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American Pie: The Incredible Story of Leonard A. Danna

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I would like to introduce you to Leonard Danna. He was my father-in-law, my worst critic, and my greatest mentor.

Leonard Danna was born in 1910 in Buffalo, New York to a soon-to-be single mother. His father abandoned his family to go play the French horn with John Phillip Sousa's band in 1912. This really affected Leonard's view on raising children because he raised not only his five kids, but every kid brought home to meet him. Everyone was welcome at the Danna house.

Leonard as a childLeonard met his father for the first time while he was playing in the yard in front of his home in Buffalo. The stranger walked up to Leonard and said, "Hello Leonard, I'm your father." Little Lenny shouted, "No you're not!" and kicked the big man in the shin and then ran into the house, salty tears stinging his little face and eyes.

It would be many years before Leonard saw the man again. Leonard always said of his father, " He was a great musician, but a lousy father."

Lenny survived the 1918 influenza pandemic, the streets of Buffalo, and two heart surgeries, one in 1973, the other in 1986. He had a strong spirit and philosophy that affected everyone around him. With Leonard you either wanted to emulate him or you were green with envy; he had an aura about him.

He also had a fierce determination to exercise. "Eat real, exercise, and stay away from the doctors!" was one of his all time favorite sayings. Leonard swam across the Niagara River Parkway to Fort Erie, Canada right next to the Peace Bridge when he was 19 years old. Talk about survival of the fittest!

After falling in love with a beautiful young blond secretary named Bernice, they married and had a wonderful, loving family. Leonard lost his wife in 1991 to cancer, the robber of so many, and had to continue on his own. He would never even consider finding another mate. Bernice was irreplaceable as far as Lenny was concerned.

When my father-in-law was 90, my husband Rick brought him up to Buffalo to visit an "old girlfriend." They went to her little apartment, she served them coffee and cookies, and they reminisced for a while. After the little visit Leonard and his son stood in front of the elevator door. Lenny shook his head and said to his son, " She was old!" Age is relative in this life; you are truly as old as you perceive yourself to be.

I saw him at the library one day sitting at a round table alone, writing furiously in a little composition book with a black and white cover. "What are you writing?" I asked him. "My memoirs!" Leonard said as he looked up from the table. "Really, are you writing about me?" I asked. "I haven't gotten to you yet!" was his reply.

Leonard A. Danna died in 2006 at the young age of 96. I love you Leonard, and if Einstein is correct, you're still here with us!

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About Jeannie Danna

  • SD

    Jeannie..I loved your story!!

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