By Dedra Cordle
Financial stability was always out of reach for the parents of Gary Leasure.
Recalling their times of struggle, Leasure said they did the best they could with what they had but it was not easy to watch them have to choose between paying the bills or paying to put enough food on the table.
“It was rough,” he said. “We all had a rough time of it.”
While his mother and father may have lacked financial wealth, they raised their children to know the importance of emotional richness.
“We grew up knowing that you can’t always throw money at things to make it better,” said Leasure. “But what you can do is lend an ear, volunteer your time, or just be a decent person to others, especially in their time of need.”
As Leasure grew older and found some success of his own, he made a promise that he would continue to live up to those lessons he learned in childhood and keep putting them to action for as long as he is “blessed” to live on this planet.
Friends of his say he has lived up to that promise and that is what makes him so deserving of the recognition he received last month by his beloved adopted city and a local civic organization.
On July 23, the city of Grove City and the Grove City Rotary Club hosted a presentation in council chambers to recognize Leasure as the 2021 recipient of the Service Above Self Award. According to rotary president Ronnie McClure, this award recognizes an unknown or unsung resident who has “made or left a lasting impact for the betterment of the community, state, nation, or world.”
“I think Gary exemplifies all of those traits,” he said.
McClure said he has known Leasure since he was a child and has always known him to be “a great man.”
“I remember going into the business he owns (Ace Truck Body Inc.) to buy parts for our snowplow with my dad,” he said. “He was always helping.”
But owning and operating a successful business is not what made Leasure rise out of the candidate pile for the Service Above Self award, added McClure. Instead, it was his body of work outside of his company that put him alongside the company of past recipients Leslie Bostic, Steve Jackson, Sherol Saxton Mulligan and Tiney M. McComb.
“He has been involved in just about everything you can think of since he moved here,” said McClure.
Doug Wallace, a rotarian who nominated Leasure for the award, said that about sums up his friend of more than four decades.
“He’s always involved in something to make the community a better place to live.”
In 1978, Leasure and his family moved to Grove City from Zanesville in order to grow their business. Though he had been involved in that city’s government serving as a council member and its mayor in the late 1960s and early 1970s, he swore he would not get involved – or too involved – in the happenings of his adopted city.
“It was just going to be about the business,” said Leasure. “I didn’t want to get involved with the city government; I didn’t want to do any city committees. I just wanted to volunteer with some groups that I liked and that would be that.”
Then he met Tiney M. McComb, a local banker and notable civic leader, who needed help raising funds for flood victims in his home state of West Virginia.
“Well, I got involved in that effort, and then I couldn’t stop myself from getting involved in more.”
Throughout the decades, Leasure was active in the Grove City Area Chamber of Commerce, the Grove City Planning Commission, the Westland Area Business Association’s board of directors, the South-Western City Schools Educational Foundation, and the South-Western City Schools board of education.
Leasure said his willingness to get involved in the latter came as a surprise to him.
It was the early 1990s, and Leasure had seen multiple operating levies and bond issues fail. Knowing how much these failed issues were harming the children in the growing community, he made a comment to one of the campaign organizers and was challenged with doing it better.
In 1994, he led a successful campaign to pass an 8.9-mill operating levy – “he became known as ‘The Sign Guy’ because he always had signs in his truck,” said Ron Hutcheson, the former athletics supervisor at Grove City High School – and two years later he was recruited to run for a seat on the board of education.
“It was only going to be for a term,” he said. “I ended up serving until 2007.”
He said there were a lot of “ups and downs” during his tenure on the board but he loved every minute of it.
“The people in this community are just as passionate as I am about doing right for these kids,” he said. “We didn’t always see eye-to-eye, but we always talked about how we could all improve.”
Leasure said his health has caused him to “slow down a bit with the volunteering” but he has been able to continue contributing to the community he loves.
Recently, friends said he purchased a pitching machine and new uniforms for the baseball teams at Franklin Heights High School, and he even contributed hundreds of thousands of dollars toward the purchase of a new artificial field at the football stadium at Grove City High School.
Leasure said he hopes the whole state will be able to benefit from that new field.
“I hope to see hundreds of bands take part in competitions there once again,” he said.
Leasure said he does not do anything – whether it be lending an ear, volunteering his time, or donating money – for praise or recognition.
“While I am honored to receive the Service Above Self Award, frankly I feel they should have given it to someone more deserving than me.”
Long-time friend Dave Burris said he could think of no one else more deserving of recognition than Gary Leasure.
“He is the most giving person I have ever met in my life,” he said.