Mike Panas, a son of Greek immigrants who spent his childhood summers in Santa Rosa lugging wholesale produce and years later cultivated himself into one of Sonoma County's most civically engaged bankers, died Monday night at his longtime home.
Panas, a good-natured sort who relished a good laugh and a morning of toil in the garden, would have turned 99 next Monday.
Pre-deceased by his wife of 66 years, Elaine Anna “Honey” Panas, he leaves three surviving children, including the retired Santa Rosa schools administrator who goes by the same name.
The junior Mike Panas visited his father at his home in Santa Rosa's Grace Tract on Monday evening.
“There was no indication that there was anything wrong,” said Panas, who lives in Sebastopol. “When I left him he was sitting in the chair he always sat in and he was about to read his book.”
Tuesday morning, the senior Panas' caregiver found that he'd passed away in the chair.
He was born in 1914 in San Francisco and started school as Michael Panagiatopolos. His parents shortened the family's surname “when they discovered that his teachers couldn't pronounce it,” Press Democrat columnist Gaye LeBaron wrote in 1995 when Panas was feted as the regional Boy Scout council's Distinguished Citizen of the Year.
For three years, Panas reported for Greek School after completing a day of regular school. He loved venturing from San Francisco to spend his summers with a favorite relative, Chris Korcofigas, in Santa Rosa.
“To get there, I took the ferry across the bay and the NWP (Northwestern Pacific Railroad) train to Santa Rosa. Those were the days when you could walk any place in Santa Rosa,” Panas wrote about a decade ago.
Korcofigas managed Levi-Zentner, the produce wholesaler that would expand into beverages, and he gave Panas summer work.
“He would come up (from San Francisco) and sling watermelons from rail cars,” said Panas' son Mike.