Mike Pappas at Christmas, 2010. (TERRY NAU photo)
PAWTUCKET â Mike Pappas, who helped build the Pawtucket Boys & Girls Club into an organization that profoundly impacts the lives of youngsters throughout this city, passed away early Thursday morning at the age of 86.
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Pappas, a World War II veteran, began working at the former Boys Club facility on East Avenue in 1949, joining the staff as a physical education instructor. He moved up the ladder and succeeded Phil Geiger as Executive Director in 1964, serving in that position until his retirement in 1989.
âFor me, Mike was a mentor and a friend whose life was dedicated to the kids and families of Pawtucket,â said Jim Hoyt, Executive Director of the club. âMike helped create change in the club. He impacted thousands of lives over the years. Mike was very open to people and had an outgoing personality.
âMike was the face of the club for many years,â Hoyt added. âHis life just epitomizes the kind of work that is done here. We named the facility on School Street after Mike. It is called the âMike Pappas Complexâ in his honor.â
Pappas first came to the Boys Club as a youngster back in the Depression Era of the 1930s. He recalled those days in an interview last December.
âMy mother and father had eight children and they raised us in a three-story tenement house at 355 East Avenue,â Pappas said last year. âWe lived on the third floor. We could walk out of our house and head to the old Boys Club building downtown. It cost 50 cents to join and if you didnât have the money, they let you fold towels to become a member. No kid was ever turned away.â
During World War II, Pappas was stationed in the Aleutian Islands off the Alaskan coast after they had been taken back from the Japanese. At the suggestion of his commanding officer, Mike âvolunteeredâ to serve as physical education director at his base, an experience that would lead to his lifeâs work after the war ended.
Pappas returned to Pawtucket following the war and went to work for Collyer Wire. Always interested in sports, he became a member of the traveling Pawtucket Hobos basketball team, where he played hoops with good friend George Patrick Duffy.
âIâve known Mike since he was 10 years old,â Duffy, now 92, said. âItâs a sad day today for everyone who knew Mike.â
Pappas began casting his spell around the city in the late 1940s, making friends and contacts through the force of his outgoing personality.
âOne day, I got a call from Phil Geiger,â Pappas recalled. âHe knew the kind of work I had done in the Army and hired me as a physical education instructor. I took the job and never left the Boys Club. I enjoyed my work, seeing the kids at the club grow up into men over the years. I also enjoyed working with the people on our Board of Directors, great men like Ned Barlow who gave back so much to the community.â
Pappas became a familiar face at Pawtucket Country Club, where he played golf and enlivened the atmosphere with his anecdotes and connections to the professional sports world.
âMike brought Ted Williams to our club to play a round of golf in 1976,â long-time caddy master Jim Tanner was saying on Thursday morning. âTed didnât want anyone to know he was coming. It was a big secret to most of the members. Ted didnât have golf clubs so we gave him Bill Hartyâs clubs. Bill was lefthanded, just like Ted.â
Pappas would head south to spring training almost every March, often in the company of Pawtucket Times sports editor Ted Mulcahey. He became friends with many Red Sox players and officials, often inviting them to the Boys Clubâs biggest fundraiser, its annual golf tournament at Pawtucket Country Club. Former Red Sox third baseman Frank Malzone always came to play golf and chat with his friends from Pawtucket.
âMike seemed to know everyone,â Jim Tanner said with a chuckle. âWe called him âAmericaâs Guestâ because he was so popular with people. Golf to him was more of a social game than a competition. Mike just liked to be around people.â
Pappas, who in his prime years worked from early morning to late in the evening, took on public address duties at McCoy Stadium for the Pawtucket Red Sox in the early 1970s, spending a decade behind the microphone. This job became another social vehicle for the âGolden Greek,â as he was known to all of his friends.
Pappas and Mulcahey helped smooth the transition for new PawSox owner Ben Mondor and his young assistant, Mike Tamburro, when they began to remake the franchise in 1977.
âI was working âThe Longest Gameâ at McCoy Stadium in April of 1981,â Pappas said last year, telling one of his favorite stories. âThe game was played on the night before Easter. Being a Greek Orthodox Church member, I had to leave the game for Midnight Mass. My good friend Jim Murphy had given me a ride to the game. I asked him to take me to church. The game was still going on, in about the 15th inning, when we left. Jim went home after he dropped me off. âThe next morning, Jim wakes me up with a phone call, telling me the game had gone 32 innings and it was suspended with the score still tied. Jim loved baseball so much. He wanted to kill me for taking him away from such a historic game.â
Between work at the Boys Club, golf outings at Pawtucket C.C., and his duties with the PawSox, Mike Pappas became the face of more than just the Boys Club. He turned into one of the cityâs most prominent citizens, working on the Board of the Redevelopment Agency in the 1970s. A decade later, he would become one of the earliest selections for Pawtucketâs new Hall of Fame.
Still, he had plenty of time for his wife of 62 years, Enid, who survives. Son Gregg went to work at the Boys Club and spent many years working with his father before succeeding him in 1989.
âI thank God I am still here, ready to spend Christmas with my family,â Pappas said last year after surviving a heart ailment that almost killed him. âEnid and I have two children (Gregg and Pam), five grandchildren and two (now three) great-grandchildren. This year we lost Ben Mondor, Ned Barlow and Walt Dropo. It is tough to lose your old friends.â
And now Mike Pappas is gone, too. The friends who knew Mike, worked with him, golfed with him, played cards with him and listened to his stories, will make their way to his wake this afternoon, having one last chance to say goodbye to the âGolden Greek.â
The wake will be held today from 4-8 p.m. at the Bellows-Falso Funeral Chapel, 160 River Rd., in Lincoln. The funeral will be private.