A Life: Malcolm “Mickey” Bagley, 1918-2013; ‘He Never Thought Or Talked About Yesterday’
Malcolm "Mickey" Bagley and his wife Joyce in the mid-2000s. (Family photograph)
Malcolm "Mickey" Bagley and his wife Joyce (Patterson) Bagley on their wedding day in Lebanon on Oct. 6, 1946. (Family photograph)
Malcolm "Mickey" Bagley, front row, lower left, with members of his bowling team in an undated photograph. Top center is Bill Jarvis. Top right is Andy Guerrin. Bottom right is Butch Judd. Top left is unknown. (Family photograph)
Lebanon — He would enter the Lebanon High gymnasium about an hour before tipoff, the older gentleman in the company of two or three compatriots. Malcolm “Mickey” Bagley would cross the baseline, exchanging greetings with the Raiders players as they warmed up, headed for his traditional seat at the top of the bleachers and near center court.
“There was a handful of them you could count on rolling in there at 6 on game nights,’’ said Nathan Camp, a former Lebanon guard and now the boys basketball coach at Kearsarge High School. Bagley “was a guy you knew from the neighborhood, but then you got into the high school sports realm and you realized his influence was bigger than that.’’
Lebanon lost one of its greatest local sports fans and activists early last month when the 94-year-old Bagley died peacefully in bed next to his wife, Joyce. Not only did Bagley help raise five children and several grandchildren, but he was instrumental in founding Lebanon Little League baseball and was involved in the Carter Community Building and its youth-oriented activities for much of his life.
A gregarious and longtime employee of Smith’s Auto Sales on Route 120 and adjacent to the Lebanon High athletic fields, Bagley toiled long hours in the garage there as a jack-of-all trades. The family lived at 54 Young St., atop a hill in the neighborhood behind Sacred Heart Church, where the Bagleys also worshipped. With a big backyard suitable for neighborhood games and woods extending out towards what would become Interstate 89, it was a great setting in which to be a youngster.
“There were a lot of big families up there,’’ said Marilou Childs, Mickey and Joyce’s youngest child and the wife of current Lebanon High football coach Chris Childs. “Mom and Dad were in that house from 1951 until a year ago. People have come out of the woodwork from that old gang up there, contacting us since Dad died.’’
Bagley was born on Dec. 1, 1918, the eighth of Dix and Bessie Bagley’s 11 children. He grew up at the intersection of Water and Spring Streets, in the small valley below the Storrs Hill ski area, where his old skis hang in the lodge. Water Street’s steep descent made for a fantastic sledding run, the neighborhood kids whizzing through a small, covered bridge at the bottom.
Dix Hill, an auto mechanic, died when Bagley was a high school student. Nonetheless, the son thrived as a football, basketball and track athlete at Lebanon High. He set a school high-jump record of 5 feet, 11 inches that stood until 1967, whereupon he made a special trip to the Raiders’ next meet to personally congratulate the new record-holder, Chuck Currier.
The 1938 Raiders gridiron squad didn’t lose a game and won the New Hampshire Class B championship, its team photo showing only 14 players and a single coach. Bagley, nicknamed “Golden Toe” for his placekicking prowess, also worked as an usher at a movie theater inside what’s now the Lebanon Opera House. Always mischievous, he would sometimes scuff his shoes on the way down the aisle, then reach over to deliver a powerful, static-electric shock to the ear of an unsuspecting friend.
Bagley enlisted in the military a month after Pearl Harbor was bombed. Assigned to the Army Air Corps, he digested a 470-page aircraft mechanic’s manual as he bounced between bases in Massachusetts, Illinois, Georgia, Florida and South Carolina.
His eventual destination was the Moroccan city of Casablanca, where he served with the 37th Air Delivery Group repair squadron for the remainder of World War II.
“They’d take the new (aircraft) that came in on boats with their tail sections removed and they’d crane them onshore, put them together and get them into the war,’’ said Dan Bagley, one of Mickey’s three sons and himself an armament systems specialist in the Vermont Air National Guard. “They’d also go out into the desert and salvage crashed planes and get them back in service. He and his buddies would go skiing in the mountains or down to the beach to see the French women.’’
It took only about a year after Bagley’s return to Lebanon before he and Joyce Patterson were married. Children soon followed, five of them in a 10-year period, although one died a day after birth. Marilou, born in 1973, is 15 years younger than her closest sibling, but she also enjoyed the same neighborhood camaraderie as her brothers and sisters. A short walk away, on Mascoma Street, would bring the Bagley kids to a pair of nearby houses, each inhabited by grandparents and great-grandparents.
If the Bagleys headed in another direction, down the hill past Sacred Heart, they were only a 10-minute walk from downtown Lebanon and the likes of Bashaw’s Market, Woolworth’s five and dime, Hunt’s department store and Currier’s clothing shop. The family didn’t own a car until the mid-1960s and before that, when Smith’s Auto Sales was still located downtown, Bagley would walk home from work for lunch, whistling all the way.
Bagley had various duties at Smith’s, where his father-in-law was the longtime shop foreman. He worked on cars, cleaned them and traveled to Boston on the train so he could drive new ones back to the dealership. His sunny disposition also made him the perfect person to drive the tow truck (he once answered a call in the midst of Christmas dinner) and to return repaired vehicles to customers.
“All the older ladies in Hanover loved it when he’d deliver their cars because he’d joke with them and make a big deal of them,’’ said David Bagley, his father’s eldest child and a finance worker at Fujifilm Dimatix Inc., on Etna Road in Lebanon.
