Gus Leunes was many things to many people...

Wayne County in general and Honesdale in particular became just a little bit darker last week with the passing of a local legend.

Gus Leunes died Tuesday at Wayne Memorial Hospital after a brief illness.

He was 92.

Gus was many things to many people, the kind of man who lived a quiet, peaceful life … but, who also worked anonymously behind the scenes to help anyone in need.

The son of Peter & Pauline Leunes, Gus was a product of Honesdale schools and served his country honorably during the Korean War.

When Gus returned home, he settled right into the family business and became a fixture at Leunes’ Tavern on Main Street.

Gus loved working behind the bar and chatting with his customers. He also loved cooking, packing ‘em in every Thursday for his famous chili-dogs.

Most importantly of all, Gus was a loving husband to his wife of 50 years, the former Joyce Miller. He was also a dedicated father, grandfather and great grandfather.

While no “tribute” column could possibly do justice to Gus, I'd like to share a few anecdotes that hopefully will give you a glimpse into the life of a Wayne County legend.

True Colors

I know firsthand how selfless Gus Leunes was, never hesitating to lend a helping hand.

Back in 2005, Tom Di-Stasio, a dear friend and colleague, was struggling mightily with serious health issues.

Tom was a fixture on the NEPA newspaper scene, having been a reporter for the Scranton Times, the News Eagle and The Wayne Independent for decades.

Tom had a great sense of humor and a lifelong passion for baseball. We spent countless hours in the newsroom after deadline talking about our favorite teams: the Cubs and Mets.

I bragged about meeting Willie Mays at Shea and he countered with being in the stands at Wrigley when Ernie Banks hit his 500th career homer.

Sadly, Tom’s health declined rapidly and by late spring of 2005 he wasn’t able to work anymore. To complicate matters, Tom’s medical bills were crippling his family so all of us at the paper banded together to try and help out.

And, this is where Gus comes in.

My friend, Guy Mathews, tracked down a vintage Coca-Cola machine whose owner donated it to the cause. “Get whatever you can for it,” the man said.

Guy managed to haul it over to the paper where we all gathered round. It was one of those tall, red metal models ... the kind you dropped a quarter in, then opened the long vertical door and pulled out a bottle.

Once Guy got it cleaned up, we knew it had the potential to bring in a pretty penny. The only problem was that, after years of neglect, it just didn’t work anymore.

It was at this moment that inspiration struck.

“Let’s call Gus!”

And that’s exactly what we did. When he heard what we were trying to do for Tom, Gus came right over, little black toolkit in hand ... even though it was the middle of a busy workday.

Gus worked on that machine for hours while we all went about the business of getting the paper out.

Finally, late in the afternoon, he emerged. Gus handed us a brand new set of keys and simply said:

“No charge. Consider it my contribution.”

A couple of weeks after the funeral, several of us stopped in to Leunes’ and Gus was sitting at the bar. He greeted us with a smile and a warm handshake as he always did.

We settled into our customary corner booth and began talking among ourselves. After a few minutes, Gus came over and asked about our friend.

When we told him that Tom had passed, a shadow crossed his face.

“I’m sorry to hear that,” Gus said, genuine sadness in his voice. And, turning back to his bartender, added: “Get these nice people a round on me ... in Tom's memory.”

Tributes

The morning after Gus passed, I put out the word on social media that I’d be writing a little tribute.

The response has been overwhelming. In the span of just a few days, nearly 500 people interacted with my post. Dozens and dozens of folks wrote to express their sadness ... and to share their stories.

Here are just a few examples:

•“Prayers for Gus. I will never forget his kindness to arrive at my home with locks to help me maintain my safety during a very difficult time. May your memory be eternal. Axios, axios, axios!

- Marianne O'Brien

•“I can remember making dozens of rolls for him every Thursday for his lunch special. He always came in to the bakery to pick them up himself.”

- Steven Day

•“Gus was a great man. He enjoyed cooking at the bar. Always treated everybody with dignity and respect.”

- Carl Doherty

•“He always had phenomenal stories to tell about his life and the town. Some were sad and a lot were funny. Welcomed everyone that came into the bar and his life with a genuine smile and a handshake or hug. He will be missed by all the people that love him immensely!”

- Jennifer Chmelik

• “My first encounter with Gus happened when I was 5 or 6. I locked myself in handcuffs and my grandfather had to take me to Leunes' so Gus could unlock them. Gus had a field day with me! But, when it was all over, he picked me up and put me on a stool and poured me a soda.”

- Eric Irwin

One of the nicest tributes was written by my old friend Brian Wilken who put it better than I ever could, saying of Gus:

“In a world in search of heroes, one just passed. Gus was ever-cheerful and eager to lend a hand. He always looked for the good in people and never got mired in the trough of life.

“Gus was just a genuinely good man.”

If you think of it sometime over the holiday weekend, raise a glass to his memory and say a little prayer for the Leunes Family.

Rest in Peace, Gus.

You are already missed.