VALPARAISO, IN - Leonard J. Ellis, age 89, of Valparaiso Indiana, died Monday, January 14, 2018. He was a country music disc jockey, show promoter, radio host known as 'Uncle Len' and owner of Radio One Communications in Valparaiso.
He was born Leonard Elezovich on February 28, 1928 in Chicago's Bridgeport neighborhood to Nikola and Riketa (Cerenich) Elezovich, who had immigrated to the US from the Dalmatian coast of Croatia before 1920.
Ellis attended Harrison High School and briefly attended Duquesne University and was a member of the Tamburitzans, an international folk music ensemble. He served in the US Army and graduated from Columbia College in Chicago. He married Bernice Dubrick, also from Chicago's south side, in 1950.
For more than 50 years, starting in the early 1950s at WJOB in Hammond, Indiana he was known locally and around the country as 'Uncle Len. ' He was a founder of the Country Music Association in Nashville, Tennessee and holder of member card number one. Along with his wife, Bee Ellis, he was the owner and operator of Porter County Broadcasting, which operated WAKE Radio and WLJE-FM
He became 'Uncle Len' at WJOB in Hammond in the early 1950s when he mentioned on the air that his sister had a baby. 'I guess I'm Uncle Len now,' he said, and listeners started sending his fan mail addressed to Uncle Len.
He felt strongly that he should play country music for the people who had come from Appalachia after WW2 to work in the steel mills of northern Indiana. He sensed their longing for home and understood the rising popularity of the music.
In the 1950s and 60s he brought Grand Ole Opry musicians to perform at the Hammond Civic Center: Brenda Lee, Johnny Cash, George Jones, Buck Owens, Patsy Cline, Ernest Tubb, the Louvin brothers, Marty Robbins and more. Two of his favorite singers were Eddy Arnold and Ray Price.
He travelled frequently to Nashville, was active in a national disc jockey's association. He was named Mr. Dee Jay USA in 1963 and the CMA's Small Market Disc Jockey of the year in 1978.
Together he and his wife Bee, his business partner, built radio stations in northwest Indiana known for their community-based programming, starting with WAKE in 1963 and later WLJE-FM. Ellis revived his country music program and became Uncle Len again from 6:00-9:00 a.m. for 25 years in Valparaiso. He was a friendly, familiar and comforting voice to listeners all over northwest Indiana.
His children all followed in their parents footsteps and worked at the stations, which later became Radio One Communications, consisting of WAKE, WLJE, WXRD and WZVN, managed by his son Leigh after Len retired in the late 80s.
Ellis had a long career of public service in Northwest Indiana. He served as the President of the Valparaiso Chamber of Commerce and helped create Valparaiso's Popcorn Festival. He was the President of the Valparaiso Rotary Club and was named a Paul Harris Fellow. He was a member of the Valparaiso Toastmasters Club, the Duneland Woodcarvers Club and the Croatian Fraternal Union of America.
Len Ellis is survived by his wife, Bee, son, Leigh (Nancy) and daughter Marissa Wilson (Roy) of Valparaiso and Neenah (Noah Adams) of Yellow Springs, Ohio. His grandchildren are Isaac and Jovanina Wilson, Ashleigh Hurley (David) and Bailey Ellis. Also his sister, Marion Brodarick of Tampa, Florida, niece and nephew Scott (Susan) Brodarick, Ellen (Herb) Fiss, and many more nieces and nephew in Biloxi, Mississippi, in the Chicago area and Wisconsin.
Visitation will be held Thursday, January 18 from 2:00-7:00 p.m. at Aberdeen Banquet Center, 216 Ballantrae Street, Valparaiso. Funeral services Friday at 11:00 a.m. at Aberdeen Chapel.