Gatsas honored for supporting Salvation Army kids' programs

New Hampshire Union Leader
May 09. 2014 8:46PM
Manchester Mayor Ted Gatsas, left, poses with the Singer Family Kids Champion Award trophy presented to him Friday by Stephen Singer, executive officer for Merchants Automotive Group. (Pat Grossmith/Union Leader)

MANCHESTER — Manchester Mayor Ted Gatsas was honored Friday with the “Singer Family Kids Champion Award” for his advocacy of programs sponsored by the Salvation Army.

Gatsas, still recuperating from open heart surgery about five weeks ago, received a standing ovation from about 100 people attending the annual fundraiser at The Derryfield Country Club.

Stephen Singer, executive officer for Merchants Automotive Group, made the presentation. He said Gatsas and the Singers grew up blocks apart in the city’s North End. The Singers, which included five sons, lived on the corner of North and Hemlock streets, while Gatsas’ family lived a few blocks away at North and Belmont streets.

“One of the most religious Jewish families in the city grew up next to the most Catholic church in the city,” Singer laughed, referring to St. Catherine Church.

The five Singer boys and the two Gatsas boys all attended Smyth Road School where they participated in sports. After school, they’d play baseball together and “Teddy,” as he was called, would get upset if they lost.

When Gatsas took to the podium after Singer, he explained he was on the losing end because it was always five Singers against the two Gatsases, until the Gatsases recruited others to even out the teams.

“I know he always wanted to kick the snot out of me and I would have let him,” Singer said. That was because Gatsas was a particularly bright student who, according to Singer, would let him look over his shoulder while they were taking exams.

“Teddy was a good guy who always let me look at his final exams and without his help I would still be in the eighth grade,” Singer said.

Gatsas later said what Singer didn’t know is that Gatsas was doing the same thing, taking a peek at another student’s test exam to get the right answers.

Singer said there are parallels between the two families, both of which have athletic complexes named for them in the city, after the Singers underwrote improvements at Hobo Jungle, now Singer Family Park, and the Gatsases underwrote the cost of improvements at Livingston Park.

The families never would have accomplished what they did, Singer said, without sweat and perseverance, and neither has forgotten their roots.

And both, he said, have a love for the Salvation Army and know what it means for the community.

What people probably don’t know about Gatsas, Singer said, is that when funding was cut to the Salvation Army a while back, the mayor quietly made up the difference out of his own pocket.

And, he said, who can forget the year it was announced Twinkies were no longer going to be made and the mayor showed up at the Union Leader Santa Fund for the Salvation Army kickoff luncheon with a case of the favorite sweets and auctioned them off, raising thousands of dollars.Gatsas said what the two families also had in common were great matriarchs and great patriarchs. All their mothers had to say was, “I’m going to tell your father,” to straighten them out.The mayor reminisced about his childhood, recalling walking to school with Stephen Singer leading the way with his white sash as patrol leader. They played together outside after school until Gatsas’ mother sounded the cowbell and they all knew it was time to go home for dinner. After, it was back outdoors for some more play.It was a time when a 10-year-old kid could ride his bike all over the city. Gatsas recalled pedaling his brand new Schwinn bicycle from the North End down to Kalivas Park for a ballgame that included a slide into broken glass at home plate. Within 15 minutes of arriving, someone stole his bike. He had to pay Stan Spirou, who would go on to be head basketball coach at Southern New Hampshire University, 25 cents to get it back. Stan wanted the quarter so he could buy an Orange Crush, Gatsas said.

Today, he said, it is the Salvation Army who makes a home for a lot of city kids.

“For the kids who can’t hear that cowbell,” he said.

The Salvation Army’s summer day camp provides 75 children, ages 8 to 16, with seven weeks of activities and includes a weekly trip to city pools, trips to Canobie Lake Park and Water Country, state parks and Hampton Beach, as well as meals and snacks and, at summer’s end, backpacks filled with school supplies.

A group of children, who attended summer camp courtesy of the Salvation Army, did a dance routine to entertain attendees, while charismatic 10-year-old John Noboa did a stand-up routine about camp life, demonstrating his deft footwork in kicking a ball directly to the mayor, who he specifically wanted to meet. After, he not only got to shake the mayor’s hand, but got a hug as well.

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