Leroy Emerick has seen it all and done it all during a long and distinguished career in Wood River.
Emerick, 89, has served as the city’s mayor, a councilman and head of the recreation department. He has also had a sports complex on Sixth Street named for him. You might call the 1944 East Alton-Wood River High graduate the overseer of Oiler town. He’s a civic-first chief.
“I’ve had a lifelong love affair with the whole community,” said Emerick, who has devoted his energy to bettering Wood River. He and wife, Helen, have been married 71 years. They have four children: Donna, Dale, Dana and Dean.
Emerick added, “I think I’ve had a philosophy that service to humanity is the best work you can do. And I’ve tried to do that throughout my life.”
Projects such as the Wood River Aquatic Center, the East Alton Ice Arena, Quad City Soccer and the Jiveland Teen Club show his imprint. Many other endeavors feature his touch.
“I’ve really been fortunate to have good people around me,” Emerick said. “I’ve been able to surround myself with a lot of people that helped me with projects and events. Strangely enough, God has given me a chance to do a lot of things. I’ve been blessed.”
The Jiveland Teen Center was a prime undertaking. It brought youngsters together and gave them something to do, he said.
“At one time, we had between 1,200 and 1,500 kids throughout the area in it,” Emerick said. “We planned a lot of events, including the after-prom party for the high school kids.”
He’s also “Mr. Softball” to countless others throughout Greater Alton area. Emerick is the senior vice president of the Illinois Amateur Softball Association and helped kick-start numerous tournaments, including the Class C State Co-Ed one that’s 30 years old. He has been affiliated with the ASA for 65 years.
Now, there’s a new event to salute his tireless work through the years. The Leroy Emerick “Shake off the Dust” co-ed tourney debuts April 18 at Moore Park in Alton. It’s appropriate since it will start the softball season. The Class C state one puts the finishing touches on it.
“Most anybody that has touched a softball knows Leroy,” said Brett Stawar, president of the Alton Regional Convention and Visitors Bureau. “It’s amazing how many people know him.”
Stawar added, “When we went to get an ASA bid years ago, Leroy was known as ‘Mr. Softball.’ He has been the king of softball around here for many years.”
So “the king” deserved something more than a pat on the back or a plaque to hang in the wall or throw in the closet.
“Brett wanted to do something for Leroy, so we’re naming the tournament for him,” said Mike Haynes, director of the Alton Recreation Department. “I know doing this is something he will enjoy. It’s a good time and good situation for it.”
Anything that involves softball keeps Emerick percolating.
“He has boundless energy,” Haynes said. “Without him, we wouldn’t have the state tournament here every year. He helps to keep it here in Alton and we appreciate it.”
Stawar added, “Mentally, Leroy is as sharp as a tack. He knows where everything needs to go and he gets it done his way. He’s a classic.”
Emerick, heralded last week by the RiverBend Growth Association, appreciated the honor.
“I thought it was a nice recommendation,” he said. Son Dana, a local commissioner, will assist him with the Class C State Co-Ed event.
Yet don’t expect Leroy Emerick to slow down too much. It’s not his nature. Softball runs through his veins as much as community service. For him, they have gone hand-in-hand for decades.
“Wood River has been a nice community, with a lot of middle-class people that have worked at the refineries,” he said. “It’s a working-class community and I love it — certainly.”
You don’t have to ask him why. His familiar address explains it.
“I’ve lived in Wood River all my life,” Emerick said.