WORCESTER – Army veteran and retired dentist Dr. Romeo LeBlanc celebrates his 100th birthday on Tuesday, June 7, looking back on a series of highlights.
Between his upbringing in Fitchburg, his stint with the U.S. Army and his dental practice later in life, LeBlanc, according to his family, has lived a great 100 years. But, a resident of Worcester’s Lutheran Rehabilitation and Skilled Care Center, Romeo LeBlanc humbly referred to his century on Earth as “nothing special.”
“I’m being celebrated? What did I do?” LeBlanc said with a laugh. “I’ll never understand why anyone would want to read about poor old me.”
“He’s always been humble, from the very beginning,” Diane LeBlanc said. “But it’s just so inspiring, seeing him reach this milestone.”
Romeo Leblanc and his daughters, Diane and Donna LeBlanc, celebrated his centennial with little fanfare on Monday, June 6. Rather, they simply recounted stories from the life of their father, whom they called “one of the great ones.”
Born June 7, 1922, Romeo LeBlanc spent the first two years of his life in Canada, before his family relocated to Fitchburg’s Cleghorn neighborhood. The first of 14 children, he often went without for their sake as he grew up in the city.
He “always tried to do what was best for his siblings,” Diane LeBlanc said. “He loved them so much — as they grew up, he tried to lead by example and always put them before himself.”
A graduate of Fitchburg High School, Romeo LeBlanc was immediately enlisted into the U.S. Army at the age of 18. From 1939 to 1943, he served with the 26th Infantry Division — also known as the “Yankee” Division,” a formation of the Massachusetts National Guard. Later, from 1943 to 1945, he was assigned to the 7th Armored Divison and saw extensive action on the Western Front.
During his time with the 7th Armored, LeBlanc served under late Gen. George Patton and, later, was a participant in the monthlong Battle of the Bulge under the command of Gen. Courtney Hodges.
As he talked about the war and his military service, LeBlanc began to tear up.
“It’s just bringing back so many memories,” he said.
After the war, LeBlanc returned to Fitchburg before he continued his education, first at the University of Massachusetts Amherst and, later, at the Tufts University School of Dental Medicine. After he graduated, LeBlanc opened his own private practice back in Cleghorn, both as a way to support his family — his late wife Jennie LeBlanc, daughter Diane LeBlanc, son Kenny LeBlanc and (later) daughter Donna LeBlanc — and give back to the neighborhood he grew up in.
“He had always loved school,” Donna LeBlanc said. “And dentistry was a passion, but also a way for him to give back to the community.”
The Army and dentistry, noble as they are, were not LeBlanc’s only pursuits in life. Not only did he excel as an athlete but, later in life, he found a love for singing and dancing as well.
During his time at FHS, LeBlanc greatly enjoyed football. Upon his return from the war, he shined equally as a golfer and skier as well. According to Donna LeBlanc, Romeo LeBlanc even qualified for the Senior Olympics as a skier, but had to withdraw due to injury.
“He’s always been a man without limit,” Diane LeBlanc said. “If he wanted to do something, he did it — I know for a fact he kept dancing until he was 94.”
Later, as they wrapped up their celebration, the sisters discussed the key to Romeo LeBlanc’s longevity. Both cited his “carefree and charismatic” attitude as a major component.
“To me, that’s what has kept him going — stress, he just never let it get to him,” Donna LeBlanc said.
But, before he was whisked away, Romeo LeBlanc gave his own opinion as he, once again, humbled himself, saying the key to life is living it as best one can, just as everyone else.
“Sometimes, I think I was just lucky,” he said. “My life has been hard, just like everyone else. I’ve just tried to live life the right way.”
“So, what’s kept me going? Nothing special — I don’t always do what I want or like, but what I have to do. I do my best and just go day-by-day.” After a pause, he laughed and said “I figure, another 100 years and I’ll have it made.”