At age 78, Paul Callas has a great heart.
The heart pumps type O negative blood, making him a universal blood donor. Over the past 59 years, he has given blood 244 times.
The heart is strong, enabling Callas to play several games of softball with a Tulsa team each week.
The heart is caring. Callas used to work with his church’s jail ministry and later a ministry at Muskogee’s prerelease center, which is now closed.
Callas said he keeps his heart healthy by working and walking.
“I do a lot of outside work at the house,” he said. “And I go to the Christian Life Center at First Baptist Church. It has an indoor walking trail, and I go there three to four times a week. I’ve got to keep my legs up, and walking is about as good an exercise as you can do. It keeps me going.”
Callas has kept going since he grew up in Enid, the son of a Greek immigrant.
“My father came to the United States when he was 17,” he said. “His brother was in Blackwell, but they were run out by the KKK in the 1920s.”
Callas was born in Alva, but the family moved to Enid early in his life.
“Mom and Dad had a restaurant during the Dust Bowl,” he said.
He graduated from Enid High School and enrolled in Phillips University. It was just as the Korean War was winding down.
“I volunteered for the draft, joined the Army and ended up in Austria and Italy,” Callas said. “I spent the first six months in Austria, when they signed the peace agreement.”
The treaty, which granted independence to Austria, involved the United States, France, Great Britain and the Soviet Union.
While stationed in Italy, Callas managed to visit his father’s homeland and got to meet his uncle and cousins.
After his discharge, he got into the real estate business.
Callas came to Muskogee in the early 1960s to be a recreational therapist at the Jack C. Montgomery VA Medical Center.
He retired in the 1980s but kept active.
Meet Paul Callas
HOMETOWN: Born in Alva, reared in Enid.
CAREER: Real estate; was a recreational therapist at the Jack C. Montgomery VA Medical Center for 22 years.
EDUCATION: Graduated Enid High School, 1953; Bachelor’s degree from Phillips University, 1960.
FAMILY: Wife, Colleen; son, Craig. Daughter, Annette, died in 1980.
CHURCH: “I’m a Christian first who happens to attend a Baptist church.”
HOBBIES: Softball. “I’m still in real estate.”
Sharing the gift
of good health
Paul Callas gave his first pint of blood when he was 19.
“My mother volunteered me to give blood for my grandmother,” he said. “This was in Enid when I first gave.”
He said he was never bothered the first few times he gave blood.
“I’d give a pint of blood, then go play tennis or softball,” he said. “I never got sick. It just didn’t bother me.”
Callas has given blood 244 times, for a total of at least 30 gallons of blood. He said he has given so many times, he has scar tissue on both arms.
“The last time I gave blood, the nurse looked ad my hands and said, ‘Oh, you have nice veins,’” he said. “That was on Oct. 3. I give almost every other month. You can give five times a year.”
He said that having type O negative blood puts him in demand.
“I worked at the VA hospital, and when they had a surgery, I was on call,” he said.
Callas said the American Red Cross used to have an age limit, “65 or 70.”
“Now, you can give as long as you’re in good health,” he said. “I’ve always said it is better to give than to receive. And it’s just the satisfaction I’m helping someone else. I may be saving a life.”
He has been named an Everyday Hero by the American Red Cross.
The gift of blood also saved the life of Callas’ daughter, Annette, in 1977, when she was 17 and suffering from leukemia. First Baptist Church, where the Callas family attended, had a special blood drive for her.
“They gave 100 pints of blood, and 90 percent of them were first-time donors,” he said.
Annette, however, died in 1980.
“Because of my daughter, I have continued to give,” Callas said. “The Lord has been good to me. He has given me health.”
You can expect Callas to be paying attention to this year’s National League playoffs, pitting the Los Angeles Dodgers against the St. Louis Cardinals. He said he’s been a Dodger fan since before 1957, when the club moved out of Brooklyn.
The baseball or softball diamond has been his best friend for many years.
He said he’s always been great at center field.
“I remember playing a Little League game and there was a fly ball, and I kept backing up and backing up until I ended up in the bushes. But I caught that ball,” he said.
As a junior and senior in high school, he played center field for the Enid Plainsmen baseball team. After high school, he played for church leagues.
He remains a big baseball fan, but he said he’s beginning to prefer softball.
“The older you get, it’s softball,” he said. “When you get to be our age, you do not run as fast.”
It also is easier to see the larger softball, he said. “Age has detriments.”
However, age hasn’t stopped him from playing ball.
When Callas was 72, he played with a Tulsa team in the 2007 Summer National Senior Games in Louisville, Ky., and won a gold medal.
He still plays on a Tulsa team that he said is known as the “75-Plus” team.
“It’s just a Tulsa Parks program,” he said. “There are leagues for ages 50, 55, 60, 65 and 75 and older.”
He also takes to the pitcher’s mound.
“I throw what they call a knuckle ball,” Callas said, demonstrating his grip, which looks like a “Hook ’em Horns” gesture. “Batters have a hard time getting a hit from it. You throw the ball and it arcs.”
After retiring from the Jack C. Montgomery VA Medical Center in 1985, Callas found another calling. He ministered to people in local jails and the Muskogee County Community Correctional Center, a prerelease center that closed in 2010.
Callas said he got involved in jail ministry in 1987.
“A guy who had a music store here wanted me to give my testimony; the men had started a jail ministry,” he said. “We went to the city jail. We just had Bible studies and gave testimonies. It was sort of a sharing time.”
After a few years, Callas was asked to coach a team at the prerelease center.
“When I went out there to be a coach, I asked if they could go to church,” he said. “So, they had 10 to 12 players going to the church.”
Callas used to pick the men up from the prerelease center and drive them to church.
Through the ministry, Callas helped prisoners with basic social needs as well as spiritual needs.
“For a lot of them, their driver’s license would expire,” he said. “A lot of them needed birth certificates from different states. We’d help them go out into the community, help them get a job some place.”
HOW DID YOU BECOME AN OKIE FROM MUSKOGEE?
“I worked for my dad at a bar. One afternoon I felt like the Lord spoke to me. (At the time) I’ve got a Christian wife and two fine children. I started looking for other employment. I looked for federal jobs and a year later saw they had an opening at the Muskogee, Oklahoma, VA.”
WHAT DO YOU LIKE BEST ABOUT MUSKOGEE?
“I like it because it’s small. If I want to go to Tulsa or Oklahoma City, I can. We have lots of friends here. It’s a friendly town, different from Enid. Lots of potential with the water and being close to the airport.”
WHAT WOULD MAKE MUSKOGEE A BETTER PLACE TO LIVE?
“If the city and people can get together and clean up the town. In Enid, they had 12 free dump days a year. We need to have one once a month.”
WHAT DO YOU DO FOR A LIVING IN MUSKOGEE?
WHAT DO YOU DO IN YOUR SPARE TIME?
“Go on mission trips to Mexico, Spain and the Cayman Islands.”
WHAT OKIE FROM MUSKOGEE DO YOU ADMIRE?
“He’s deceased now, but it was Brother James Coburn. When our daughter was ill, he was very supportive.”
WHAT IS THE MOST MEMORABLE THING TO HAPPEN TO YOU IN MUSKOGEE?
“It would be my children both graduating cum laude from Muskogee High School. We have many good friends.”
HOW WOULD YOU SUM UP MUSKOGEE IN 25 WORDS OR LESS?
“It’s a small town. I just enjoy small towns. It’s close to Tulsa.”