Leo Koceski lived an extraordinary life. The kind of life that only a few get the privilege to live. He valued hard work and discipline. He cherished his family and his lifelong friends that spanned decades. Leo was a man that you felt grateful to know and love. He was a dedicated husband, a loving father, and a loyal friend. Later in his life, he became a loving grandfather who enjoyed spending time with his grandchildren, often sharing his life lessons and athletic wisdom.
Since he began his life in 1929, Leo had many life lessons to share. This particular year had notable highs and lows. The most historical event of the year was the rise and fall of the stock market. The Wall Street Stock Market reached its peak, creating an economic boom. Soon though, the market began to fluctuate and eventually crashed. This crash caused the United States to join the rest of the world in The Great Depression. Remarkably, this is also when the country hit a new population mark of 120 million people. Not all was bad though, in fact, many exciting events still raged on. Charles Lindberg flew 3,400 miles from Detroit to Cape Horn, and many people heard about this fantastic news on their car radios, first introduced by Motorola. Closer to home, Leon and Blanche were preparing to meet their 9th sweet baby. The world and his family welcomed Leo on January 28, 1929. He was the youngest in the Koceski family and looked up to his siblings: Tony, Paul, Isadore, Chester, Sophie, Stella, Gertrude, and Jennie.
Leo treasured his family roots and upbringing in a small home on Blaine Avenue in the hills of Canonsburg, Pennsylvania. Leo's father worked in the steel mills of Pittsburgh, while his mother had more than enough to keep her busy at home raising their family. When Leo was five years old, his father had a stroke that left him bedridden for several years until his death. Leo watched his mother and siblings doing their fair share to take care of their dad and make ends meet, including chores and jobs. He shared a special bond with his eldest sister Sophie, who helped his mother raise him as he was the youngest.
He loved all of his brothers and sisters and prioritized keeping in touch with them despite spending most of his years after college living in Michigan. It was commonplace to have family picnics, gatherings with friends, and many hands of various card games played. He returned to Canonsburg regularly to visit both family and friends. In his adult years, the card games became more intense, with betting on the line, cigar smoke in the air, beer flowing, and laughter into the wee hours.
Leo's experiences as a young boy growing up during the depression profoundly impacted the man he would become. He learned to be resourceful, not to waste, and to pay attention to detail. He passed on these characteristics to his boys, especially to his son Kenny. As an engineer, Kenny shares these qualities and is nearly as thrifty as his father.
At an early age, Leo established lofty goals and chased them relentlessly. In the sixth grade, Leo decided that he wanted to go to the University of Michigan, which raised more than a few eyebrows as a boy living near the University of Pittsburgh and Penn State. And in eighth grade, Leo decided that when he married, the honeymoon would be in Bermuda. Leo made them both happen. He knew what he wanted and persevered. Leo carried this admirable trait from a young boy into adulthood, and it was even apparent in the last hours of his life. He is a symbol of strength and grit. This spirit of perseverance is a trait he passed to his son Jeffrey, who overcame barriers and detours in life to obtain his dream of becoming a firefighter and then a fire investigator.
Leo was charismatic, with a keen memory for every person he met. He thrived on connecting with people, asking about their lives, and sharing great stories. He made you feel comfortable to be with him. Leo was completely unpretentious. He was authentic and straightforward. Leo could get along with anyone. He was considerate to others, a pure gentleman to the core. Leo was a joy to sit next to, exchanging stories, talking about sports, and sharing a beer or two. You left those interactions hoping that you would get another chance to do it all over again. Leo's social ease helped him be a leader with his teammates, fostered his success in his sales career, and helped solidify friendships. He made an effort to keep in touch. His social ease is a trait seen so prominently in his son, Michael. Like Leo, Michael reaches out, prioritizes his relationships, and (as many of you know) most famously sends his birthday wishes like clockwork.
