKA — George Leal’s parents moved to Texas from Mexico to work in the cotton fields. They gave him a choice of going to school, or looking forward to a life of sweaty labor.
William Wind is a full-blooded Creek Indian who grew up in a small town near Tulsa, Okla. His parents never spoke English, but encouraged their sons to pursue an education.
Their paths crossed in the late 1980s at Eureka College, each a recipient of a Ronald Reagan Fellowship. Leal, a 1992 graduate, is now an assistant U.S. attorney, prosecuting major drug cases along the Mexican border.
Recently, both men were invited back to Eureka College to speak as part of the Ronald Reagan Centennial Speakers Series to celebrate the 100th anniversary of alumnus Ronald Reagan’s birth next year.
Wind, who graduated a year later, did a stint in medical school before deciding his calling was law enforcement. He is a Secret Service agent in Washington, D.C.
A friendship that evolved with Leal giving Wind rides home to Oklahoma on his way to Texas as he returned to see his own family continues to this day; Wind is referred to as “Uncle Willie” by Leal’s two daughters.
“Although we are not related by blood, he is my brother,” Leal said.
Each man grew up in a poor household and expressed gratitude for the opportunities and guidance they received at Eureka College.
“There’s no shame in being poor,” Leal said. “To me the shame is if you’re poor and you don’t try to work to get out of there. I’m not ashamed to say that there were a lot of people that helped me out.”
Leal said he grew up in what had been a segregated area of a small town in Texas, with a bootlegger on one side of his home and a person who lived off food stamps and welfare on the other. His father would only let him play with a neighbor child at his own home. He had an outhouse and always hoped to have an indoor bathroom.
“The Lord blessed me with a good house and I have three bathrooms,” Leal said. “Unfortunately I have three girls (including his wife) so they’re mostly occupied. Maybe I need four bathrooms.”
His advice to students, which was echoed by Wind in a later appearance: “You’ve been given a great gift … It’s important that you realize that you guys are very special. You guys have an obligation to go out and make the world a better place.”
Wind, who now works in the human resources and training office of the Secret Service, has been employed by the Secret Service since 1997. His duties have included coordinating agents protecting the vice president.