Even as major leaguers were testifying in a Pittsburgh courtroom about the
dealing of drugs to ball players in a case that is shattering the image of the game, elsewhere in the commonwealth tribute
was being paid last night to a man who has helped big league baseball prosper.
Every major league team either sent a delegation or a gratulatory note acknowledging the lifetime efforts of Pennsylvania American Legion activities director Charlie Gangaware in the interests of America's favorite pastime.
The occasion was a testimonial dinner program honoring the Coaldale native who will retire at the end of the year after 40 years of service. More than 400 persons, including former major leaguers many of whom started in American Legion baseball, turned out in the Mechanicsburg VFW to salute the 61-year-old Legion official.
"Retiring was as difficult a decision as I have had to make," Gangaware confessed during the fete which was sponsored by the North Harrisburg American Legion post he joined after leaving the Panther Valley. His involvement in American Legion baseball began back in 1948 when Coaldale was affiliated with the old Tri-County Junior American Legion League which he helped form.
At the time, Gangaware was working as an extra, carrying mail for the postal service in Coaldale. When the state American Legion department was looking for someone to run its mailing division he was hired and moved to Harrisburg in 1952.
"There was no activities director; only a chairman," according to Gangaware. "When the position was finally created, the late George Bellis, a former coach and athletic director was named to fill it and I helped him."
Bellis was forced to accept mandatory retirement at the age of 65 in 1966 and Eugene Solomon was the man first selected to succeed him. But, the former West Snyder High school teacher suffered a heart attack and decided to turn down the appointment and continue teaching.
Gangaware, who was emblem director and a 20-year employee of the American Legion, was named by State American Legion Commander Harry V. Klein, Jr. to take over.
In directing the state program the last two decades, Gangaware, who managed a baseball team for 10 years and coached basketball for 11 years, developed it into one of the nation's best. "Our baseball program is the largest in the country," explains Gangaware. "We have over 500 teams involved, and that's double of any other state. Minnesota ranks second with 210."
Actually, Pennsylvania had dropped out of the national program in 1936 as the result of a controversy over eligibility rules, but after a 30 year lapse Gangaware got the Keystone Stateback in the national fold in 1966. "It wasn't easy but I worked at it because I didn't think Pennsylvania should be out there on the limb by itself and we found out that we could compete nationally."
According to Gangaware, the state has had a national champion in Boyertown and several runners-up. In addition to baseball, the state Legion program now also consists of many other sports, thanks to the efforts of Gangaware.
He introduced tennis, bowling, golf and softball tournaments. The statewide tennis series involving 16 regional tournaments had been held for 12 years but was disbanded four years ago. A total of 115 teams were entered in the 1985 bowling competition held at Clearfield plus 101 in the sixth annual junior bowling event in Harrisburg.
The 36th annual golf tournament at Edgewood in the Pines Golf Course near Hazleton attracted 336 entries while 50 boys and girls played in the the junior golf event at the Manada Golf Course, Grantville.
Only last week, Gangaware conducted the men's softball tournament involving 18 teams.
"It has been getting to be too much for one man," says Gangaware. He points out that 1,200 boys participated in baseball. There were a total of 31 tournaments in the statewide race. But, he is proudest of the fact that "over 75 percent of the youngsters that have been in our baseball program have either gone on to play in college or signed big league contracts."
Gangaware, who has a brother, Chester, living in Coaldale and a sister, Jennie Hartranft in Fullerton, is married to the former Irene Jones of Irwin. The family joined in the gala program.
He told the gathering that he plans to keep busy during his retirement. "I don't know, I guess I'll play lots more golf. I'm not going to sit around, that's for sure." Gangaware pointed out "I loved what I was doing and still do, but I thinkit's time for a change."
He intends to serve as a Legion consultant on department activities and says he would enjoy becoming a major league scout. A committee is working on a successor which it will recommend to State Commander Stan Reinhard of Coplay.