Oak Harbor lost one of its most prominent residents when Leonard Appelhans passed away earlier this month.
“The Voice of the Oak Harbor Rockets,” Lenny died at age 50 on July 3. He was best-known to those in Oak Harbor as the man who announced the home football games on Friday nights for a number of years.
In Oak Harbor, where football reigns supreme, he was one of the few constants that endured through the years. An announcer for the team since the mid-1980s, Lenny was someone we knew would always be there on Friday nights, ready to call the action on the field and serve as our guide for the evening.
“He really had a love for Oak Harbor and athletics in general,” said Oak Harbor athletic director Drew Grahl. “When you were around Lenny, you were always smiling, you were always laughing — he was the type of person that people gravitate to.”
Appelhans, who was an offensive tackle on the Rocket football team in his heyday, graduated from Oak Harbor High School in 1978 and earned an associate’s degree in sales, marketing and accounting from Owens Technical College in 1980. He was working as an accountant at the Riverview Health Care Campus in Oak Harbor, and, before that, as an accountant for 28 years at the former Metcalf Airport in Lake Township.
Whether you were young or old, whether or not you possessed an interest in athletics, there was a good chance that, as an Oak Harbor resident, you either knew Lenny, or, at the very least, knew of him. As for me, I only knew him in passing but found him to be a kind individual.
As a kid growing up attending Rocket football games, he was one of the first broadcasters I was exposed to, one of the first voices that I, a huge sports fan, associated with athletics.
As sports fans, we often associate a broadcaster as being one of the faces of a team because these men are sometimes one the few constants that remain for years; players and coaches come and go, but oftentimes, the play-by-play announcers are there for the long haul. With the Cleveland Cavaliers, you had Joe Tait; with the Detroit Tigers, you had Ernie Harwell. With the Oak Harbor Rockets, we had Lenny Appelhans.
That’s what Lenny was to Oak Harbor. He was that voice that we all recognized on Friday night, the man who narrated the football games for us year after year, the calming, distinctive voice that made us feel as though everything was under control and that the home team would prevail. He was there to call some of our most important games in our most successful seasons, and for that, we will never forget him.
“If we ever needed help with anything, he would help and donate his time,” said Grahl. “He was never paid for anything -- he did it because he loved kids and Oak Harbor. He was really the frontman of the program.”
Dave Graber, who was Appelhans’ best friend and sat to next him in the press box during the games keeping statistics, added to that sentiment.
“He knew how special it was for the kids to hear their name over the loudspeaker (at a game) -- he stressed that in his announcing.”
Aside from announcing the varsity home football games, Lenny was a very active member in the community, serving in a variety of organizations and clubs. He was a member of St. John’s Evangelical Lutheran Church, worked as a sports writer for The Exponent, Oak Harbor’s local newspaper, and as the scoreboard operator for Rocket home basketball games and also announced the JV and freshman football games. In addition to that, he was part of a couple of softball leagues as well as a golf league, and was the secretary/treasurer for the town’s Wednesday Night Bowling League.
In short, Lenny was a man who cared about other people and always wanted to give credit to them, which is why he was, and will remain, so beloved in our community.
“He was a great friend,” said Graber, “and we’ll remember him that way.”