Leo Christopher played professional baseball with Mickey Mantle, coached college basketball and baseball and was a heckuva handball and racquetball player.
He was also a long-time public servant in Phelps County, who is credited also with helping in the obtaining of funding for senior citizen housing in Rolla.
“He was a pleasure to know,” said Davis Haas, current Phelps County collector, the man who followed Christopher in that office.
Mr. Christopher died Monday, Oct. 7, 2013, at the age of 83. The funeral for Mr. Christopher will be held at 11 a.m. today, Friday October 11, 2013, at the James and Gahr Mortuary in Rolla. Pastor Ray Cook will conduct the service. Burial will be in Rolla Cemetery.
Memorials are suggested to the Missouri S&T baseball program.
Sports were important to Mr. Christopher. He attended Rolla High School and the University of Missouri and played basketball.
His family reports he played professional baseball five years with such notables as Whitey Herzog and Mickey Mantle.
He was an instructor in baseball at Don Zimmer’s Baseball School in Florida, was assistant basketball coach at UMR, now S&T, for seven years and introduced the baseball program to UMR His family reports he was head coach while winning one NAIA championship.
Phelps County Clerk Carol Bennett said records show Mr. Christopher served the Phelps County taxpayers from Jan. 1, 1969 through Feb. 28, 1991.
He first served six years as assessor, then was sworn in Feb. 28, 1975 as the collector. He retired from that office.
“Leo was kind of a Courthouse institution,” said Bennett, who went to work in the Courthouse in 1984.
Haas was elected to succeed Mr. Christopher as collector.
Although Haas was serving as a county commissioner at the time he was elected collector and knew quite a bit about county government from his on-the-job training, he said he learned much more from Christopher.
“When I decided to run, I first went to see Leo,” Haas said.
Mr. Christopher was planning to retire, and he took Haas under his wing.
“He was a great guy,” Haas said. “He helped me a lot. He had a lot of good advice, and I needed it.
“I had been commissioner for two years and thought I knew a lot, but he explained a little more about the Courthouse workings, information that I still use to this day.”
Haas said Mr. Christopher helped him before, way before, the time Haas entered county government.
“Leo helped me put together a baseball team,” he said.
Haas recruited a group of Rolla High School graduates and other athletes for an adult traveling baseball team. Mr. Christopher helped him in that recruiting, naming good ballplayers in the area to consider.
Page 2 of 2 - Mr. Christopher’s myriad interests were on display in his office.
“He had so much stuff in that office,” Haas said. There were pictures, taxidermy, coins – almost a mini-museum.
Outside the Courthouse, he loved to play racquetball at Vessell’s Fitness Center. He won several medals in the Senior Olympics for racquetball and basketball and won matches in the National Handball Championship tournament.
His family reports Mr. Christopher worked with the original committee that obtained federal housing funds for the high-rise in Rolla. He also served as a member of the University of Missouri Extension Council in Phelps County.
“He will be missed by all the Courthouse employees and officials who worked with him and knew him well,” said Bennett, the county clerk.
The same can be said of those whose lives he touched outside the Courthouse.