Upon their father’s return for dinner, the Bagley children knew that after an initial greeting, they needed to give Mickey 20 or 30 minutes alone with his wife. That was their chance to reconnect via a chat in the kitchen, each of them nursing half of a Schaefer beer in a glass. Joyce liked to sprinkle hers with a pinch of salt to make it foam.
“We knew to stay out of the kitchen; that was their time,’’ Dan Bagley said. “Sometimes he’d go back to work to make extra money undercoating cars until 7 p.m. But you always knew they were together, that they were a pair. He treated her like gold. I can’t remember my mother ever having to open a car door.’’
The Bagley parents also spent time together while attending their children’s games and social activities. Judy Follensbee, the family’s eldest daughter and an office worker in Lebanon’s elementary schools, recalls Mickey and Joyce chaperoning dances at the Carter Community Building’s “Teen Canteen” nights during the late 1960s. Money in hand from CCB director Pat Walsh, Judy and her friends would head to Modern Records on Lebanon Street to buy 45s by groups such as the Rolling Stones, the Beatles and the Beach Boys.
Bagley knew his children’s friends and peers from his deep involvement in the town’s youth and high school sports. Joyce worked in the high school’s front office. Between them, they were the embodiment of the concept that it takes a village to raise a child.
“He never thought or talked about yesterday,’’ David Bagley said. “If he could have a good time today, he was set. To do that, he needed to be around kids. His kids, his grandkids or any kids at all. Our backyard was the neighborhood sports arena.’’
Camp, the Kearsarge basketball coach, recalls “Mr. Bagley” hollering at him in jest as the youngster tiptoed through the older man’s vegetable garden in search of a Whiffle Ball. Over the years, there was also a basketball goal, horseshoe pits, a balance beam and a small ski jump on a hill beyond the back yard. The latter would be illuminated at night by coffee cans filled with sand and lit kerosene.
If the Bagley children and their friends tired of sporting pursuits, they could play in the woods behind the house, climbing on enormous rocks, building tree forts and discovering nature up close. A frog pond provided hours of wet play or skating fun, depending on the season. Safety concerns were few and mostly consisted of reminders not to break a limb.
Back in the house, Bagley was known to regularly do the dishes and vacuum before heading off to junior high gymnastics meets, Lebanon High contests of all sorts and the occasional Dartmouth hockey game. If none those were available during the warmer months, he’d tune in to a radio or television broadcast of his beloved New York Yankees, whose allegiance he had pledged as a child after being taken to a game in the Bronx.
Bagley’s mutual love of baseball and children manifested itself in he and his friend Gil Vanier working to start Lebanon’s Little League baseball program and build its first field out of swampy land near the high school, off Heater Road. He also coached teams in the organization during the 1950s and 1960s, and through that and his near-constant involvement at the CCB, knew numerous children besides his own.
Following in Bagley’s footsteps is Jim Vanier, the CCB’s longtime youth center coordinator and Gil Vanier’s son. Jim Vanier has been a father figure, confidant and disciplinarian for generations of Lebanon kids, and he learned the role from people like Mickey Bagley, who perfected it during nearly five decades of joyful work.
“He never wanted to be the center of attention but to do the right thing, because people of his generation were taught to give back,’’ Jim Vanier said. “There were a lot of Mickey Bagleys back then. Now, people are all on the computer and don’t want to get involved.’’
Bagley’s involvement lessened as he pushed into his 60s and 70s, but he remained a fixture at Lebanon High basketball games and would still jump in to help at Raiders track meets. Bagley took great delight in telling friends that he’d become a “stripper” in retirement, a tongue-in-cheek reference to his part-time work refurbishing furniture. When he and Joyce weren’t walking around the neighborhood, he could often be found on their screened-in front porch, whistling a sharp hello to passers-by.
Last October, a flu-weakened Bagley was being helped onto a scale at his home by a visiting nurse when he fell and broke his back. Forced to wear a brace that hooked under his arms and which Follensbee said resembled “a turtle’s shell,” he was able to make light of the situation with the help of a Bagley crest-of-arms decal his son Dan made and affixed to the brace’s chest plate.
After a rehabilitation stint in Claremont, Bagley was reunited with his wife at a long-term health care facility on Old Etna Road in Lebanon. The couple had been there for about three months when one of their grandchildren, Darcy Sylvestre, joined the staff as a social worker on their floor. After only having a long-distance relationship with her grandparents for years, Sylvestre would now hear a whistle from her office doorway several times a day and see her grandfather’s smiling face.
“Darcy Doodles’’ as Bagley called her, worked to lessen his stress when Joyce was out of their room by helping arrange for DVDs of The Waltons or Yankees games to play on the television.
“He was so sweet and silly,’’ Sylvestre said, recalling how her grandfather would often make up songs with rhyming, but nonsensical lyrics. “Towards the end, he had trouble with his eyesight and he’d say that he couldn’t see. Then a female staff member would walk up to him and he’d tell her how beautiful she was.’’
Bagley drew his last breath alongside Joyce at roughly 7 a.m. on New Year’s Day. After not feeling well during a trip to the bathroom, he climbed back into their bed, curled up tight and went to sleep, never to again awaken. Among those at his well-attended funeral were his 10 grandchildren and 12 great-grandchildren.
“He was an old-town guy with deep roots in Lebanon,’’ said Follensbee. “I can see him up there in heaven, organizing something with all his old buddies, Pat Walsh and Jim Wechsler and Gil Vanier. If there are any lost souls up there, I bet he’s got them playing Little League baseball or basketball.’’
Tris Wykes can be reached at email@example.com or 603-727-3227.