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Mike Callas dies

Contractor known as public servant

Contractor known as public servant

June 01, 2004|by MARLO BARNHART

marlob@herald-mail.com

Longtime Hagerstown businessman, philanthropist and civic leader Michael G. "Mike" Callas died Monday morning in a Virginia hospital while vacationing in North Carolina, family members said.

He was 83.

Callas' niece, Cathy Lewis, said her telephone had not stopped ringing since she returned to Hagerstown from Norfolk, Va., where her uncle died Monday just before 7 a.m. She said the calls were from people wanting to say how much Callas meant to them.

"Tears are selfish," Lewis said. "Uncle Mike is at peace now."

Lewis said the cause of death was a cerebral hemorrhage.

Funeral arrangements were being made Monday afternoon. Lewis said there will be two viewings Wednesday at Douglas A. Fiery Funeral Home on Eastern Boulevard in Hagerstown, one in the afternoon and another in the evening.

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Services will be at St. John's Episcopal Church on Thursday at 11 a.m., Lewis said.

Callas, a Hagerstown native, grew up around his father's candy store in Public Square. Profiled in a newspaper story when he was named The Herald-Mail's Person of the Year in 2000, Callas told a reporter he learned the value of hard work, honesty and education from his parents, who were Greek immigrants.

Lewis said Callas always was interested in any endeavor related to education, providing money for family, friends and even strangers who needed help getting an education.

Callas and his wife, Betty, now deceased, had no children, Lewis said.

North Hagerstown High School Principal Robert "Bo" Myers said he last saw Callas on May 26 at a meeting in which Callas was named an honorary co-chairman of the $2.3 million capital campaign for a new school stadium.

"I walked him out after the meeting and we went into the gym where the boys were playing whiffle ball because it was raining," Myers said by telephone from his home Monday afternoon. "Mike picked up a bat, took three swings and hit the ball on his third try."

Callas was chairman of Callas Contractors, a company he founded in 1958. He was remembered fondly on Monday by people who knew him through his business and his good works.

"Mike was substantial, an outstanding man to work with," said Harry T. Reynolds, president of Callas Contractors.

"Mike wanted us to build good buildings and we did," Reynolds said. "And we will continue to build good buildings."

Many of the 125 employees of Callas Contractors called their boss "Mike" or "Mr. C," which is how he often signed notes or cards, Reynolds said.

"Mike was very sympathetic with his employees," Reynolds said. "He'd go to CVS himself to pick out birthday cards for people who worked for him."

Known for his quiet support of civic projects, Callas often shared a favorite quote with the people he worked with in his company and in the community.

"'The world is run by people who show up,' Mike would often say, and he certainly always showed up," Reynolds said.

Callas was involved in United Way campaigns beginning in the early 1980s. He was involved with the Boy Scouts of America, the Hagerstown YMCA, the Chamber of Commerce and other community organizations.

Art Callaham, executive director of the Greater Hagerstown Committee, said he worked with Callas for a number of years.

"He was a great friend ... a great man, a great leader, a true giver," Callaham said.

Callas' younger brother, Peter "Pete" Callas, said Callas was on vacation in North Carolina when he became ill and was rushed to Norfolk (Va.) General Hospital on Sunday.

"The community is really going to miss him, but I am going to miss my big brother," said Pete Callas, 78.

Callas' death coming on the nation's observance of Memorial Day brought back memories of his service as a captain in the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers during World War II.

"You know, Mike did all the mapping for the invasion of the Japanese-held islands during the war," Pete Callas said proudly.

The Callas home on Cannon Avenue stood where the CVS Pharmacy now stands.

"He was a real role model for all of us kids," Pete Callas said. "I remember all my teachers used to say they hoped I would be as smart and nice as my brother, Mike."

A sister, Marie, is in a nursing home now. A younger brother, Greg, died earlier.

"I remember once we all helped Mike build a boat in the basement and then we took it down to the Antietam Creek," Pete Callas said, recalling how close the siblings had been.

After high school, Callas went to Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore on a full scholarship. Upon graduation, he served in the military and then returned to Hopkins for his master's degree.

"Mike first worked for Norman Earley in Hagerstown before he started his own company," Pete Callas said.

Pete Callas said he recalled a chance encounter with a stranger at the Hagerstown AMVETS Club.

"This man asked if I was Mike Callas' brother and proceeded to tell me how Mike had learned of a fire that had destroyed that man's home and he brought some of his men over and they helped him rebuild," he said.

"He was a very fine public servant who never knew what the word 'no' meant."

When efforts began in 1986 to create Children's Village of Washington County, Mike Weller, Hagerstown Fire Department's public educator, said there were difficulties finding a contractor willing to take on the mammoth project designed to teach children how to react to fire and other emergencies.

"I remember Mike Callas came to us and said he'd heard what we were trying to do and asked why we hadn't come to him," Weller said by telephone from Baltimore Monday afternoon. "Without Mike Callas, there would be no Children's Village today."

Weller said it was Callas' idea to organize other contractors so the entire project could be completed without costing the citizens of Washington County.

"There were two people in my life who taught me how to be a good leader - my father and Mike Callas," Weller said.

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