|LiUNA Vice-President John Penn, LiUNA 362' President Ronn Morehead, retirees Dick Kellerhals and Gary Leake presented his 50-year-card to 98-year-old Leo Carroll July 11.
From World War II rescue missions to the construction site, Laborers Local 362’s Leo Carroll, age 98, has led a fascinating life.
Leo received his Laborers 50-year-card on July 11 at Laborers Local 362's monthly meeting in Bloomington, Illinois.
Growing up on Bloomington’s west side during the Great Depression, he credited the Catholic nuns in keeping him straight, threatening strict punishment if they ever caught him doing wrong.
That still didn’t stop his youthful impishness. As a newsboy, he always stopped by the Front Street Fire Station, where he let the fire fighters read his paper for free -- and he got a meal in exchange. Another time he remembered going into the old Metropole pool hall, trying to sell his last paper, with few takers. He finally told a patron to buy the paper, saying “fold it up in your pocket and you won’t look so dumb.”
After a stint in the Civilian Conservation Corps along the Mackinaw River, sending money home to his family. He held various jobs in Normal, including at a grocery store. One day an Illinois State Normal University student came in, the store owner encouraged Leo to walk her home. After the war, he and Rose married.
During World War II, Leo decided it was better to fly than walk, so he joined the Army Air Corps. Leo earned the Air Force’s highest honor, the Distinguished Flying Cross. In Burma he flew a small, single engine plane, landing in remote areas to rescue wounded British soldiers. This included landings behind enemy lines and having more than one bullet in his fuselage.
In 1945 Rose traveled to Spokane, Washington, where they married. He ran a radio shop in Normal, ran a hardware in Longview, Illinois, and went to Detroit, where he became a United Auto Workers member, “putting the back rear tire on every 1950 Cadillac.” He took meat cutting classes in Toledo, returning to central Illinois, where he worked for butcher shops, Kroger and A&P.
Seeing union Laborers come in to buy groceries and learning about their wages and conditions, in 1967 he joined Local 362.
His biggest jobs included Illinois State University’s 28-story Watterson Towers, where he was the last Laborer on the job. He also helped build the railroad bridges for the underpasses under Main and Kingsley Streets in Normal. This first required building temporary railroad trestles while bridge construction was completed.
His worse day came while working at ISU’s Stevenson Hall, while pulling a cart of bricks off the construction elevator. The operator accidentally began to lower it, leaving bricks falling and Leo hanging on for his life.
He labored until age 68, then worked another decade as a driver for Stroink Labs.
In the meantime, he flew small planes, founded the local experimental aircraft group and earned his real estate broker’s license.
Leo has survived stomach, colon and prostate cancer, and currently is in an experimental heart study with Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago.
Leo praises the Penn family, late business manager Paul Penn, John Penn and Tony and Eric Penn, for their fairness to him.
He and Rose still live in their compact west-side home, where he proudly points out the concrete patio he poured, skills learned while laboring.
“Leo is one of the best,” said John Penn, Laborers International Vice-President, “he’s an honor to his country and our trade.”