Early on, Leo learned football and baseball on the Canonsburg sandlots. It was stickball or rag ball in his day, as no one had the money for a regular baseball or bat. There was no such thing as little league or today's youth sports organizations. Kids learned to play with their friends on the streets. Leo realized much later in life that stick playing and rag ball made him focus on keeping his eyes on the ball, which is part of the fundamentals for any game. His first formal football experience came as a freshman for his high school, where he became an immediate starter. There was no baseball team at his high school, so Leo became a sprinter on the track team in the 100 and 220 dash, 880 relay, 440 relay, and broad jump. He won all-league honors and was named second-team scholastic All-American.
With about 30 collegiate offers, he selected the University of Michigan to keep that promise from the 6th grade. First-year students were ineligible to play during this time in college sports. Leo became a starter as a sophomore halfback at 5'-10" and 165 pounds. He was fast, tough, and dependable. He averaged four yards per carry and was a top pass receiver which helped his team realize the 1948 perfect season record, winning the Big Ten and becoming National Champions. Despite injuries that sidelined him for a few games, Leo was equally effective for the 1949 Michigan Big Ten Co-Champions. During his senior year in 1950, Leo played in one of the most famous rivalry games in college football. The Snow Bowl is the nickname of the infamous game played on November 25, 1950, against Ohio State University. The weather played its own game with falling snow at 2 inches per hour, high winds, and frigid air temps at about 10 degrees. It remains one of the games with the most punts ever recorded. The Michigan Wolverines defeated the Ohio State Buckeyes, 9-3, earning the Big Ten Conference championship and a berth in the 1951 Rose Bowl. The game was one of the most noted in the storied history of the Michigan-Ohio State football rivalry. The Wolverines went on to the Rose Bowl, where they defeated the California Golden Bears 14-6.
While Leo was a star in many football stories over the years, his impressive place in baseball history is equally notable. On the baseball diamond, Leo was a star member of Michigan's 1949 and 1950 Big Ten baseball championships and was named All-Big Ten in both 1950 and 1951 while serving as the captain in 1951. While his football accomplishments and records stand out, he was most known as a hardworking leader who loved his teammates in any sport he played.
After graduating from the University of Michigan, it is no surprise that Leo would find his footing in sales positions brokering deals and working with customers. Leo began his work career as a sales executive for Buick cars in Pennsylvania. Herb Smith was his best friend and roommate who worked at Westinghouse. Soon he made a move to a sales position at Westinghouse and shortly after that transferred to Detroit to be closer to Ann Arbor - a city he loved. In time he obtained a sales position with Wilsonart Laminates where he successfully worked for about 25 years. Leo enjoyed nearly 27 years of retirement. He spent just as much time working as he did in retirement, still in touch with colleagues and friends he made at Wilsonart.
Though providing a living wage was essential to Leo, finding the love of his life took top priority when the time was right. The time was definitely right when he met Gloria. Eventually, the two would spend 56 years of their lives together. But - first things first.
Leo and Gloria's story begins at the Woodworth House restaurant in Dearborn, Michigan. In the 1960s, this was the popular Friday night social gathering place for singles. Their stories differ a little, but they agree upon the important detail: they met. When asked, Leo would say they met in a bar; however, Gloria would say they were introduced by mutual friends "in a bar." There is a difference. His friends Carman, Polly, Mary Lou, and Mary Ann, who lived near Leo's hometown in Pennsylvania, shared rides back home. One night, they introduced Leo to Gloria at the Woodworth House and thus began their long life together. They enjoyed frequenting the Woodworth House during their courtship. The two would often arrive after the crowds - it was such a popular place that it was best to get there early to avoid the long line. Gloria always arrived early with her friends. Leo did not always get there early enough, but he would get waved in since he befriended the owners. He always knew the right people.
Leo and Gloria's first date was at a University of Michigan football game. Parties with friends, dinners, dancing, and trips to Canonsburg to meet his family were typical events in their lives. By the end of the football season, they knew they would marry. They married in 1965 and had three children: Kenny, Michael, and Jeffrey. In time, Leo and Gloria celebrated the blessing of two grandchildren: Cooper and Kaitlyn.
