REMEMBERING LEROY


He was a familiar sight running past our house each day, useless, withered arm swinging at his side. He ran as if it was a challenge to the Almighty in payment for the curse of his loss. I encountered him once or twice at 5:30 a.m. while running with Max, our Dobermann. We would see him later in the day at the other end of town. I heard that he sometimes ran 25 miles in a day. He worked out daily in a lap pool in his small back yard. He and his wife lived around the corner from us with a menagerie of pets, while caring for each of their parents. His father in a wheelchair and her blind mother.

The name “SPRINZ” was written on the back of his t-shirt, reminding my husband of former major league baseball catcher Joe Sprinz, who played for the Cleveland Indians and the St. Louis Cardinals in the 1930’s. His claim to fame after he retired, was a publicity stunt attempting to catch a baseball dropped from a blimp in 1939. On the fifth try, the ball landed in his glove at a speed estimated to have been 154 miles per hour. It slammed his glove hand into his face, breaking his jaw in twelve places. He also dropped the ball.

Joe’s son Leroy, our intrepid runner, lived around the corner from us for many years. Though I had not really met him, he knocked on my door one morning asking if he could leave his father here while he finished his run. Not knowing what else to do, I said it would be OK. What led was a fascinating hour while the old man reminisced about stories of his baseball past to us. All the famous names in the years of our youth came back to him. He also recounted the story of Leroy’s withered arm. He had had polio as a youngster, and though the doctors wanted to amputate the arm, the boy fought to keep it, saying he would figure out a way to live with it.

He became a teacher at Newark Memorial High School in Newark, CA, and while teaching tennis and baseball, he played in the school band. Proficient with a variety of instruments, refusing to let an obstacle such as the loss of an arm stop him. Much like his father, he obviously enjoyed overcoming challenges.

After retiring, Leroy and his wife, Lory Ostenkowski, moved to Oakhurst a few years ago, to enjoy their leisure years in the company of tall pine trees and deer in the mountains near Yosemite. Both were prolific writers of poetry and haiku, and were generous with their output. Leroy also found time to play in the local community band while indulging his interest in photography, and running the mountain trails.

Leroy was a trusted critic of my work, approving of my blog, though he hated the word BLOG, thinking it ugly and an embarrassment to the English language. His wife Lory, became a victim of AMD, and he greatly enlarged any artwork I posted on their large TV so that she could share it.

I had not heard from him for several months, and sent an email to see if they were OK. Last night I decided that I would write again this morning. Before I went to my computer, his widow Lory, called to tell us of his passing two months ago. According to her, the polio got him again. Post-polio, which affects many survivors, renews all the original suffering. Their daughter, who lives in Alaska, found the note I sent while clearing out his computer after his death.

Leroy was a quirky, courageous and rare person who will be greatly missed. The legacy he left was that nothing is impossible to those who keep forging through in spite of unforeseen difficulties. RIP Leroy, I’m glad I got to know you.

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Author: kaytisweetlandrasmussen83

I am a retired fine arts teacher, sculptor/painter, writer, and a native Californian. I love my family,dogs, horses, movies, reading and music, probably in that order. I have been married forever to a very nice man who is nice to old ladies, dogs and children.

15 thoughts on “REMEMBERING LEROY”

  1. I, too, remember Leroy running around town. I had no idea about all of these rich details. Thank you for writing this on your BLOG (RIP Leroy!)

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    1. I’ve ust been going through some of his old poetry. So much was gathered while he was on his runs. Proof that the world around us has interest to those who look for it. He was very open about kids sometimes mocking his arm as he ran. Sad..

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  2. What interesting people! I’m a bit of a loner, but not unfriendly or unwilling to help or engage with others. You strike me as naturally open with a personality who welcomes others in — one of the reasons you have so many good and heartwarming stories to tell.

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  3. Polio was a dreadful scourge, and it attacked many active young people. I knew a young man in the early 1950s, who fell ill with polio after pitching a perfect baseball game in my hometown. He was known for pitching fast and long. Hardly anyone could strike his pitches! His pitching arm started to wither while he was still sick, and although he recovered, it was never the same. As I read this, I felt so much sadness for the people who became victims of polio.

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    1. You’re right Gill. We just need to look for them. His wife told me she was nearly blind from the AMD. I couldn’t help remembering her mother who was blind. I used to see her walk by my roses and reach down to touch them. My own AMD is steadily getting worse, but I guess it’s a fact of old age. I’m lucky to be able to still type and I’m still able to read your posts. So as my dear old Dad would say “Stop complaining”!

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  4. A good story of friends passing through our lives. There is a Dutch saying; ‘you have to row with the paddles that you were given.’ In other words, ‘make the best of everything.’ Sometimes, that is easier said than done. Writing and cooking helps.

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    1. That’s the best outlook Gerard. Tonight I am making chicken soup. An aunt of my husband’s lost her husband and her daughter and had no money. So she took in a few boarders and took a trip to Europe. She knew it would turn out OK.

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  5. I remember polio — I was one who stood in line for a sugar cube. I remember the iron lungs, too, and Easter Seals. It was such a scourge. What I didn’t know about was post-polio. There are plenty of diseases that can come back — certain malarias, cancer, and shingles come to mind — and I hardly can imagine thinking you’ve beaten one of those, and then discovering that you haven’t.

    In truth, living is loss — at least in terms of physical capability. Some face sudden, specific challenges, while the rest of us just wind down like a two-week clock. Even the lucky ones (which I know I am) need to be realistic about the process, and do as well as we can with what comes our way. One of my favorite sayings is “The question isn’t, is there life after death. It’s whether there’s life before death.” That pretty much sums it up.

    Thanks for sharing Leroy’s story. It is inspiring, and I supsect has affected more people than Leroy himself ever would have imagined.

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  6. Thanks Linda. I’m sure the great numbers of people who saw Leroy running this town for so many years watching him with admiration. I know I have kept him in mind for years whenever I think I can’t do something. Amazing what a nudge in the right direction can do.
    I had a friend who got polio again, but Sam’s father got it as a boy and it didn’t come back in that same fashion. He eventually had an amputation, but nothing was said about post polio. Those sugar cubes were a great method of delivery.

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