on eBay and paid $2,800 to the c ity of Hampton for what long a go had been driven by that t own’s fire chief. It’s still shiny r ed — with a fat cherry on top a nd an ear-splitting siren m ounted on the hood — but w ill be repainted green soon e nough. Ward already has b randed it with Melrose de- c als. “ I haven’t got your slot yet, b ut I’ll call you,” Ward said to R ush about preparations for M onday’s St. Patrick’s Day P arade in downtown Des M oines. Y ou might recognize Ward a s a fixture of the annual par ade, organized by the Friend- l y Sons of St. Patrick, that b egan in the late 1970s and in r ecent years has drawn as m any as 25,000 spectators. He h oofs the entire route wearing b oth a big smile and a loud, g reen leisure suit. He leads the w ay for the Melrose banner a nd a throng of 100 or more f ellow pedestrians — roughly t he population of the city — w ho help represent his rabidly I rish hometown. H e also owns the festive 1 944 pumper truck and vintage B arney Fife-style 1956 Ford p olice car seen annually in the p arade. R umor has it that the Irish c lans with ties to nearby unin- c orporated Georgetown, a p erennial friendly rival in the c ompetition for parade trop hies, are building a giant b ucket of beer for their float. N o matter: Ward’s ancestors h ail from Georgetown, so he w ins either way. W ard hasn’t been a full-time r esident of Melrose since he l eft for the Navy and spent f our years sailing the globe a board a destroyer during the K orean War. He still lives in t he house on the south side of D es Moines where he and his l ate wife raised six kids. One of h is sons, Tom, 51, died in July f rom multiple cancers. M elcher and her late hus- b and moved in across the s treet from the Wards and r aised three kids of their own. S he also lost a son to cancer l ast year. W ard and Melcher jokingly r efer to themselves as “the l eftovers” and have found c ompanionship with each other l ate in life. W ard worked as a barber on t he south side and, finally, fully r etired in December. He also s pent 21years as a state-em- p loyed firefighter at Des M oines International Airport. B ut the last thing Ward i ntends to give up is his Irish p ride. H e’s known on the streets of M elrose as “Leo the Lepre- c haun.” But his No. 1nickname i s Twinkle. Maybe it’s not the m ost imposing name for a G odfather, but he didn’t have m uch say in it. He was deemed “ fast as a wink” as a child frol- i cking on the streets, and “ Twinkle” stuck. H e says that he’s never been s ick a day in his life. (He’s also n ever smoked a cigarette.) H e still owns his paternal g reat-grandmother’s home in M elrose, where he and Melc her spend much of the sum- m er fishing farm ponds. M elrose has withered since t he coal mines closed, along w ith a pair of banks and other l ocal businesses. Ward still c herishes memories of being s chooled here by nuns, raised o n a diet of cornbread and b eans, playing euchre and d ancing to the tune of the nick- e l-per-record juke box in the f ormer K.C. Hall. T here was a mass exodus of r esidents in the wake of World W ar II, Ward said. Some of the v acant downtown buildings’ f acades have since been rep ainted with murals to make it l ook as if there’s a blacksmith s hop or law office to welcome c ustomers. Y et this remains the proud r ealm of such Irish families as C urran, Ryan, Navin, Hannam, C ronin and Walsh. M elrose even boasts its own B larney Stone in the downtown p ark. O f course there are both v arieties of spirits: St. Patr ick’s Catholic Church is p erched just up the hill from F eehan’s Pub that Mike and M ary Helen Feehan took over l ast year. T he town is refurbishing the f ormer Farmers State Bank b uilding so that a new grocery s tore can open there. “ Twinkle Arboretum” is a c ommunity garden partly on W ard’s property and some m arsh land where the town h arvests tomatoes each year. B ut not even the Godfather o f Melrose can compete with t he fame of the 1937 boys bask etball team that boasted an u ndefeated 33-0 season and w on the state championship a gainst schools of every size. T he 10 boys on the team and t heir coach all were novices w ho practiced in a makeshift g ym inside an opera house. “ They’re all in heaven now, b ut we sure still praise them d ears,” said Evelyn Tierney, t he local writer who published t he official town history. “ We talk about ’37 like it h appened yesterday,” agreed W ard, who helped rally sup- p ort for a stone monument to t he team in downtown Melrose. I n case you wondered, this I rish Godfather never has v isited the real Ireland where h is ancestors hailed from C ounty Cork. The best he could d o was to peer into the foggy m urk from the deck of his N avy ship anchored off the I rish coast. B ut if Ward had the chance h e rather would return to R ome, which he considers one o f the most beautiful cities on e arth. M elrose is homeland e nough for him, so he and Melc her make regular pilgrim- a ges, if even just for lunch. A nd his annual stroll through d owntown Des Moines on St. P atrick’s Day is the highlight o f his calendar. H e tips more money in a d ay than his dad ever earned p icking penny-per-bushel corn, W ard mused. “ I never had such a great l ife,” he said with a twinkle in h is eye. E ven in his twilight years, t hrough inescapable loss and s orrow, this leprechaun re- m ains a true believer in the l uck of the Irish. Kyle Munson can be reached at 515-2848 124 or firstname.lastname@example.org. See more of h is columns, blog posts and video at Des- M oinesRegister.com/munson. Connect with h im on Facebook (Kyle Munson's Iowa) and T witter (@KyleMunson). MUNSON Continued from Page 1I Leo Ward of Des Moines holds his hands together after he put on his Irish green suit, which he wears annually for the Des Moines St. Patrick’s Day parade. BRYON HOULGRAVE/REGISTER PHOTOS Ward drives his 1967 Plymouth down the streets of Melrose. Leo Ward, also known as the Godfather of Melrose, gives a tour of his hometown on T hursday.