Leona Dushin, 95, a longtime Garrison resident, died on July 31.
She was born as Leona Margaret Christina Hauff on April 24, 1926, in Whitestone, Long Island, the daughter of Leonard and Frances (Chinery) Hauff.
Leona developed an affinity for horses as a girl while loitering at her grandfather’s barns that housed his horse-drawn shipping yard, her family said. Much to her parents’ dismay, she took a year off college to join the Ringling Brothers Circus, where she performed trapeze acts and rode elephants and horses.
Following her graduation from Queens College with a fine arts degree, Leona began a career in interior decorating at B. Altman and Company in midtown Manhattan. Through a friend, she was introduced to Frank Dushin and, after dating for some time, reluctantly followed him to Northumberland, England, where he was an adjunct professor teaching architecture. They subsequently married there, her family said.
After traveling throughout Europe in a camper van, they returned to the U.S. and moved to Garrison following the birth of their first child. The property they purchased came with a horse, which propelled what would become her mainstay in the community as a riding instructor. In 1957 Leona started breeding horses and the next year established the Garrison Horse and Pony Club. In the late 1990s, Leona was honored as a U.S. Pony Club Legend.
Frank applied his craft to design their home — with Leona’s input — that is still perched atop the hilltop at Manitou Farm. After having four more children, she and Frank separated in 1971 and divorced in 1985. Frank died in 2007.
Leona’s life was filled with caring for horses, teaching riding, and embarking on fearless adventures with friends and family, locally and worldwide, her family said. Her favorite pastime was plotting new and engaging exercises for her students to gain mastery with horses. Her heart would sing when kids ran up to her, announcing how good their pony was after a lesson, they said. She would retort with a great big smile, “It was you who was good… they listened to you!”
In 1980, she established the Leonard Russell Hauff Foundation for Therapeutic Riding, named for her father. The organization is dedicated to teaching horseback riding to children and adults with emotional and physical disabilities.
That same year, Leona realized her dream of becoming a teacher, initially doing substitute work in Garrison, Beacon and Westchester County. She held a master’s degree in science and another in special education.
Leona also loved singing and playing classic tunes on her ukulele (often making up her own verses to add to an already amazing recollection of lyrics), painting, reading, visiting museums, learning history, traveling to remote places and watching Jeopardy.
She is survived by her children, Christine, Karl, Russell, Frederick and Margaret; her grandchildren, Cole, Sam, Eleanor, Alexander, Luca and Clara; and two sisters-in-law, Dorothy Dushin and Theresa Hauff.
Visitation will take place from 4 to 8 p.m. on Thursday (Aug. 5) at Clinton Funeral Home, 21 Parrott St., in Cold Spring. A funeral Mass will take place at 11 a.m. on Friday at Our Lady of Loretto, 24 Fair St.
Nearly 11 years ago, Current reporter Michael Turton spent an afternoon with Leona at her Garrison farm, during which she recounted highlights from her life.