LEO DONOVAN STERN
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STERN, LEO DONOVAN Feb. 8, 1921 to Sept. 8, 2009 Leo moved to San Diego, CA, from Gardner, Kansas, as a young boy with his widowed mother and three siblings. While at San Diego High School, he specialized in wrestling and tried out for football. He took up weight lifting and weight training with some of his classmates and in 1939, he and some loyal friends formed "The Hillcrest Barbell Club." In 1941 he entered and won the "Mr. San Diego" bodybuilding competition. Inducted into the U.S. Army Air Corps in 1942, Leo spent 39 months as a physical training instructor for a base gym outside Las Vegas, Nevada, where he coached Private Clarence "Clancy" Ross who later won the "1945 AAU Mr. America" contest. Back in civilian life, in 1946, Leo won the "AAU Mr. California" title and took third place at that year's "AAU Mr. America" event. That same year, Leo established "Stern's Gym" on Menlo Avenue, near Hoover High School, in San Diego. A year later, he moved the gym into bigger premises to establish his soon to be world famous "Stern's Gym" on Granada Avenue in North Park. Stern's gym was one of few establishments that attracted professional and amateur athletes; Olympians and neighborhood residents training together for physical health and well being. Arnold Schwarzenegger was just one of many of Leo's regular visitors during the gym's heyday. Over the years, Stern's Gym has produced some of bodybuilding's great champions, including "Mr. Universe" winners: Clancy Ross, Bill Pearl, Earl Clark and Eddie Sylvestre. Many national weightlifting champions trained at Stern's, including John Davis and Tommy Kono. The famous Pat Casey, a world champion strongman also trained under Stern's tutelage. Stern's Gym was sold in 1989, to its present owner Sherman Brown, himself a former competitive weightlifter and member of the Detroit Lions Football Club. In the 1960s to 1980s, Leo and his late wife, Bettye, ran a very successful women's health studio on Utah Street, just a block away from Stern's Gym. Leo was featured on the covers of many American, British and European physical fitness magazines. He was a featured author for many of the same magazines, but was more notably known for his photographs of leading bodybuilders, weight-lifters and strongmen, which adorned the covers and inside pages. One of the highlights of Stern and his friend Bill Pearl's world travels occurred in 1967 when they were house guests of J. Paul Getty, at that time one of the world's richest men, at his estate in Surrey, England. In 1995, Leo was inducted into Britain's Oscar Heidenstam Foundation Hall of Fame. Leo Stern stood as an icon in the fitness industry for over six decades. His longtime association with the elite of the bodybuilding / strength world and his willingness to assist others in achieving their fitness goals are but a small part of his legacy. Leo died on September 8, 2009, of natural causes in his North Park home surrounded by his family. He is survived by his sons, Michael, David, and Dennis, and grandson, Eric.


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Published in SanDiegoUnionTribune.com on Oct. 8, 2009.
Memories & Condolences
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9 entries
October 29, 2009
I trained at Stern's Gym for several years in the 80s. Leo was a great person, a master fitness guru and will be missed by all. God bless you Leo and thank you for all you have done in helping others.
Tony
October 28, 2009
Leo Stern was a pioneer in the gym and physical culture field. I knew him mainly through his tutelage of and lifetime frienship with Bill Pearl. He represented a wonderful era in bodybuilding that laid the groundwork for the huge popularity we see today. Even Leo would never have dreamed that strength training would become an equal partner--some would say senior partner--with aerobics as a cornerstone of healthy living. Thank you Leo; your place in history is secure. Carol and I extend our sincerest condolences to his friends and family.
Clarence Bass
October 9, 2009
I never met Leo Stern, but I always heard of him and his gym in North Park. I was a friend of Gene Fischer and worked out at his gym in Spring Valley (Fischer's Gym)in the late 1970s -80's. I know that Gene was a good friend of his. Gene told me a lot about Leo, his gym, and his contributions to bodybuilding and fitness in San Diego. I know that the great Bill Pearl worked out there and started his career in bodybuilding there. I looked at Stern's Gym as one of the great true old time gyms in San Diego. It feels like an era has ended in San Diego. God bless him and his family.
Dan Moody
October 8, 2009
Hi my friends; both Gregg and I are very sad about the loss of your Dad. He was a dear friend of ours, as you boys are. We loved your Mother and what we will miss most is having your Dad come by and give me an earful of what is happening in North Park but also asking me if I am still working with the kids. He liked that idea because even though he was "tough" he loved young people. Joe and Gregg Schloss
October 8, 2009
Leo was a hero to many young
kids in San Diego..He hung out at
'ol Mission Beach, showing his
muscles to all of us..treating us little guys with the utmost respect and kindness. He even made me some bar bells out of big coffee cans with cement. He was proud of my working out with them in my garage..he inspired many youngsters with lots of encouragement. What a great guy to remember so fondly.I am happy to have known him and his always calling me "feet"...God bless you Leo.. Barbara Haislip Adams
October 8, 2009
I joined sterns gym in the early 80's and am still a member. it was an honor to have known Leo. he was as honest and straight forward as anyone you could ever hope to meet. Leo was an icon in the world of fitness and he touch more lives then anyone will ever know. Thank you Leo for touching my life. The world has lost one of the greats. god bless you.
Tim Critz
October 8, 2009
I have very fond memories of Mr. and Mrs. Stern and that gym in North Park. My buddies and I spent many an hour training there. Leo was always very helpful and taught us a lot about training and proper gym etiquette. We trained there in the mid 50's and later in the 60's. At age 71, I still benefit from his teaching. To Leo I would say thanks for everything including the great stories he and his wife used to tell. My condolences and best wishes to the Stern family. Mr. Stern had a large and very beneficial impact on my life.
William Miller
October 8, 2009
I thank God for Leo and the Stern family. My fondest memories as a young man have their origin in Leo's gym. I met several legends there. To this day I exercise as a result of the guidance Leo gave me. When I have occasion to be in North Park, I drive by Stern's gym just for the sake of seeing it and thanking God that I had the rare privilege of knowing him
God bless you all, Stern family.
Vincent Ortiz
Vincent Ortiz
October 8, 2009
Rest in Peace, Mr. Stern-"The Father of Weight Training in San Diego". Thanks you for taking the time to answer all the questions I had as a young man. It is a true pleasure knowing you. I always enjoy your autographed photo, a copy of the image that hung over the stairway in your gym.
To the Stern family, please know your father improved the lives of many people, not only in strength and health.

Big Pat
Patrick Luskin
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