WMT radio personality Leo Greco dies

'Variety Time' host was 89

Leo Greco smiles as he tells jokes to the audience between songs as he performs with Frank Buhr at Hallmar nursing home
Leo Greco smiles as he tells jokes to the audience between songs as he performs with Frank Buhr at Hallmar nursing home facility at Mercy Medical Center on Wednesday, Dec. 30, 2009. Greco, who died Tuesday, entertained in Eastern Iowa for nearly 70 years. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)

Leo Greco lived his life based on his father’s credo — “the only thing you can take with you when you die is your integrity.”

Greco’s integrity was firmly intact when he died at age 89 Tuesday night at the Dennis and Donna Oldorf Hospice House of Mercy in Hiawatha.

“His (integrity) was higher than anybody else I know,” said Andy Petersen, 28, 600 WMT-AM on-air personality.

During a career spanning nearly eight decades, Greco was best known for leading the Leo Greco Band in the 1950s and ’60s and hosting the “Variety Time” Sunday morning radio show on 600 WMT-AM since the early 1970s.

Another trait his father, Dominic, instilled in him was service to others.

“My dad told me when I was a kid, ‘We’re living in the greatest country in the world, you have to give back,’” he said in a 2010 interview.

GALLERY: Leo Greco through the years (story continues below gallery)

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One of Greco’s favorite organizations was Camp Courageous in Monticello, a recreation facility for individuals with disabilities.

He promoted the camp on “Variety Time” every Sunday morning by allowing Charlie Becker, the camp’s executive director, to give updates.

He also partnered with Camp Courageous to collect millions of pop can tabs for the Shriners Transportation Fund.

Becker met Greco in 1980.

“I was 25 years old and the camp was in its infancy,” Becker said. “He risked his reputation to support the camp in its beginning stage. That taught me as I got older to reach down to younger generations and put your arms around them. He’s done that to so many people.”

Petersen is one of the young professionals Greco mentored.

While an intern at the University of Iowa, Petersen produced Greco’s Sunday show.

“I knew from watching him, the high standard he expected,” Petersen said. “For me, to be asked to be a part of that, it was very humbling. It showed he had confidence in me.”

When Petersen graduated from college and entered the workforce full time, Greco continued to guide him.

“As I was learning to interact with people properly, Leo was always there,” he said. “He would see I was struggling and tell me a story about a similar situation he was in. It was never a criticism, but an example.”

Katheryn Foxx, on-air personality at WMT-600’s sister station, Mix 96.5 FM, worked with Greco for 20 years.

A man of principle, she said, Greco would listen to song lyrics before playing them on the air.

“He made our world better by being in it,” Foxx said. “Everybody who worked with him wanted to follow in his footsteps.”

The last Sunday morning “Variety Time” Greco hosted was three weeks ago, according to JJ Cook, WMT operations manager.

It is not known how WMT will fill Greco’s Sunday morning spot from 7:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.

“Leo is irreplaceable,” Cook said. “There is nobody who can duplicate what he did. I’m not sure what we are going to do.”

A funeral Mass will be held at 11 a.m. Saturday at St. Matthew Catholic Church, 2310 First Ave. NE. Visitation will be held at Cedar Memorial Park Funeral Home, 4200 First Ave. NE, from 3 to 8 p.m. Friday and after 10 a.m. Saturday at the church.

Greco leaves behind five children, nine grandchildren and a great-grandchild. His wife, Louise, died in January 2008.

“They didn’t come any finer,” said Becker, of Camp Courageous. “He walked the walk and talked the talk. He set the bar on how to raise a family and love a spouse.”To read Greco's full obituary, click here.

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