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A Tribute to Leo Greco - Camp Courageous

A Tribute to Leo Greco - Camp Courageous


Remembering Leo Greco The Greco Family: 2 November 1, 1921 - August 2, 2011 Leo and Louise Greco were married for over 60 years. Leo was never quite the same after Louise’s death in 2008. They were both very much in love, and even in Leo’s final days, under the care of hospice, he would kiss Louise’s picture, beside his bed. That deep love and devotion to each other, one can easily see in each of their children and their families. Leo & Louise were wonderful role models for everyone. Leo & Louise always opened their home to the widow, the neighbor, or friend. Leo taught us the importance of family and friends. I called Leo from Camp one evening, wondering if it was ok to drop off some pop can tabs and to pick-up some donations he had collected. I never like to just drop in on someone. Leo replied, “no problem, come on over.” When I arrived I noticed a lot of cars and after a knock on the door, there was a “come on in, The Greco Family, that carries on the legacy are: (L-R) Larry Greco, Linda Greco-Sanders, Lou Ann Greco-Heng, Leo & Louise Greco, Lisa Greco-Rehman, and Lance Greco. Camp Courageous courier newsletter Published quarterly (January, April, July, and October) by Camp Courageous, a non-profit, year-round recreational & respite care facility for individuals with disabilities. Camp Courageous is a 501(c)(3) non-profit Federal I.D. #23-7210932 PO Box 418, Monticello, IA 52310-0418 • Ph. 319-465-5916 we’re in the kitchen.” There in the kitchen was the whole Greco Family, with all the kids and grand kids. It was the birthday of one of the grandchildren, and Leo had his accordion out and we all sang Happy Birthday. I thought to myself, I’m living out one of Norman Rockwell’s paintings of the perfect family. The Early Years and The Band: Leo Greco was born (November 1, 1921) into a family that came to the United States from Italy. His father worked for the railroad and they settled in Oelwein. Leo loved and respected his parents. I often heard him say, “As my Dad (or Mom) always taught me...” At ten years old his Dad made him play the accordion. He joined his first band at 15. He played for over 70 years, until his back could no longer handle the weight of the accordion. He never lost the passion to bring happiness and joy into the lives of others. His Dad taught him that you play for your audience… you play what they want to hear… and that is what he did all these years. In 1939 Leo moved to Cedar Rapids and joined Don Sievert and the Texans, thus beginning his professional career. He played with other bands during this time but his new career was soon interrupted by WW II. Leo served in the Navy 1942-45. While in the South Pacific his destroyer, the USS Luce, was sunk May 4, 1945 by a kamikaze about 60 miles from Okinawa. Here he suffered his first back injury sliding off the destroyer. Leo was a true hero during the war and demonstrated unbelievable courage in the face of great danger. But Leo was always quick to tell me that the heroes are those that gave their lives. After returning home safely, he married his sweetheart, Louise Dugger, a few months later. Leo & Louise lived in the same home at 1960 B Ave NE in Cedar Rapids, since they bought it on Valentine’s Day, 1951. Back from service, Tom Owen phoned to see if Leo would play with his band (Tom Owen Cowboys). Leo had promised Louise (his wife) he would not go off with a band. Louise told Leo to do what made him happy…so off he went with Tom Owen from December of 1945 to June of 1948. Leo always believed in service to others and to play what the listeners wanted to hear and provide more variety…so he borrowed $2,000 from his Dad and started his own band on June 1, 1948. It started out as Leo and the Pioneers and eventually became The Leo Greco Band. He played to millions through his radio shows, television shows, records, and personal appearances at such memorable places as Lakeside in Guttenberg, Zimmerman’s Hall in Monticello, Wayne Thompson’s Barn in Hopkinton, Cal Ballroom in Davenport, Surf Ballroom in Clear Lake, Danceland in Cedar Rapids, Armar in Cedar Rapids, and Melody Ballroom in Dubuque. The band also played for many weddings and celebrations. The band traveled to ten states and according to “Down Beat Magazine” they were the #1 Country & Western Band 1956-1960. Leo was on six television stations (Cedar Rapids, Mason City, Sioux City, Des Moines, Peoria, and Quincy) and twenty-three radio stations. In 1969 the Band ended when Kent Feeds dropped their sponsorship. Even though they were one of the top 25 shows, most listeners were not feed buyers. The company had a new leader and a new philosophy. (DVDs of the only two shows ever recorded are available through Camp Courageous for $10, sponsored by Kent Feeds). In 1970 Leo sold advertisement for KCRG (took Art Renken’s place) and in 1971 Leo sold advertisement for WMT. In 1973 Leo’s Radio Show began and the show continues today. Leo not only put on a great show he also sold OCTOBER 2011 — Camp Courageous —

