Local Youth & young adult

Focus on faith

Wesley Leach, a spring graduate of Jayhawk Linn High School,  worked with longtime friend and photographer Logan Smith to create a senior picture that truly captured the most important things in Leach’s life. Both men are members of Sacred Heart Parish in Mound City. Photo courtesy of Logan Smith/Shootinglife

Wesley Leach, a spring graduate of Jayhawk Linn High School, worked with longtime friend and photographer Logan Smith to create a senior picture that truly captured the most important things in Leach’s life. Both men are members of Sacred Heart Parish in Mound City. Photo courtesy of Logan Smith/Shootinglife

Photographer, senior team up for a yearbook picture to remember

by Jill Ragar Esfeld

MOUND CITY — Sacred Heart parishioner Logan Smith has a single criterion for excellence in his work.

“I always tell my customers,” he said, “if I can make your mom cry, I’ve done my job.”

When fellow parishioner Jennifer Leach saw the senior pictures Smith took of her son Wesley, she definitely got teary-eyed.

And then there was that one photograph.

“It took my breath away,” she said. “How could a picture that doesn’t show my son’s face, identify his soul to the core?”

The photograph shows Wesley looking out over a golf course, surrounded by symbols of his favorite sports — with the symbol of his life’s focus dangling down his back.

“Kids always want to show their trophies,” said his mother. “He chose to show his rosary.”

Just do it

Wesley played football, basketball and golf all four years at Jayhawk Linn High School before graduating this spring.

Next year, he’ll be part of the golf program at Allen County Community College in Iola.

“Some of the things you have to learn to make you a better golfer are life lessons,” he said of his favorite sport. “Patience and just sticking with it are a big part.

“It’s a very frustrating sport, that’s for sure. But it also makes you a better person.”

During high school, Wesley learned the rosary could make him a better person, too, thanks to his uncle, Jeff Dawson, who facilitated the youth group at Sacred Heart, to which Wesley belonged.

“My Uncle Jeff rides his bike a lot,” explained Wesley. “And when he rides his bike, he says the rosary. And he really thought it made a big difference. “

Dawson challenged the students in his youth group to say the rosary for one week.

“Just a week,” he said. “And if you really like it, keep doing it.”

Wesley accepted the challenge and found that he really liked it.

“I started doing it for the group,” he said, “and my whole week was just two or three steps better. It really made an impact.”

Wesley has been devoted to the rosary ever since.

And so when it came time for his senior photos, he wanted somehow to include that devotion.

He knew Smith would understand. After all, the two had been friends since they were children, and a common thread in their friendship had always been their Catholic faith.

He’s my brother

“Since Wesley was born,” said Leach, “Logan has always been the little boy next door. They’ve grown up together from the day Wesley came home from the hospital.

“And they’ve just continued on through the years.”

Wesley has a younger sister Carley, but he didn’t have any older siblings. So Smith, who is three years older, filled that role in his life.

“Being basically my big brother,” said Wesley, “Logan’s had a lot of impact on me, especially my staying involved in church.”

Growing up in a small town without a Catholic school nearby, it wasn’t easy finding Catholic friends. Wesley felt fortunate to have one next door.

“We bonded over our faith,” he said. “Logan was a Catholic role model to me.”

Perhaps the strength of Smith’s example came from his struggles.

“You know, God and I have butted heads throughout my life,” he said. “And sometimes we don’t see eye to eye on things.

“But he’s always the one to come around and be by my side at the end of the day.

“I ask for forgiveness and it’s just an awesome thing — he’s always there no matter what.

“And that’s what I’ve come to realize.”

The friends’ shared faith was a contributing factor on the day of the photo shoot.

“I think that helped a lot,” Smith said. “I wanted to make sure Wesley’s personality is in there and also his rosary — because I know that means so much to him.”

It’s in the timing

At first, the two friends struggled to come up with a way to include the rosary in a photo.

Then Wesley stood looking out over the golf course, and something clicked in Smith’s imagination.

“All of a sudden, it just kind of hit me,” he recalled. “And I said, ‘Let’s just drape it down your back and see how that looks.’”

When the sun was perfect, Smith took photographs from every angle while Wesley held his pose — not an unusual situation for this young photographer who constantly strives for perfection in his art.

“Nowadays, everybody is a photographer,” explained Smith. “But not everybody is an artist.

“Honestly, I can say, for as long as I’ve been doing this, it’s the timing.

“I mean the wind has to be blowing a certain rate, the sun has to be in a certain spot, the person has to be in a certain spot, and you have to take the shot at just the right moment.

“And I will wait in one spot and have the person stand there and I’m, like, ‘Just trust me.’

“And then I get it, and it’s awesome.”

Wesley remembers the moment when “awesome” happened with his picture — when he heard Smith say, “Oh my gosh, I think this is probably one the best pictures I’ve ever taken.”

Wesley joined Smith to take a look at the shot on the back of the camera.

“And it was pretty spectacular,” he said. “When I looked at it, the first thing that came to mind was that God’s always got my back.”


Wesley’s parents were so taken with the picture they had it enlarged and made it the centerpiece of his graduation party.

“Of course, I had most of the church come,” said Wesley. “And they were, like, ‘Wow, that is really cool.’”

“It really spoke to people about Wes and what he’s about,” said Leach. “He loves all of his athletics, but his faith is kind of the center of his life.

“That’s what keeps him balanced.”

When Smith dropped by his best friend’s graduation party, he experienced a small taste of celebrity.

“There was just this crazy amount of people asking who took the photograph,” he said.

The family also found the photo opened up an opportunity for evangelization.

“Catholics have grown up with rosaries our whole life,” said Leach. “So you automatically knew what it was.

“But it was a little bit of an education for people who maybe don’t attend church regularly or attend a different church.”

Now that the graduation celebration is over, Wesley is looking forward to his next big step — heading off to college, where he’s confident his faith will continue to take center stage in his life.

“You know, fallen-away Catholics are the people who don’t go to church because they’re not involved,” he said. “They don’t feel like it’s important.

“Staying involved and trying to make an impact is what I believe is the key to it.”

And that’s Leach’s hope for her son.

“You can get jobs that make a lot of money,” she said. “But if you don’t have that faith, your money and your notoriety are not going to get you through the hard times.

“Faith is what keeps you going.”

View Smith’s work

Additional photographs by Logan Smith can be viewed on his Facebook page, “Shootinglife.”

About the author

Jill Esfeld

Jill Ragar Esfeld received a degree in Writing from Missouri State University and started her profession as a magazine feature writer, but quickly transitioned to technical/instructional writing where she had a successful career spanning more than 20 years. She returned to feature writing when she began freelancing for The Leaven in 2004. Her articles have won several awards from the Catholic Press Association. Jill grew up in Christ the King parish in Kansas City, Missouri; and has been a member of Holy Trinity Parish in Lenexa, Kansas, for 35 years.

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