LeRoy Brown turns 104 years old next week. He grew up an orphan in Cumberland, Wisconsin. Brown was a starter, and the smallest player, on his high school basketball team in 1932.
“I’m playing with these four, really big kids, farm boys,” Brown said. “They were tough guys, much bigger than I was. But in a way I hung around because I didn’t have anything else to do. And so I learned to dribble.”
He then went to college and changed his life, turning into a staple as a physics teacher and a swim coach at St. Thomas Academy in Mendota Heights — even though he was unable to swim. But the persistent school president insisted he was the man for the job. “[The president said] ‘You don’t have anything else to do besides teach, but how about you take over as swimming coach?’ So what do you say to the boss?” Brown said.
His greatest contribution to high school sports might have come in helping bring together private and public schools into one competitive field — answering to the high school league.
“It was kind of a chance happening that … an innocent comment made by the state department of education to him one day at the State Capitol, and that kind of piqued his interest,” said Ed Leclair, Brown’s son-in-law. “He thought about it and brought some people together and talk to some of the legislators about the fairness issue, and that caused the change.” Today, Brown strolls the hall at as assisted-living home in Eagan. He has been a widower for 16 years, and still sets quite an example to his three children.
“He’s a terrific role model for myself and my husband and our children, he’s got a sharp mind and most every-single day he’s pleasant to be around,” said Brown’s daughter, Mary Leclair.
A product of the Great Depression, he learned growing up to value a dollar, and with that he passed on some vices that could have been detrimental.
“That’s not to say that I haven’t had glasses of wine and all that kind of stuff,” Brown said. “I’ve tried, you know, to be one of the crowd, but I just don’t drink. And smoke? Why should I smoke? All the money that I saved.”
His life has been fulfilling, and his advice to those that want to get to where he is simple. “The secret to longevity is to get up every morning,” he said. “If you don’t get up in the morning, you’re in real trouble.”
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