Leo Francis Lightner
September 16, 1928 – December 17, 2020
Leo F. Lightner passed away peacefully at the age of 92 on Thursday evening December 17, 2020. Leo was a humble, kind man who was an inspiration to many throughout his lifetime. For Leo’s daughter Brenda (Robert), son David “Ty” (Huiyuan), granddaughters Gina (Jacob) and Morgan, and so many friends, what set Leo apart was his ability to go after and accomplish his many goals and ambitions at every stage of his life with joy and optimism. When his boyhood love of flying model airplanes led Leo to earn enough money to take flying lessons as a teen, adventure and learning became a way of life. Leo soon took his first solo flight in a bright yellow Piper Cub! Leo left high school early, lied about his age, and joined the Air Force at age 17. As a weather observer in Trinidad he began to see the breadth and scope of the larger world through travel on leave, classical singing and piano lessons with a local island teacher, and during President Truman’s stop at his air base. Being in the service allowed Leo the opportunity to finish high school and begin college upon leaving the Air Force, however, adventure soon took hold once again and he enlisted in the Army. After attending the Basic Airborne Course, Leo could not get enough of jumping out of airplanes! Following his honorable discharge as a sergeant first class, Leo enrolled at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio. Leo had little money, but loved the study of geology. With his undergraduate degree in hand, he spent one year as a teaching assistant at MIT in Massachusetts. He soon found that his students’ knowledge far exceeded what he could teach them. Miami University welcomed him back and he began graduate courses in geology. Before he could complete his degree, he met his wife of over 30 years, Charlotte. They had the honor of serving as maid of honor and best man at their friends’ wedding held in Miami’s Sesquicentennial Chapel. This was just one year before Leo’s own “Miami Merger” was made when he married Charlotte in the same chapel. Leo and Charlotte began their life together in Cleveland’s West Park neighborhood. Leo started a job at Ferro Corporation. Three years later they welcomed daughter, Brenda, and after another three years son, David. Ferro offered Leo the opportunity to earn a Master of Science in statistics from Case Western Reserve University. Leo loved every minute of his over 40 years with Ferro, especially designing experiments and analyzing data to help improve processes for the company. In 1967, Leo was selected to receive Ferro’s Bob Weaver Award for his work developing an improved computer program for color matching. After becoming a member of Ferro’s Pioneer Club in 1985, he volunteered on the planning committee for their annual dinner celebration for many years. It was during a conference, while working for Ferro, when Leo took an afternoon sailboat ride with friends. He was hooked! He came home and told his family that they were getting a sailboat! His first boat, an Aquarius (similar to a Sunfish), was soon replaced by an 11-foot Mirror Dinghy that Leo built from a kit himself over the winter in his basement and garage. Leo and his wife became U.S. Mirror sailing champions in 1976. An annual highlight for Leo was sailing in the Frostbite Regatta on Lake Erie each New Year’s Day! Mirror sailing also led Leo and his family to San Diego to sail in the 1978 Mirror Nationals and to Wales to sail in the 1983 Mirror Worlds. Leo enjoyed serving as president of the U.S. Mirror Class Association and was made an honorary member for his enthusiastic leadership and contributions to the advancement of the Mirror Class. His love of sailing grew into a partnership of four Mirror sailors who bought and restored a wooden 24-foot, Shaw 24, sailboat that they christened “Pshaw.” Leo took navigation courses through the Rocky River Power Squadron, learning how to navigate on the water using a sextant. The co-owners raced the Pshaw and, the group’s second boat, a Pearson 30, named Whistler, out of Edgewater Yacht Club for many years. Leo also took his family on sailing trips aboard the Pshaw to the Lake Erie islands. He and co-boat owner, Wes, especially enjoyed a retirement sailing adventure on Whistler from Cleveland to the North Channel and back. During the height of Leo’s sailing career, his friend Curtis from Miami (who he served as best man for) introduced him to jogging. Leo was inspired! First: to run a bit to get into better shape for sailing, and, then to train and compete in road races. Leo found that he