Leon Netardus, author, actor, local historian and community leader, died Friday, Oct. 4. He was 90.
Netardus was well known in Gonzales for his knowledge of local history and volunteering. In retirement, he volunteered as a tour guide for the Gonzales Chamber of Commerce, sharing detailed stories on historic houses and monuments around town to anyone interested.
Ever the storyteller and as one of Gonzales’ leading authorities on the paranormal, Netardus penned the book “Ghosts of Gonzales,” which infused stories of local ghost hotspots with historical context.
“Leon loved telling the story of Gonzales to visitors from all over the world. Many visitors would call him the ‘Gem of Gonzales’ and send their friends and family to also take his tour,” chamber executive director Daisy Scheske Freeman said. “While he refused to accept donations, he would always encourage customers to purchase his autographed "Ghost of Gonzales" book. Leon was a huge part of the Gonzales Chamber and tourism family as he would entertain us with stories in our office every day.”
Netardus’ love for storytelling also bled onto the stage, where he acted in numerous productions at the Crystal Theatre throughout the mid-80s and 90s. Crystal Theatre director Barbara Crozier remembered Netardus’ “infusive, engaging personality” as an actor and an individual.
“Everybody loved Leon,” Crozier said. “Didn’t meet a person that didn’t love Leon.”
One of Netardus’ most memorable roles was as Green DeWitt in “Gonzales: The Beginning.” The historical production was at one point performed annually at the Come and Take It Celebration as well as at the Alamo in San Antonio, the University of Texas in Austin and in front of the Daughters of the Texas Revolution.
Netardus served as a member of the Saint James Catholic Church, Knights of Columbus Council 5090, Gonzales Lion’s Club, the Gonzales High School’s Quarterback Club and the Come and Take It board of directors. In 2000, Netardus was presented by the chamber with the David B. Walshak Lifetime Achievement Award, the highest community service honor one can receive in Gonzales.
Born April 12, 1929 in Lavaca County, Leon August Netardus spent his formative years moving around south-central Texas with his family as they struggled through the Great Depression. In 1942, work brought the Netardus family to Gonzales.
Netardus attended Gonzales High School and played football and basketball. Upon graduation in 1946, he joined the United States Army and served in the Allied occupation of Japan. After being discharged, Netardus attended, what was then referred to as, St. Mary’s College in San Antonio and earned a Bachelor of Business Administration in Accounting.
For the next 38 years, Netardus worked for the Guadalupe Valley Electric Cooperative. He rose to become GVEC business manager before retiring in 1992.
It was in that time that Netardus met and married his wife Rosemary. They had two daughters together, both of whom still reside in Texas. Netardus was longtime friends with local historian and tour guide Paul Frenzel. The two initially bonded over their love of fishing and that blossomed into a 25-year friendship.
“When we moved here in 1994 Leon asked me if I liked to fish. That resulted in a 15 year ‘trot-line’ experience,” Frenzel said. “We went trout-line fishing whenever we could. Leon always liked to run the motor because he did not want to be the ‘front man’ who pulled up the line and took the fish off. He delighted in running me into every bush and tree branch along the edge of the river that he could find. Shortly after getting me involved in trot lining, he insisted that I learn how to do a driving tour of Gonzales, an activity I still love doing to this day.”
Paul is the husband of Robert Lee Brother Jr. Memorial Library board president Vicki Frenzel. In April 2019, the library named a room after Netardus for his 90th birthday.
“He was a great friend and played a big part in getting me involved in promoting this town that we both love,” Paul Frenzel said. “I will miss him, as will the rest of Gonzales.”