Leo R. Croce, a member of the Greatest Generation, passed away Jan. 27, 2020 at the age of 96. He was a true patriot and gentleman, a devoted family man, and a leader in his profession and the communities he served. He was kind, charming, intelligent and generous. He possessed a great sense of humor and a true zest for life.
Leo was the youngest of four children, born in Oakland, California, to Felice and Francesca Croce, who immigrated to San Francisco from Italy.
Leo was a precocious student, talented athlete, and natural-born leader. He was president of his sixth-grade class and student body president at Woodrow Wilson Junior High School. At Oakland Technical High School, he was elected head cheerleader, junior class president, and student body president. In his senior year, he represented his school at California Boys State. Leo lettered in track and football, was a competitive swimmer, played church-league basketball and achieved Eagle Scout. He was passionate about music, becoming part of a quartet that performed for school functions, won radio Amateur Hour competitions, had gigs at Lake Tahoe and performed at the Golden Gate International Exposition at San Francisco’s Treasure Island. In 1941, he was awarded the Citizenship Cup as the outstanding graduating senior.
Leo had a tremendous work ethic. Even as a youngster, he sold Christmas cards door to door, had a paper route delivering more than 100 papers daily, and was a newsboy selling morning papers and magazines to San Francisco rail commuters. In high school, he worked at Grimmett’s Sporting Goods and Foreman and Clark clothiers, as well as his father’s Roma Restaurant.
Leo received a Cal Alumni Scholarship to the University of California, Berkeley and completed his freshman year before enlisting in the U.S. Army Air Force. At 19, he began B-17 pilot training. He was stationed at Nuthampstead AFB, England, completing 35 missions over Germany. He was awarded the Air Medal with Silver and Bronze clusters, the European Theater of Operations with two Bronze Stars, the American WWII Victory Medal, the American Campaign Medal with Bronze Star, and the French Jubilee of Liberty Medal. He was honorably discharged in 1945.
After the war, Leo graduated from the University of California, married his childhood sweetheart, Pina Ciarlo, and fulfilled his dream of becoming an educator. He began his 41-year career in education in Oakland, where he was a teacher, coach, counselor, vice-principal, junior and high school principal, and associate superintendent. Later, he was appointed superintendent of schools in Livermore.
He was affectionately called The Dean by his fellow Alameda County superintendents for his longevity and wise counsel He was superintendent in Livermore for 16 years, the longest tenure of any superintendent in the district. Upon his retirement in 1991, the school board named a school after him, Leo R. Croce Elementary School. He and his family started the Leo Croce Scholarship, which has bestowed college scholarships annually to students who attended Croce Elementary. Leo personally presented the scholarships to at the school’s annual Awards Night ceremonies. He attended events at the school throughout the year, visiting classrooms and interacting with staff, students and parents, which brought him immense joy until the last days of his life.
Leo and Pina were deeply religious, committed and generous to their church and to many educational causes. He was an active Rotarian for over 45 years. He received the Rotary Community Service Award and was named the Livermore Rodeo Parade Grand Marshall in recognition of his outstanding service to the community and volunteer efforts. He was a Lifetime Honorary Member of the Livermore Chamber of Commerce and was founder of the Business and Education Committee. He served on numerous boards and committees for Las Positas College, the Boy Scouts of America, and the Cerebral Palsy Association of the East Bay.
Upon his retirement, Leo played 18 holes of golf at least once a week until the age of 94. He remained active, loved to read, did daily crossword puzzles, and kept a sharp mind. At 95, he co-wrote a memoir of his life and war years, “Mission Completed.” He returned to Nuthampstead to revisit his WWII air base for a Memorial Day service, where he was a keynote speaker and laid a wreath for his 398th Bomb Group at the American Cemetery Memorial Day commemoration ceremony in Cambridge, England. A newly completed addition to the Nuthampstead Airfield Museum will be named after him.
Leo was preceded in death by his beloved wife of 69 years, Pina; his sister, Elda; and his brother, Pinky. He is survived by his devoted daughter, Pamela (John) Goode; his grandchildren, Vanessa (Eric) Connett and Richard Goode; great grandchildren Cade, Claire, Jaxon, Finn and Griffin; his 98-year-old sister, Natalie; and many loving nieces and nephews, great and great-great nieces and nephews.
His family wishes to thank Dr. Ronald Yang, Dr. Sharon Kang, our loyal Beatriz, and Excellent Care at Home caregivers Fatima, Reden and Annaleen.
A mass will be said at 1 p.m., Friday, March 6, at St. Anne’s Catholic Church, 1600 Rossmoor Parkway, Walnut Grove, followed by a Celebration of Life and reception at 3 p.m., in the Fireside Room, 1001 Golden Rain Road., in the Rossmoor community in Walnut Grove. Donations may be made in Leo’s memory to the Leo R. Croce Elementary School Scholarship Fund, c/o Croce School, 5650 Scenic Ave. Livermore, CA 94551.