By Tim Hunt
Four men pass who left imprints on the valleyUploaded: Feb 3, 2020
The Independent edition last week sadly contained obituaries of four people who played key roles in the valley and the city of Livermore over many years.
Topping the list was retired Livermore school superintendent Leo Croce, who passed Jan. 27 at the age of 96. Downtown Livermore businessman Mel Luna, former University of California executive working with the national labs Jim Kane of Pleasanton and railroad aficionado and former BART director Bob Allen of Livermore. All left their imprints on the valley.
Leo and my friend, Joe Turnage, former principal of Marilyn Avenue and Jackson Avenue elementary schools in Livermore, collaborated on a book, “Mission Completed” that was published in 2018. Most of the book is dedicated to Leo’s 35 flights as co-pilot of a B-17 Superfortress flying bombing missions over Germany as the allies tried to cripple the German war machine in 1944 and 1945. They’re based on his journal entries during those challenging days. Amazingly, nobody on Leo’s crew was seriously injured or worst on those 35 missions over Germany dealing with anti-aircraft flack and German fighter planes.
Leo grew up in Oakland, graduated from Cal after the war and served in the Oakland public schools for 25 years before being appointed Livermore superintendent in 1973. He served 16 years during times of both growth and declining enrollment. He was characterized by seemingly boundless energy. That carried through his nearly 30 years of “retirement” that included annual birthday luncheons with his former secretaries, weekly Livermore Rotary meetings, rounds of golf, and several visits each year to the Livermore elementary school that bears his name.
Kane also was a World War II vet, serving in the Army in the European theater and being awarded a Silver Star. His unit liberated the Nazi concentration camp at Flossenburg, Germany. After his college education, he joined what’s now Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, rising to lead the chemistry and materials science division. The family settled in Pleasanton (down the street from where I live today) and Kane served on the elementary school board. He then moved to Washington D.C. and helped set up the first Dept. of Energy organization focused on conserving energy.
He then left the federal government and joined the University of California in the president’s office as a special assistant dealing with the three national laboratories under the university’s management. He was 95,
Kane left a lasting legacy for his late wife, Marilyn, when he contributed the funds that resulted in the paved path along the Arroyo de la Laguna in the Bernal open space.
Allen, 93, served 14 years on the BART Board of Directors and was a voice for reforming the agency. After leaving BART, he consistently advocated for rail transit in the Bay Area. You could count on Bob to write thoughtful letters to the editor that were published for years. And, whenever you saw him for events, he was clad in his white short-sleeved shirt with his bow tie and black-rimmed glasses.
Luna owned Mel’s Antiques on the “old” First Street when downtown Livermore struggled. He opened the shop after moving his family to Livermore in 1968. He served as a city planning commissioner and board member and president of the Livermore Main Street Association. He advocated for improving the business climate during the turbulent years when the growth wars were being fought weekly in the city. He was 87.