Leo and Gloria's married life was full of social events and their children's activities. Leo was actively involved in coaching baseball, encouraged their academic prowess, and always attended their school or athletic events. He emphasized integrity, being punctual, and being respectful to others as he raised his boys. The family enjoyed Michigan football tailgates with friends and looked forward to the anticipation of Camp Dearborn every summer with multiple families.
Once their children found adult lives outside of their childhood home, Leo and Gloria found many new joys in life together. Leo was a man who appreciated his years of retirement. Their group of friends made this time special. Leo and Gloria had a particular group of friends that they fondly called the "old faces" - this nickname came about after one of them arrived at a dinner party and said, "Oh look, it's the same old faces." Despite their lovable name-calling, Leo and Gloria were always ready to host a party for their friends - even the old ones.
They were most known for their annual Derby parties - and they kept to the expected standard affair. Men and women were required to wear hats, could expect to gamble, and imbibe at least one mint julep. They regularly went to the DSO afternoon Christmas concert during the holidays and returned to their home for the after-party while singing the "Twelve Days of Christmas."
Never a dull moment with these two. On the nights when Gloria was tap dancing and playing ukulele well into her 80's, she found the pinochle club at Lasawa and encouraged Leo to join. No surprise, Leo was the president of the Pinochle Club and sacred holder of the Pinochle money shortly after joining. One night when Leo was traveling, he made sure that his son Michael always knew where he hid the pinochle stash in case something happened to him.
Until his later years, Leo golfed twice a week and loved going dancing with his bride. They enjoyed traveling together to many places, including cruises, senior bus trips, and trips with friends. Even in their later years, they attended Michigan football games with friends, their sons, grandchildren, and niece and nephew (Amy and Kevin).
To name all of the special memories, the impressive stories, or the notable moments in Leo's life would take far too long. Amongst his life history, it would be amiss not to mention Leo's induction into the Pennsylvania Sports Hall of Fame in 2007 while surrounded by his family. It was a particular point of pride.
Leo and Gloria always agreed that they lived in the best times when people valued hard work. They lived in times when life seemed slower and less complicated - when face-to-face communication was the norm - and throwing away or wasting something was unthinkable.
Leo's immeasurable ability to have lived a full life inspires all who knew him. And while Leo was successful in so many ways, it is his everlasting love for us all that we will hold in the days to come. May we all aspire to live a happy and fulfilled life - like Leo did.
Sadly, Leo passed away peacefully at his home in Dearborn Heights, surrounded by his family, on September 21, 2021. Leo was born in Canonsburg, Pennsylvania on January 28, 1929. He was a graduate of the University of Michigan playing both football and baseball from 1947 through 1951. Leo was a proud member of the 1948 National Championship and 1950 Rose Bowl football teams and multiple conference titles in both sports.
Gloria, the most important person in his life, his dedicated wife of 56 years, survives him. Kenny, Michael (Susan), and Jeffrey, his three sons, and his two grandchildren: Cooper and Kaitlyn Koceski, as well as his only remaining sister, Gertrude Rozanc, and countless friends from across his lifetime also survive Leo.
Leo was the youngest of nine children in the Koceski family. He was preceded in death by his parents, Leon and Blanche; four brothers, Tony, Paul, Isadore, and Chester; and three sisters, Sophie, Stella, and Jennie.
Visitation Friday 2pm - 8pm at the John N. Santeiu & Son Funeral Home. In state Saturday 9:30am until the 10 am Funeral Service at Our Savior Polish Catholic Church. Funeral Luncheon to follow services.
In lieu of flowers, family suggests memorials to Our Savior Polish Catholic Church or the Charity of your Choice.
To plant a beautiful memorial tree in memory of Leo Robert Koceski, please visit our Tribute Store
There are no events scheduled.
There are no tributes yet.
We encourage you to show your support by adding a tribute above:
- Share your favorite memory of Leo
- Offer your condolences to the family
- Light a virtual candle