loved the feeling he got while running. He discovered the Cleveland West Road Runners Club, and as many of his running friends know … the rest is history … First Leo ran short races like Bay Days and then came training for his first marathon. After many marathons, including qualifying and running in the Boston Marathon in 1992, he was introduced to ultra running. His passion, dedication to training, and friendships grew and expanded. In his ultra running career Leo completed more than 70 ultra runs, beginning in 1990 and concluding in 2014. His first 100-mile run was the 1992 Mohican Trail 100. He holds two records for running while in his 80s. Goals he accomplished with the assistance of a professional trainer. The first was for the fastest finish by an octogenarian (80 and over) in the 2008 John F. Kennedy 50 Mile ultramarathon, and the second was earning a national and world record after running 62 miles in the NorthCoast 24-Hour Endurance Run in 2013 at age 85. Over the years, he was featured in numerous newspaper and magazine articles, and even had a local TV interview go national. Leo was honored by members of the Cleveland West Road Runners Club in 2019 when he was presented with the Joe Eisenberg Award for Service to the Tail Running Community in recognition of his extraordinary running career and years of service to running clubs, races, runners, and volunteers. Award presenters, Mark and Roy, told Leo that the award was from everyone who knew, met or had heard of Leo Lightner. Leo touched so many runners with his running knowledge and common-sense wisdom over the years. Leo loved learning, traveling and helping others. Following his retirement from Ferro Corporation at age 71, he attended the International Culinary Arts & Sciences Institute and attained a culinary arts advanced techniques diploma and a pastry arts certificate. With his degree in hand, he began volunteering once a week in the Rocky River Senior Center kitchen. He loved making salads and sandwiches for the many seniors and community members who enjoyed lunch at the senior center. Leo studied German, French and Spanish (with German being his favorite) for many years during his retirement. It was also during these years that he traveled to Germany to attend German language school; Italy for cooking seminars, food tastings and tours; and to Scotland, France, Peru, Alaska, and more distant places with friends or on a Rick Steves tour. He also indulged in his lifelong love of the arts during his retirement by taking painting and drawing classes, memoir writing classes, and through displaying his art in the senior center’s annual art show. He enjoyed his membership in the Westlake-Westshore Arts Council and performances given by students of the Cleveland Institute of Music both through the club and at operas staged at CIM. Leo enjoyed seeing The Cleveland Orchestra at Severance Hall and Blossom Music Center with his daughter, son-in-law and granddaughter, and visits and time spent cooking together with his son, daughter-in-law and granddaughter in Cleveland and during a trip to their home outside of Boston. He was most grateful for his many years of good health. He very much enjoyed celebrating his 90th birthday with his family and friends, good food, and fun stories. He will be missed by his family, friends, former co-workers, and co-volunteers. Leo was preceded in death by his niece Ginny, sister Elanor, mother Virginia, Aunt Jewel, and Uncle Faye. His family would like to thank the staff from Arden Courts of Westlake and Cypress Hospice for their love and care of Leo, especially during this most difficult time. Everyone at Arden Courts made life a little extra special during this time, and his wonderful and kind hospice nurse and aides wrapped him in comfort in his final days. We are grateful for their kindness towards Leo. Leo will be laid to rest at Lake View Cemetery in the spring or summer of 2021 alongside his mother and grandparents, Ernest and Effie Weaver. Leo’s family will be hosting a celebration of Leo’s life for his many friends and caregivers when it is a safe and appropriate time to gather to share in a good meal and many stories of Leo’s zest for life. One of Leo’s great joys was listening to classical music on WCLV. From the day he discovered Cleveland’s classical music station over 50 years ago, he was a dedicated listener and supporter. Listening to WCLV provided him with even more comfort during his final two years. Tribute gifts in honor of Leo Lightner can be made in his name to WCLV (Attn: Tribute Gifts WCLV, 1375 Euclid Avenue, Cleveland, OH 44115-1835).
