By Dan McGrath

John Gardner ’75 has been named Leo Alumni Association Man of the Year for 2024. 

Along with the Doc Driscoll and Community Service award recipients and a five-member Hall of Fame Class, John will be honored at the Alumni Banquet on Friday, April 26. Tickets are still available on-line for the event, which will be held at Casa del Mar in Hickory Hills.

A past president and current vice-president of the Alumni Association, John has been involved with the organization since 1999, overseeing such events as the banquet, the golf outing and the Alumni basketball night that have generated thousands of dollars in revenue for Leo High School. He believes he owes the school a debt of gratitude.

“Without the friends I met at Leo, I’m not sure how my life would have turned out,” he said. “We learned how to be men, husbands and fathers together … We all credit Leo for our success.”

John attended Western Illinois University after Leo, graduating in 1979. He and wife Susan have four children and are active at Most Holy Redeemer Parish. John is a member of the Leo Hall of Fame and was the Doc Driscoll Award recipient for exemplary service to Leo in 2018.

This year’s other honorees: 

Doc Driscoll Award – Bob Cheval ’74 is this year’s Doc Driscoll Award recipient. Bob is the longtime treasurer of the Alumni Association, and his ability to “keep the books straight” surely fits the award’s criteria for above-and-beyond service to Leo.

“Bob’s job as treasurer requires many hours of behind-the-scenes work making sure we’re in proper financial shape as an organization,” Leo Hall-of-Famer Brian Earner said in nominating Bob, who was a four-year football player and the student-council president after arriving at Leo from St. Walter.

“I always thought my time at Leo prepared me for life,” Bob said, “I took the school motto, Facta non Verba, to heart.”

Bob and Debra, his wife of 47 years, have two children and eight grandchildren. 

Community Service Award – Thomas “Tommy” Russell ’78 “has devoted his life to the veterans,” Terry Earner said in nominating his classmate. A veteran himself, Tommy enlisted in the Marine Corps a year after graduating from Leo. 

“I got my ass kicked by the nuns at St. Gabe’s, by the Irish Christian Brothers and by a nutty Irish mother, so when I got to the Marines it was like, ‘This ain’t bad at all,’” Tommy said.

A motorcycle enthusiast, Tommy serves as President of the Canaryville Veteran Riders Association and organizes coat drives for veterans each Thanksgiving. He’s a regular participant in the riders’ Toys for Tots drives that try to brighten Christmas for needy children. 

And, as a retired carpenter, he helped make Darkhorse Lodge at Kentucky Lake a reality as a no-cost, outdoors-oriented retreat for combat veterans from all branches of the service.  

Hall of Fame Inductees

Terrance L. Bates ’86 – The Oriole newspaper, the Lion yearbook and student government occupied Terrance at Leo. He still finds time to be an Alumni Association stalwart while working as a counselor for School District 130, coaching youth basketball and raising two daughters. “Whatever Leo needs, I’m there if I can be,” he said. “I live our motto every day.”

Jim Earner – Jim would rank near the top of any list of MVP’s who have contributed to Leo’s success in recent years. And he didn’t even go to Leo – he went to Brother Rice, which was within walking distance of the family home. But that’s not to say he isn’t a Leo Man as a product of a truly distinguished Leo Family: Jim’s dad is Gene Earner ‘50, a Hall of Famer known to many as “Mr. Leo.” Six of Jim’s brothers are Leo grads, including Hall of Famers Dan ‘82 and Brian ‘93. After a long career with Pepsi, Jim hired on at the Archdiocese of Chicago, and it was Leo’s good fortune that he was assigned to help out after bookkeeper Tanya Townsend retired. “Helping out” gradually evolved into a total overhaul of Leo’s business operations, which run so smoothly and efficiently these days that they’ve landed Jim in the Leo Hall of Fame. “His contributions are immeasurable,” school President Dan McGrath said. “I’d be lost without him.” 

John “Jack” Hannigan ’63 – Known as “The Quiet Man” to his classmates, Jack is anything but quiet when it comes to publicizing Leo’s sports teams – moments after a game, alums can expect a score and highlights to hit their devices “quicker than an SOS,” says Bill Figel, a recipient. “I believe communication is a vital need, so I get the word out to the alumni … It has been a constant effort to support our school through communication,” Jack said. After 40-plus years as procurement specialist, Jack and wife Judy, a special ed teacher, retired to Lockport, where their three kids and three grandkids are close by.    

Robert “Bob” Marks ’63 – The oldest of 11 children, Bob chose to work and help pay the family bills as a teenager, which ruled out playing sports at Leo. But his impact on the school was profound nonetheless as his eight younger brothers followed him to Leo and became Hall of Famers. “Leo High School was a foundational moment in Bob’s life,” the Marks family said in nominating Bob for the Hall. “It not only provided him an excellent education, it instilled the values of hard work, integrity and giving back.” Bob gave back plenty as a volunteer with several social service organizations in the Detroit area while working as CFO for McCann-Erickson Detroit. 

David K. Mutter ’70 – “I thought he was already in,” was a common reaction to the announcement that Dave Mutter was joining the Leo Hall of Fame Class of 2024. Indeed, he probably should have been after a standout football career as a two-way lineman for the Lions, on the field for nearly every play “except kickoffs, because I was too slow,” Dave said. After playing at the University of Hawaii, he returned to Leo for two separate coaching tours, including five years as head coach and four as an assistant for his mentor and role model, Bob Foster. Retired from a successful career in the insurance industry, Dave and wife Connie have four grown children and seven grandchildren.