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Mike's friends remember

June 04, 2004|by LAURA ERNDE

laurae@herald-mail.com

Last week Michael G. "Mike" Callas brought a vase of silk flowers to each of the women who worked in the accounting department at his Hagerstown construction business.

Callas was always giving them something from his travels, whether it was a piece of candy from the bank or a pair of earrings from the Bahamas.

"We'd say, 'where'd you steal that from,'" said Lisa Fox of Hagerstown.

Fox said she'll treasure the vase, which came from the banquet table at Callas' class reunion, knowing it was the last in a long line of gifts from her generous boss.

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Employees and friends of Callas met at the Four Points Sheraton on Thursday after his funeral service to share a meal and trade stories about the Hagerstown man who was a legend for his philanthropy in business and the community.

"No matter what you asked him for, he'd give it to you," said Vernon "Buster" Huntzberry, who worked for Callas for nearly 40 years as a project supervisor.

If Huntzberry ran into his boss at a restaurant, Callas would pick up his check and when Huntzberry went on vacation, Callas would slip him an extra $100.

Before he died, Callas arranged for Huntzberry to keep his company pickup truck when he retires.

"He counts every one of us as family," Huntzberry said.

In business, Callas was demanding but fair, associates said.

Longtime employee Harold Taber of Smithsburg said he'll never forget something Callas said 50 years ago when the company was doing a project for Landis Tool Co. in Waynesboro, Pa.

Callas had just finished disciplining the project supervisor for a delay in the job.

The supervisor told Callas that Rome wasn't built in a day. Callas came back with, "Well, I wasn't running that project."

"He was forgiving, yes, but if you worked for him you did the job right," said Erwin Asam, who teamed up with Callas on the Clarion Hotel in Shepherdstown, W.Va.

Callas had a knack for spotting people with integrity and honesty, said Gregory White, an executive vice president at Callas Contractors Inc.

He rewarded those people consistently in ways both large and small.

When an arsonist set fire to a church his company was building in Clear Spring, Callas rebuilt the church and erased their debt, White said.

As the firm's accountant since 1978, Doug Moul said there were countless such examples.

"Mike was going to do what Mike was going to do. You could not say no to Mike," Moul said.

Landing the Callas account helped establish the Hagerstown firm of Albright Crumbacker and Moul, which was just getting started when they picked up the powerhouse client.

"I stand here today still kind of in awe," he said.

Betty Smith, who worked as Callas' assistant for 36 years, remembered the time Callas bought a suit so one of his employees could go to his brother's funeral.

"He was forever doing things for people," she said.

Callas was instrumental in renovating the parish house at St. Anne's Episcopal Church in Smithsburg in the early 1950s, said parishioner Marguerite "Marge" Jacques.

Not only did he donate materials and labor, but he helped the congregation raise money to finish the project by suggesting they sell wreaths.

When Jacques said she didn't know how to make a wreath, Callas showed her, she said.

Callas was well known in the construction industry nationally, said Joan Warner of Associated Builders and Contractors of the Cumberland Valley.

Callas helped start the national ABC organization, which has 24,000 members, and served as president in 1973-74.

Even after he became an octogenarian, Callas never stopped doing thing for others.

One wintry day a few months ago, Fox said Callas got a broom and personally helped her clean the snow off her car.

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