Leo Francis Lightner
January 18, 2021
I have many memories of Leo - I worked with him at
Ferro for over 40 years. He was always a pleasant
and happy person - and I enjoyed working with him
on the Ferro Pioneer Dinners.
December 29, 2020
I first met Leo in 1998 at the Umstead 100 when he came up to me with a name tag “my name is Leo” which he wore for the entire race. From that point, I knew he was special. After 20 years of knowing and running with him, my first impression never changed. Leo was always the most compassionate and understanding person, ready to give encouragement to all he met. And he gave a great YMCA performance with little to no urging!
December 29, 2020
I had the privilege of being a good friend and running partner of Leo’s for close to 25 years. We did many ultras together, including a rim/rim/rim crossing of the Grand Canyon when he was in his early 70s. He was a legend in the ultra community and set several US records in his age group. I could tell many stories about his exploits and accomplishments, but will just say that he was always a gentleman and role model for all of us. He will be greatly missed.
December 24, 2020
I knew Leo from the Cleveland West Running Club. He was such a sweet man! He really knew how to live life to the fullest and he is an inspiration to me. I am honored to have known him. He will be missed. So many of the memories listed here refer to Leo dancing on a table top to the song, YMCA, at our annual running club's holiday party. This event is where I met Leo for the first time (2002). This photo tells it all!
December 22, 2020
Leo recruited me to RD the Mohican 100 after I had organized the Buckeye Trail 50K in 1994, for which he also helped mark. Anyone who ever saw Leo at a Mohican pre-race meeting knows how much energy he had and how confident he made all the runners feel getting ready for the big event. As course director, he would jump up on a picnic table in the shelter and show all of the various markings and describe what the purpose was for each one and he’d tell everyone they were going to finish (ever though half of them wouldn’t)
For our day jobs we worked close to each other in Independence for a couple years so we often had lunch together and would talk shop with race planning or talk about our own running and share stories.
I’ve never met a more upbeat person or a kinder person. Leo, you will be greatly missed!
December 22, 2020
I first got to know Leo in 1994 when our mutual CWRRC club friend Bob Blum invited me to his house for a party. That was also the year WCLV radio newscaster invited me to serve as finish line timer and judge of the CWRRC'S Mohican 100 miler. At the time I thought Leo was a longtime ultra veteran when it was only 2 years after he finished his first Mohican 100. So i felt a mix of honor & humility when Bob and Leo invited me to go on a long training run with them.. Some how the charisma of Leo and the gentleness of Bob allowed them to convince me to run on a long train tressle across a ravine near I-480. Seeing how I am petrified of heights i don't know how I made it...
December 22, 2020
I meet Leo at the Rocky River Senior Center, shared stories about our travels and food prep and presentation, he will be missed as he lived life to the fullest.
December 22, 2020
Loved sharing memories or trail marking with Leo. It was joked Leo marked all miles of the trail with shortcuts of forest
December 21, 2020
As a officer in Leo's running club I used to organize our annual holiday party. Always made sure the DJ had YMCA by the Village People. Leo used to dance on the table and the ladies would throw money at him. One year, during the dance, I noticed two people outside who were walking their dog. They were glued to the window taking it all in. What must they have thought of us? And we had a scholarship fund for cross country runners. After the dance Leo quietly gave me all the money and said: "Give it to the kids!"
December 20, 2020
Leo was a neighbor at Cliff Towers. I always enjoyed talking with him and loved his zest for life. He was a one of a kind and will be missed
December 20, 2020
Leo is legendary in the local running community. I am so sorry to hear of his passing. My condolences to his family and all of his many friends.
December 20, 2020
Leo was a fantastic guy with an unlimited amount of energy. I will always remember his smile and grace. I also always think of Leo whenever I hear the song YMCA by the Village People.
December 20, 2020
I met Leo during the 2013 NC24 race. He was so inspiring. What a special man.
December 19, 2020
I'll never forget my teenage son and I marking the trails for the Mohican 100 with Leo. His energy never diminished as the day wore on, and we struggled to keep up with him! He was a kind, gentle, talented man, and will live long in our memories.