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Michael G. 'Mike' Callas: One of our best has gone

June 01, 2004

Washington County had the good fortune to have Mike Callas as one of its best citizens for so long that some began to believe he might go on forever.

But no one does, at least not in this world. And while we are much poorer today for his loss, county citizens are much richer because he decided a long time ago that building a community was just as important as building a business.

He first job came when he was just 11. He worked in a Hagerstown confectionary with his father until 1933, when the Depression came and the family lost both the store and their home.

The elder Callas was eventually hired to manage the Valencia Restaurant on Potomac Avenue, and after school, Mike Callas worked there from 4 p.m. until midnight.

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In college, it was more of the same, with Christmas break spent working 18 to 20 hours a day sorting holiday mail at the post office. He later recalled the work as so mind-numbing that he hooked his belt buckle over the edge of the sorting table, so that if he fell asleep at his post, he wouldn't fall to the floor.

About the time he was due to graduate, World War II broke out and he went to serve in the South Pacific with the Army Corps of Engineers. After the war, he joined Norman S. Earley & Sons construction company, then opened his own firm, Callas Contractors, in 1958.

The projects the firm has worked on include Potomac Towers, Mack Trucks, Phoenix Color, an addition to Washington County Hospital and the Court House Annex, among others.

But it's not buildings, but good works that Mike Callas will be most remembered for. Unlike some who grow up in poverty, the experience did not leave him with the urge to hoard and accumulate.

For his generous spirit, he gave credit to his parents - and his own experiences after the war. He was touched, he said, when he saw elderly ladies putting pennies in the collection plate of a rundown country church in Smithsburg.

He was working on a nearby job and convinced some of those he worked with to donate their time to remodel the church. Much the same thing happened when the Rev. Kemp Horn set out to build a home for the mentally retarded near Cavetown.

Callas was also devoted to Scouting. His crews worked to improve Camp Sinoquipe, near Fort Littleton, Pa., for which the Mason-Dixon Scout Council honored him at its Distinguished Citizen of the Year in 1998.

The list of causes he was involved in was encyclopedic. They included everything from Associated Builders and Contractors, which offered apprentice training in the trades, to the strategic planning committee of the county school system, which he co-chaired after a 1997 curriculum audit found numerous problems.

In 2000, he headed up the United Way's annual appeal for funds. Just recently, at age 83, he agreed to co-chair the effort to build a stadium at North Hagerstown High School.

Why take on such a task at that point in his life? A 1998 interview provides the answer.

Of such projects, he said, "Somebody has to do it and more times than not, I don't say no. I get a good feeling, because my support of county endeavors makes this a good place to live and support a family," he said.

That caring attitude and his list of accomplishments is the reason The Herald-Mail named him its "Person of the Year" in 2000.

We and all the people of Washington County are better off for having known him, and for being the beneficiaries of his generous spirit.

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