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.
Published in SanDiegoUnionTribune.com on Oct. 8, 2009.