In 1940, several Silver Run-area residents, looking for a place to enjoy target shooting and fishing as an organized group, formed the North Carroll Rod and Gun Club.
Earl Leppo joined the group at the age of 28. At 80, he is one of its most faithful members. Wednesday nights and weekends find Leppo and his wife serving refreshments to hungry trap-shooters at the club on Deep Run Road in Union Mills.
Special events such as league shoots find them cooking up to 30 pounds of sausages for sandwiches or icing cases of soft drinks. Leppooften helps with maintenance chores and mowing around the club house. In addition, he is one of the club's trustees and a life member, anhonor accorded to all 10-year members over 65.
"Earl's dedicationto the club is really unbelievable," said club president Wayne Haifley. "Any function we have or any activity, he's right there. Breakfast shoots start at 7 a.m.; Earl's there at 5 a.m. and has the fires going."
Earl Leppo was born on the farm that is now Hashawha Environmental Appreciation Center. He recalls a boyhood filled with such rural pleasures as traveling to Bachman's Valley Church in a surrey and floating down "the creek" after summer storms raised the water level.The extended Leppo family consisted of so many cousins they once fielded their own baseball team -- the "Leppo Blue Sox."
The North Carroll Rod and Gun Club that Leppo remembers in the early days was quite different from the modern clubhouse.
"Originally, we just had asmall piece of land down between Deep Run Creek and the road," Lepporecalled. "To get the money for the property, we sold stock, so muchto each of the members. Ben Kempfer down in Westminster had a sawmill, and he gave us a lot of nice hickory timber to build the clubhousewith."
That original building still stands and is a private residence.
The club's original group consisted of from 15 to 20 membersand included Leppo's father and his brother, Woodrow, now club secretary. Dues were a $1 per year.
During World War II, Leppo was drafted into the 16th Regiment of the 1st Army Division. A staff sergeant, he said he was the fourth man to hit Normandy Beach during the invasion of France. Involved in six major battles, he feels that the marksmanship he learned as a young man was a definite advantage.
"I was in rifle-shooting distance of the enemy most of the time," he said."It seems like the young fellows coming in that hadn't had much experience (with guns) were more likely to become casualties."
While Leppo was in the service, the Rod and Gun Club purchased the "Nooks" Newman farm and built a more modern clubhouse. A shed was moved from Hanover, Pa., and used as storage for the clay "birds" that are released for trap shoots. This second clubhouse was destroyed by fire in 1976, and the present block building was erected on the site the following year.
Today, the club boasts 186 members. They meet the first Monday of each month and the roster of those who have served as officers is a compendium of longtime Carroll County names.
A brass plaque in the meeting room lists several generations of families bearing such names as Utz, Stonesifer, Kelbaugh, Koontz, Neudecker, Barnhart.In some cases, father, son and grandson can be found on the membership list.
Now, several women are active in the group and participate regularly in club events. The club participates in the Heart of Maryland League as well as a Pennsylvania league.
"Our range of activities has increased over the past couple of years," Haifley said. "We're now doing breakfast shoots on Sundays in addition to the regular Wednesday night shoots. Also, in winter we plan to have still-target shoots once a month. In addition, we've joined the Carroll County Sportsman's Association and are participating through them in a lot of other activities."
As a result of the increased level of activity, the club has attracted a number of new members.
"These new membershave a lot of energy and are eager to help out with activities," Haifley said.
While Leppo is not active on the firing line, having been partially deafened by tank fire during his military service, his interest in the club he helped found hasn't waned a bit over the years.
"In addition to everything else, he's our historian. Any time wewant to know anything about the club or the property boundaries, he's the one we ask," Haifley observed. But Earl Leppo isn't the sort tosit back and reminisce about the past.
"For a man his age he really hustles," the club president confirmed. "I can tell you for a factall the fellows look forward to seeing him there."