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.
The elder Panas graduated from San Francisco's former High School of Commerce in 1932 and immediately moved to Santa Rosa to take full-time work with Levi-Zentner. In 1939, he married the fellow San Franciscan known to all, always, as Honey.
Four years later, Panas was drafted into World War II. He was assigned to the Army Air Corps and trained as a radio mechanic.
He served on Tinian, in the Northern Mariana Islands, and serviced the radios on B-29s that bombed Japan. Honorably discharged following the Japanese surrender in 1945, he returned to Santa Rosa and to his former job with the company that had transformed into Beacon Distributing, a liquor and soft drink distributor.
He rose to the position of controller. He'd been with the company almost 25 years when it sold to an East Coast firm in 1959 and he decided it was time to move on.
Santa Rosa's Summit Savings and Loan hired him as a management trainee at its Montgomery Village branch. At that point, Panas became a banker and he began to invest enormous amounts of time and caring in Sonoma County community affairs.
Throughout the next 40 years he distinguished himself as one of the region's busiest, most sought-after and productive civic leaders.
At various times he led the Santa Rosa Chamber of Commerce, the Redwood Empire Boy Scouts Council, the local United Way chapter, the Sonoma County Grand Jury, the Santa Rosa Urban Renewal Agency and the city Housing Authority.