By Doug Moore St. Louis Post-Dispatch
Republished with permission from St. Louis Post-Dispatch | View original story
He stood well north of 6 feet and had a solid build, an imposing frame that brought Charles Michael Nash great success as an athlete at St. Mary’s High School in the late 1950s.
But Mr. Nash would often say that if not for the Boys Club of St. Louis, jail was as likely a future as high school.
“Charlie was quoted many times as saying, ‘The Boys Club kept me off the streets and out of serious trouble,’” said Andy Blassie, board president of what is now known as Gene Slay’s Boys’ Club of St. Louis.
The club helped raise Mr. Nash, then employed him, including 14 years as its executive director. Mr. Nash, of south St. Louis, died Wednesday (April 27, 2016), after an extended battle with Parkinson’s disease. He was 74.
At the club, where he began working as a program supervisor in October 1964, Mr. Nash was known for his ability to connect with children. He grew up with little of anything, including adult supervision, and knew that was the same for many of the boys coming into the club.
As a gifted athlete, he would encourage the boys at the club to give it their best. Mr. Nash was both sensitive and a disciplinarian, or as board member Ed Finkelstein described him, “gentle and stern.”
He was inducted into the St. Louis Amateur Baseball Hall of Fame in 1994. Five years later, the Missouri Athletic Club honored him with the Jack Buck Award, a recognition putting him alongside past winners such as Stan Musial, Ozzie Smith and Yogi Berra.
While Mr. Nash’s talents as an athlete got him noticed at St. Mary’s, it was his personality that stood out.
“He could command a room. Everybody would stop and listen to his stories,” said high school friend Joe Fiorino. “He could make you laugh talking about ants on the sidewalk. He mixed his words pretty salty, but they were funny.” And he did so in a way that did not offend the ladies in the room, Fiorino said.
Growing up, the meet-up spot was at 12th and Lafayette streets, known as “the Corner” and near Mr. Nash’s Soulard home. From there, he and his buddies would walk to a park, play ball or just hang out. Nobody had a car, so fun had to be found close to home, Fiorino said.
After Mr. Nash graduated from St. Mary’s in 1959, he and Fiorino went to Southeast Missouri State University. Fiorino, there on a football scholarship, lived with other athletes but didn’t like it so began rooming with Mr. Nash.
“At times, he didn’t have money and didn’t have food to eat. I had free food as part of the football program, so I’d bring him in and share meals with him,” Fiorino said.
College was a short-lived affair for both men, and back in St. Louis, Mr. Nash, Fiorino and another friend talked about a life in the military. They headed downtown, to the Navy recruiting office. But Mr. Nash stayed in the hallway while his two friends enlisted. His pull was helping children, and in 1964, Mr. Nash was hired as program supervisor at the club he had spent countless hours in as a boy.
It was that same year that Blassie, at the age of 9, and his brother, Mark, 7, joined the club, at 11th and Sydney streets.
“Charlie taught and expected excellence in everything a young man experienced at the club, be it sports, game room activity, art, studies, Christmas caroling, you name it,” Blassie, a bank executive, said in written remarks he plans to give at Mr. Nash’s funeral on Monday.
Mr. Nash retired as executive director in February 2005 but stayed on as director emeritus for two more years to ease the transition in leadership.
He is survived by his wife, Mary Rose; two sons, Chuck Nash of St. Louis and Joe Nash of Palm Springs, Calif. Visitation will be 2 to 9 p.m. Sunday at Kutis Funeral Home, 10151 Gravois Road. A funeral Mass will be celebrated at 11:30 a.m. Monday at St. Joan of Arc Catholic Church, 5800 Oleatha Avenue.