Dr. Leonard Pleban gave his medical services free to the Sharon City School District athletic teams.
By HAROLD GWIN
VINDICATOR SHARON BUREAU
SHARON, Pa. -- There will be one notable absence on the sidelines when the Sharon Tigers suit up for their first football scrimmage of the season Aug. 17.
Dr. Leonard F. Pleban, a podiatrist who has been a fixture on the team for 50 years, offering free care for foot and ankle injuries, won't be back this season.
Dr. Pleban, who turned 82 on Tuesday, notified school officials earlier this year that his services are no longer available.
"I just thought it was time to get out," Dr. Pleban said.
"I probably will miss it, miss being around the kids," Dr. Pleban said, adding that he'll still try to get to some of the games.
The nice part, he said, was watching the kids grow up and bloom into first-class citizens.
He went to every football game -- home and away -- for 50 years and provided the same medical service at all home basketball games as well as all of the away games for the first 28 years. He also worked with the school's other athletic teams over the years, again at no cost, he said.
He first offered his services in 1951 when Johnny Chickerneo was the head football coach at Sharon.
"I traveled with the team for the first 25 years," he recalled.
Serving his country
Pleban, born in Carnegie, Pa., but reared in Sharon, didn't go to medical school until after a three-year stint with a medical detachment in the 83rd Infantry Division of the U.S. Army during World War II.
He saw action in five major European campaigns, including the landing at Omaha Beach and the Battle of the Bulge, earning a Combat Medical Badge, Bronze Star and the European Theater of Operation medal with five stars.
He graduated from Ohio College of Podiatry in 1950 and opened his practice in Sharon on Dec. 7 of that year.
Dr. Pleban had been a nationally licensed basketball official, handling high school, college and professional games before entering the service, and decided that he wanted to be part of a team effort after completing his education. That prompted him to offer his services to Chickerneo.
Dr. Pleban, a Sharon High school graduate, said he also wanted to give something back to the school district.
"I always thought an awful lot of the school," he said.
The school board presented him with a plaque in April "in recognition and appreciation for his 50 years of service" to the district's athletic programs.
A sixth sense
He was also invited to be the commencement speaker in June and said he advised graduating seniors to develop a sixth sense -- the sense of humor. It's something you need to get along in life, he said.
Dr. Pleban said some of the players he worked with have come back to visit him over the years, and two brothers, Jeff and Craig Lang, became podiatrists and opened practices in Pittsburgh.
Giving his time and skills to the Sharon schools hasn't been his only community service.
Dr. Pleban helped organize the Catholic grade school basketball programs in the Shenango Valley in the 1950s and helped found the All-Star Football game between Mercer and Trumbull counties, serving as its chairman for four years.
Proceeds from those games went for youth activities and student scholarships.
He's also been active in a wide variety of civic and fraternal organizations, and his contributions to the community have been recognized by many.
Among his honors are a 1954 Man of the Year Award from the Shenango Valley Jaycees, a 1974 Certificate of Honor from the Mercer County Hall of Fame and induction into the hall in 1990, the 1993 Collodi Award for Outstanding Service to Sharon High School, the 2000 Citizenship Award from the Sharon Italian American Club and numerous plaques for his contribution to sports in the community.
He may be leaving his school work behind, but Dr. Pleban said he has no plans to close his practice.
He's still in his office at 19 Jefferson Ave. three days a week and still makes house calls Wednesdays as well as visits to a local nursing home most Fridays.
He and his wife of nearly 60 years, Florence, like to do some traveling to visit family in Florida, and he said he may write a book on humor. It will include some of the incidents that have happened to him and some of the better stories he's heard, he said.
"I always say, 'Don't take life too seriously because you're not going to get out of it alive,'" he said. "People say to me, 'Are you still practicing?' I say, 'Yes, I am, and when I get it right, I'll quit.'"
The Plebans have three daughters, Patricia and Mary Estelle Pleban and Linda Pleban Cervone.