Mt. Washington aerospace engineer had lifelong love of sports
Louis “Babe” Lerda considered the years he spent as an aerospace engineer on space programs for the Lockheed Missile & Space Division in Sunnyvale, Calif., as being on a mission for his country.
“Uncle Babe had top priority clearance when he was involved with the Polaris missiles,” said his nephew, Sam Lerda, who recalled his uncle’s pride in serving his country in the Navy.
Louis L. “Babe” Lerda of Mt. Washington died Thursday, Feb. 21, 2008, at UPMC Mercy hospital, Uptown. He was 79.
During the 20 years that Mr. Lerda was employed by Lockheed in the ’60s and ’70s, he was involved with the Apollo missions.
“Uncle Babe spent four years in the Navy during the Korean War as a flight radio operator,” Sam Lerda said.
Born and raised in Mt. Washington, Louis Lerda was one of 10 children in the family of contractor Severino Lerda and his wife, Emilia Lerda, who emigrated from Italy.
“Our father built many houses on Mt. Washington and Beechview,” said Mr. Lerda’s brother, John Lerda.
“Babe was always involved with sports,” John Lerda added. “He played football, baseball and basketball at South Hills High School (in Mt. Washington).
Mr. Lerda was considered a star catcher for the Mount Washington Mounties sandlot baseball team.
John Lerda recalled his brother’s involvement in his younger days with several area barbershop quartets, including the Vince Petriello group, which entertained throughout the tri-state area.
“After Babe graduated from high school (in 1947), he played for one of the Pittsburgh Pirates’ farm teams before he enrolled at the University of Kansas in Topeka, where he played football,” attending the school one year, his brother said.
In 1954, after his discharge from the Navy, Mr. Lerda married Frances Gastel, a resident of Oakland that he met during his tour of duty.
Upon receiving an associate degree from Oakland (California) Community College, he began his career with Lockheed.
Mr. Lerda began umpiring baseball games and became a member of the Santa Clara Valley Officials Association. Fran and Louis Lerda hosted numerous foreign exchange students.
Upon the death of his wife in 1999, Mr. Lerda returned to Mt. Washington, where he became a regular at the Village Dairy on Shiloh Street.
“Uncle Babe continued to correspond with the former foreign exchange students that he and Aunt Fran befriended,” said Patti Lerda.
“He had correspondents throughout the Middle East, including Saudi Arabia, Iran and in Italy and Greece,” she added.
“One of the exchange students returned to Greece and became a prominent doctor.”
Mr. Lerda is survived by a sister, Marie Groppi, of Mt. Washington and a brother, John Lerda, of Beechview.
He was preceded in death by his siblings, Erminia, Erminio “Fats,” Remigio, Serafino “Fin” and Frank Lerda, Evelyn Deal and Virginia Jensen.
Friends received from 2 to 4 and 6 to 8 p.m. today at the Brusco-Falvo Funeral Home Inc., 214 Virginia Ave., Mt. Washington.
Funeral Mass at 11 a.m. Monday at St. Mary of the Mount Church.