WMT General Manager John Laton presents Leo with the prestigious National Association of Broadcasters annual Marconi Award in 2010. The award recognized excellence among the nation’s radio stations and on-air broadcasters. Leo was nominated in the category for “Small Market Personality of the Year.” the advertisement to pay for the show. “Variety Time” With Leo Greco is on WMT 600 on the dial, Sundays, 7:30 AM-2:00 PM, (with Camp Courageous updates at 8:30 AM and 12:30 PM). Even in retirement Leo put in eight hours on the radio on Sundays and about 100 hours a week doing what he enjoyed the most, volunteering to help and bringing joy to the lives of others. WMT’s Tribute to Leo brought out many wonderful folks. At the WMT Control Board (back to the camera) is Andy Petersen, (L-R) Frank Balvanz, Lance Greco, Lisa Greco-Rehman, Larry Greco, Linda Greco-Sanders, Judy (Larry) Greco, Lu Ann Greco-Heng, and WMT Program Director, Randy Lee. Leo always felt blessed to have worked with such a wonderful group. He gave so many his unwavering support that propelled many careers. Along with continuing to entertain groups with his music, Leo helped many non-profit organizations. Leo said, “Service to others was instilled in me at an early age. My Dad told me when I was a kid that we’re living in the greatest country in the world, you have to give back.” For many years Leo Greco broadcasted live from the Camp Courageous Omelet and Pancake Breakfasts/Open Houses. He had the unique ability to be visiting with someone attending the event, know when he was on air, visit with Frank back at the studio on what comes next, read requests, cover the advertisements....and always have fun juggling it all. No one, including Leo Greco, will ever realize the joy and happiness he brought to so many. Anna McCall, a wonderful lady who died at 99, wrote and told me how every Sunday she would listen to Leo on the radio and dance to the music in her kitchen. Leo’s virtues and integrity were without question. He was a very humble man, who never spoke badly of anyone. He was a good husband, father, grandfather, and great grandfather. He was committed up to the very end to bring happiness into the lives of everyone. Leo has given his life unselfishly for the good of all. Never did a day go by that Leo did not donate his time, talents, and expenses to a wide variety of programs for seniors, programs for individuals with disabilities, school groups, and so many others. His sincerity of purpose crossed all lines and brought all people together. Some of the folks who worked with Leo over the years at WMT included, (L-R) Gary Edwards, Andy Petersen, Frank Balvanz, Steve Carpenter, and Joe Pundzak. (L-R) Frank Balvanz, Cedar Rapids Mayor Ron Corbett, Bob Bruce and Andy Petersen reminisce about Leo and the Mayor declared the day, Leo Greco Day in Cedar Rapids. I admired Leo Greco, and I try each day to live my life with the love, integrity and service to others that Leo has taught me, not only through his words, but more importantly through his actions. Leo Greco died August 2, 2011, surrounded by his the age of 89. ---Charlie Becker Marginal Note: A person who buys what they do not need will often need what they cannot buy. One of Leo's first fund raisers for Camp Courageous was selling this album, “Request Time With Leo Greco.” Here Leo Greco, Charlie Becker, Dotty Cummins, and Joan and Frosty Mitchell present a check from those sales. Leo was always very good about visiting those in nursing homes. When going into a nursing home with Leo, one quickly realized what a compassionate and popular person Leo was. Above, Leo is joined at the Good Neighbor Home in Manchester with Marla Schiess and Delores Prospt. Sitting is Honorary Board Member, Jackie Snyder. Leo asked that memorial donations be made to Camp Courageous, where it will be put in the camp’s foundation and will thus benefit the camp, forever. Right up to Leo’s final days, he was preparing with Bill Leichsenring, from the Ox Yoke Inn a celebration of his 90th birthday on November 1st to benefit Camp Courageous. It was decided that “Leo Greco’s 90th Birthday Tribute to benefit Camp Courageous” will happen, as Leo had planned... it will be a “Production” as Leo put it. The event will begin November 1st, on Leo’s Birthday and go until Sunday, November 27, when WMT will be broadcasting live from the Ox Yoke Inn in Amana, with all or most of Leo’s Family having lunch there that day. On November 1st, WMT plans to make an announcement in regards to Leo. Leo’s accordion and Marconi Award will be on display the month of November at the Ox Yoke. The goal will be to raise $7,000 for a new lift that will be used in the camp’s pool or lake. Fruitcakes, CDs, and DVD will be available throughout the month at the Ox Yoke. 3

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