It is quite often I read of someone's death in the newspaper and I immediately think about what could have been. I think of the things they missed out on, what they wouldn't be around to see, the accomplishments they fell short of.
When I read about Leo Luken, those thoughts never enter my mind.
Luken died Saturday at his daughters' home in Palmetto Dunes. He was 96. He and his wife of 71 years, Mickey, had lived with his daughters for the past 11 years.
It was there at Palmetto Dunes that Luken would play golf three days a week. And it was there on the George Fazio Course that Luken, on his fourth try, shot his age or better for the 1,000th time back in September 2013.
"I made my first hole-in-one when I was 71, when I shot my age for the first time," Luken said that early autumn Saturday. "Little did I realize that 24 years later, I would be playing for 1,000."
Luken almost made it sound like an accident. Don't buy it. He didn't know how to do anything halfway.
"I've been around some of the best athletes in the world," Palmetto Dunes director of instruction Doug Weaver said, dropping names like Mark McGwire, Julius Erving, Larry Bird and even Arnold Palmer. "As an athlete, he was as intense a competitor as I've ever known."
Weaver said Luken thrived on competition.
"Whatever he did, he wanted to win at it," he said. "His family will tell you the same. It didn't matter if it was horseshoes or cornhole."
It wasn't just sports. Luken seemed to be successful at whatever he did.
For 43 years he was a logistics and production manager for Zollner Pistons, who made pistons for B-29 bombers during World War II.
While working there, Luken got involved in fast-pitch softball, playing for 21 years. With a 53-game winning streak and a 12-0 record in world championships on his resume, Luken was inducted into the National ASA Softball Hall of Fame in 1993.
Leo and Mickey took up ballroom dancing because they enjoyed it. Like everything else he did, he excelled at it. So much so that the couple taught ballroom dancing in their home for 23 years to help put their kids through school.
"He offered to give my wife and I dance lessons at his last wedding anniversary," Weaver said.
And then there was golf. He got started late, but he didn't let that hold him back.
One of his proudest achievements was his win in the Inaugural Shoot Your Age Tournament in May 2006 in Florida.
Luken didn't just outplay the amateurs. Also in the field were Arnold Palmer and Gary Player.
"He's the type of guy that if he would have learned golf at 20, he would have been a competitive pro," Weaver said. "Give him a ball, he's an athlete, he'd figure it out and put the ball in the hole."
Luken seemed to know after getting to 1,000 in September that he might not play much longer. His wife Mickey has been ill for some time, and age was catching up to him, as well.
"To tell the truth, I don't know how much longer I can keep doing this," he said then.
Weaver said it wasn't long before he quit seeing Luken on the course.
It wasn't just the sports or the dancing at which he excelled. Leo helped raise a big family. Six daughters, 12 grandchildren and 16 great-grandchildren survive him.
In some way, all of them will learn something from his life example. And ultimately, Luken's positive attitude and drive to remain active well past the age most people do that made him an inspiration to others he came in contact with.
"He makes me want to do something similar with my life," Weaver said. "I want people to remember how fortunate we all were to be around him. If I played golf with him 20 times in 10 years, it wasn't enough. He had an Arnold Palmer type of charisma."
Leo Luken died Saturday at the age of 96. There wasn't much he left unfinished.
"Once you learned what Leo Luken had done, you'd go, 'wow,' " Weaver said. "He had a wow life, an incredible life."
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