John Leptich, a former reporter and copy editor at the East Valley Tribune and Scottsdale Tribune, lost his long and hard-fought battle against bone marrow cancer early Monday.
Leptich, 60, died about 4:30 a.m. Monday at Banner Thunderbird Hospital in Glendale with his family by his side.
Leptich, an avid Chicago Cubs and sports fan with a penchant for pizza, worked for the Tribune from 1997 to late 2008, when he joined Freeport McMoRan Copper and Gold (formerly Phelps Dodge) in Phoenix as an internal communications specialist.
While at the Tribune, Leptich worked in various capacities, including managing editor of Scottsdale Views, and later writing the popular community columns "Our Scottsdale" and "Everyday People."
A native of Chicago who frequented Wrigley Field where he met his wife-to-be in 1975, Leptich had relocated to Arizona in 1995 after working 16 years for the Chicago Tribune as a sports writer and sports copy editor. While there in 1984, he co-authored a book, This Date in St. Louis Cardinals History.
As a teenager, Leptich was the president of the Fergie Jenkins Fan Club, the Hall of Fame pitcher who played for the Chicago Cubs early in his career and retired as an active player from the team in 1983. Leptich, who lived in Glendale, and Jenkins, who lives in Anthem, remained in touch through the years and often spoke during the various Old-Timer benefit games held during spring training.
Leptich also wrote the story about Jenkins’ retirement from baseball for the Chicago Tribune in 1983.
Jenkins told the Tribune on Tuesday that he first met Leptich when he was a teenager in 1966 soon after Jenkins was traded from the Philadelphia Phillies to the Cubs. Leptich, who also was a big Chicago Blackhawks hockey fan, had asked Jenkins for some autographs and came to Cubs games. Soon after, Leptich invited Jenkins and his first wife, Kathy, to his home for dinner with his family, and Jenkins accepted.
“He was a good man,” Jenkins said. “He was hard-working, and when he worked for the Tribune, he wanted to write good stories. Sports was his life. Unfortunately, he fought cancer for several years, and battled it as long as he could until it took his life. He was a happy individual who enjoyed working and he loved his kids and family.”
While Leptich was out of the newspaper business for two years in Arizona, he worked for Evening Star Productions (now LiveNation), a concert promotion firm owned by Danny Zelisko, a childhood friend.
Diagnosed with cancer in 2005, Leptich remained positive and upbeat and often was described as a "tenacious" or "old-school" reporter by his colleagues.
"Besides being a genuinely positive force in the newsroom, a talented writer and energetic reporter, the thing that always struck me about John was how much he loved his family," said former Scottsdale Tribune City Editor Bill Bertolino. "He often spoke about his wife and daughters, and how family was the most important thing in his life."
Bertolino said Leptich underwent regular medical treatments while working at the Scottsdale Tribune. "But if you didn't know him, you'd never know it," Bertolino said. "He never complained, and he always kept a positive attitude - and a repertoire of one-liners and jokes to keep the vibe in the newsroom upbeat and loose."
In 1990, Leptich wrote a story for the Chicago Tribune about a 12-year-old boy being sued after he bought a 1968 Topps Nolan Ryan rookie baseball card for $12 when a store clerk made an error and did not charge him $1,200, which the card was worth. The story was selected in 1991 by the Associated Press Sports Editors as one of the Top 10 Sports Stories in the U.S.
Last year, Leptich won first place in the Arizona Press Club's writing contest, breaking news category, for a story about a woman who saved her six children from a burning house trailer. The story also won first place in the best news story category of the Associated Press Managing Editors/Arizona Newspaper Association's writing contest.
Leptich is survived by his wife, Rosa Leptich; daughter Arielle Leptich; and daughter Amanda Blagg and her husband Marc. He also is survived by one grandson, Jameson Edward Blagg.
Visitation will be 9:30 a.m. Friday with a funeral Mass following at 11 a.m. at St. Thomas More Catholic Church, 6180 W. Utopia Road, Glendale.
Burial will be at Holy Cross Cemetery. In lieu of flowers, the family is requesting that donations be made to the Myeloma Research Foundation.