Some guys create a legend in their youth and live off the residuals the rest of their lives. Not Lou Karpouzie, who keeps building on his. All the glory of his high school days, the touchdowns and the girls gathered around him, is nothing like the gifts he's given back in the last half-century.
You want to talk legend? Back at Patterson High School, back in the war years, back when the football team was winning the public school championship and forming the powerhouse clubs that would win 29 games in a row, it was Karpouzie who took
Patterson into the big game against City College, whom Patterson had never beaten.
Only it didn't look like Karpouzie would play. Couple of days before the game, his father died. You have to play, his mother said. Dad would want it. Lou scored the winning touchdown.
"Memorable days," Karpouzie was saying last week, over lunch at Sabatino's. He had a gleam in his eyes shining back maybe half a century. "You know, playing football, you had girls around all the time. I tell you, those girls, they used to do my homework for me."
He never wanted to let those days get away. For years, he's been manager of the city's Department of Special Events, but he's spent his off-hours over in East Baltimore, holding things together, looking out for people.
Like Thanksgiving Day. For the past 14 years, he's had holiday dinners over at Patterson High's cafeteria, where about 500 of the community's elderly and poor drop in for dinner. They'll do it again this year.
Or the scholarship he set up for a graduating senior at Patterson who's got standout grades but needs help with college money. Or the way he took an old landfill near the school on North Kane Street and turned it into two ball fields, which are used by roughly 5,000 kids every year. Five years ago, the city named the fields after Lou.
Then there are the athletic leagues he's organized for kids, and the wheelchair basketball games, and the reunions he's put together every year for the old-time athletes from Patterson. Hundreds show up with friends every year. There's one set for Nov. 11, at Steelworkers Hall, where they'll honor not only former All-Maryland players from Patterson, but also some of the great stars who played against them. Profits are given to Patterson's athletic fund.
"This sort of stuff," he was saying, "keeps people together. It brings communities together, it makes them stronger. I like to see people happy. If they're happy, I'm happy."
This doesn't mean, naturally, that every event is universal bliss. Karpouzie remembers coaching one of his 14-16 year-old teams, sponsored by Butta Brothers. They played a club out of Dundalk, at the old White Swann Field at Oldham and Lombard, which is now a truck stop.
A slight fight broke out, involving maybe everybody in sight, players, spectators, referees. By the time the cops arrived, the Dundalk kids were huddled on their bus, and the Highlandtown kids were commencing to turn it upside down.
Or the neighborhood dances at Unity Hall on Dundalk Avenue. Every week, Lou would rent spiffy tuxedos from Stanley Hiken's place for some of the bigger kids to wear, identifying them as chaperons.
One time a fight breaks out. It starts inside the hall, and it works its way onto Dundalk Avenue, where it stops all traffic. The guys in the tuxedos are trying to break it up, and their outfits are getting torn asunder at elbows and knees.
On Monday, Karpouzie takes the tuxes back to Stanley Hiken, who looks them over.
"These tuxedos," he says. "Did they look like this when you rented 'em from me, Lou?"
"Oh, yeah," says Karpouzie.
"OK," says Hiken, "no problem. 'Cause I'm gonna rent you the same ones every week."
For maybe 30 years, Karpouzie was one of the great dance promoters around town, not only at Unity Hall but at the old Dixie Ballroom at Gwynn Oak Park. He brought in Ray Charles, Smokey Robinson and the Miracles, James Brown, the Shirelles, Frankie Avalon.
"Yeah, Frankie Avalon," Karpouzie said. "His father ran a hall up in Philly. I went to see him. I said, 'I'd love to get Frankie down to Baltimore, but I can't afford him.' You know, he was very big at the time.
"The father says, 'Tell him I said he should go.' He came down here for $400. He walked into Unity Hall, the girls grabbed him by his ankles and lifted him up."
Now, though, Karpouzie's focusing on two things: Thanksgiving Dinner, and the Nov. 11 reunion at Steelworkers Hall, which he's organizing with former labor negotiator Edward Katrinic; Bernie Weber, who teaches at Mervo; retired steel worker Gus Janouris; and Gus Hansen, a tile and marble man.
"I just get a good feeling when I see people enjoying themselves," Karpouzie said. "Like, one time we had this school reunion, and I look across the room and there's this nun there. She's smiling at me, and she says, 'You don't recognize me, do you?'
"I said, 'No, sister, I don't.'
"She said, 'You should. I used to do your homework for you.' "