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Published: Tuesday, 7/8/2008

Pastry chef had long career, volunteered in retirement

Leo B. Lesniewicz, 94, a pastry chef whose pecan rolls became favorites of celebrities, died of heart failure Sunday at Lake Park Comfort Care, Sylvania.

Mr. Lesniewicz first discovered his passion for pastries at age 13, when he took an apprenticeship at the Commodore Perry Hotel in downtown Toledo.

"He led a full life that revolved around working," his son Tom said.

In 1939, he became a pastry chef at St. Mary's Convent in Monroe. Tom Lesniewicz remembers careening down the convent's hallways on his bicycle while his father spent long hours baking.

"The nuns just loved my father," Tom Lesniewicz said.

They loved him so much, in fact, that they helped him buy a home in Monroe so he wouldn't have to make the long commute up Telegraph Road from Toledo.

He bought his own bakery in the early 1940s, but his business folded in the early 1950s when basement flooding destroyed his fully stocked inventory.

During the late 1950s, Mr. Lesniewicz went to work at Toledo's Northwood Inn. There, his pecan rolls gained so much popularity that celebrities passing through town came in "just for Leo's pecan rolls," his son Chuck said.

Years later, the sons tried to pry the pecan-roll recipe from their father's memory, but he staunchly refused.

"He told us, this is my own, I don't want anyone else to have it," Chuck Lesniewicz said.

When Mr. Lesniewicz retired in 1979, he started volunteering at the Toledo Shriners' Hospital, a charity organization dedicated to helping sick children, and at the Penta County Vocational School as a baking instructor. But Mr. Lesniewicz, always a humble and understated man, never told his family about his volunteer work.

"He was a very giving person," said Kerry Lesniewicz, a grandson.

In 1999, Mr. Lesniewicz fell down an escalator and eventually underwent a leg amputation. He was 85 years old, but he donned a prosthetic leg and continued to live on his own, and even learned to slide himself down the basement stairs so he could do his laundry.

"He was strong as an ox," his son Tom Lesniewicz said.

After a particularly nasty fall from his wheelchair in October, Mr. Lesniewicz was put in hospice care and told he did not have much longer to live.

Still, with no medicine, his health improved enough that he was able to move back into his home until a second fall put him back into Lake Park on Thursday.

Mr. Lesniewicz's wife, the former Virginia Zurawski, died in 1979.

His survivors include his sons, Tom and Chuck Lesniewicz; brother, Sylvester "Shorty" Les-

niewicz; six grandchildren, and six great-grandchildren.

The family will receive visitors after 2 p.m. Thursday in the Sujkowski Funeral Home Northpointe, 114-128 East Alexis Rd. Services will be private.

Tributes may be made to the Visiting Nurse Foundation of Toledo or to the Juvenile Diabetes Foundation, Northwest Ohio Chapter, in Perrysburg.



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