Helen Krauss Leslie’s plan after high school involved channeling her love of music into a career as a concert pianist or “something radical.” Her plan most definitely did not involve Auburn or a business degree.
That all changed after her brother, an engineering student at Georgia Tech, visited Auburn for a summer course. Leslie, who had been taking courses in typing and shorthand at a junior college near home in St. Petersburg, Florida, suddenly found herself packing her bags. “My brother made me go to Auburn,” Leslie told Auburn Magazine. “I had no idea where I was going. Took an hour and a half to get to Tampa, we backed into the train station in Tampa, then took off, stopped in Albany [Georgia] and from there went to Opelika.”
It’s safe to say she liked what she found at the end of the train ride. Now 96, Leslie takes pride in her status as one of just two women to earn business degrees from Auburn in 1943. “I decided on business, then took some engineering courses,” Leslie said. “I still had to take one home economics class – that was the acceptable profession for females at the time.”
Her Auburn University loyalties are well-known to fellow residents of her condominium in St. Petersburg. Many of her neighbors refer to her as “War Eagle” and know about her collection of Auburn artifacts – including a hard hat from the groundbreaking of Lowder Hall and a blue car with orange stripes.
After earning her business degree, Leslie returned home during World War II to work for her father’s supply company. She then worked as a secretary, treasurer, and, eventually, president and owner for roofing and supply companies in and around Tampa Bay while also performing layout work for Tampa Shipbuilding Co. and MacDill Air Force Base. Leslie and her classmates did not get to march at graduation due to World War II, but Auburn University's Alumni Association offered a belated celebration in the fall of 2017. The office arranged for Leslie to take graduation photos -- complete with cap and gown -- in front of Samford Hall during her visit to campus for a 125 Years of Auburn Women gala.
Leslie served in local government and enjoyed national roles as chairman for the Defense Advisory Committee on Women in the Service, the National Safety Council Women’s Conference, the Committee on Employee Recruitment and Job Development for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and the National Advisory Council for Small Business Administration. She also participated in six Hemispheric Friendship trips to Central and South America and went to West Germany at the invitation of its government in 1965 to promote international understanding.
* This story originally appeared in the Fall 2017 issue of Harbert Magazine.