MERIDEN — If there was a sporting event or game of any kind in the Meriden area over the last several generations, chances are good George Hamrah was there.
Not years. Generations.
And chances are George Hamrah was in the middle of it telling stories and discussing games and players of yesteryear or holding court about his beloved UConn women’s basketball team.
The light of the room, after 99 years, has now flickered out. Hamrah died on Saturday, Sept. 11 less than eight months from his 100th birthday.
Though ailing, Hamrah was still going strong to the end. Longtime friend John Young said the two would talk over the phone every day, sometimes several times a day. They’d trade sports stories and John would pepper George with trivia questions.
“I quizzed him every day and he scored 99 percent or better," Young said. “He probably knew who Yogi Berra’s grandmother was.”
He probably did, and would have a story about it, too.
Young said he’d go to games with Hamrah and he’d would be recognized by people at the games even if it was out of state. Diana Taurasi called him “Big Guy.”
“I'm going to miss him dearly, our daily talks,” Young said. “I’m really saddened about his passing. Meriden has lost an icon. He’s one of the great people, especially in the sports world.”
Sports was the center for Hamrah, but he was involved in many other fabrics of the community.
In fact, Young first met Hamrah when he was performing at the Kiwanis Kapers Shows. It was something Hamrah had done for more than six decades.
“He was the star of the show," Young said. “He brought a lot of laughs to everyone.”
Ed Siebert Sr. was one of Hamrah’s closest friends. The two were buddies for neary four decades and attended countless games together.
Siebert said the first game the two went to together was during the 1964 World Series between the Yankees and the Cardinals. The attended countless UConn games together at home and all over the country. Hamrah also had annual bus trips to Yankee Stadium and Fenway Park.
“We were close,” Siebert Sr. said Monday, fighting back tears. “He was like a brother to me. He had to be the most unbelievable guy I’ve ever met. He was an original.”
One of Hamrah’s trademarks was his business card. Siebert Sr. said Hamrah must have given out 10,000 of the over the years to everyone he met.
Siebert Sr. was Hamrah’s singing partner for 40 years in the Kiwanis Kapers Show. Hamrah took it to the limit when it came to dressing up and lip synching. He was Cher to Siebert’s Sonny, Toni Tennille to Siebert’s Captain.
“People went crazy for George,” Siebert said.
Hamrah was born on May 9, 1922 and graduated from Naugatuck High School in 1940 and was a contemporary of Specs Shea, the Naugatuck native who pitched for the Yankees and Senators in the 1940s and 50s.
Hamrah’s family relocated to Meriden, where he joined the family business, Hamrah Linen Shop, on 1 Colony Street.
In January 1943, he entered the U.S. Army, Quarter Master Corps, where he served for 37 months. His unit was deployed overseas in 1944, and he served in New Guinea and the Philippines.
After the Japanese surrendered, Hamrah remained overseas until 1946, when he returned to the U.S. to be honorably discharged. He achieved Quarter Sergeant status.
Back home, Hamrah returned to the family business and expanded it to include custom-made draperies, slipcovers and blinds. He later moved to Southington.
Hamrah was the president of the Meriden Kiwanis Club, vice president of the Meriden Intermediates, a member of the Knights of Columbus, the American Legion and the Meriden Elks Club, Lodge 35.
In sports, his accolades were vast. In 1982, the Meriden YMCA named him the Sportsman of the Year. In 2012, George was inducted into the Meriden Hall of Fame.
In April of 2014, at the age of 92, Hamrah was awarded the 22nd annual Community Partnership Award for his longstanding career as a local business owner and community leader by the Meriden Chamber of Commerce.
In March 2015, George was recognized at the 34th annual Meriden Sports Reunion as a Sportsman of Distinction. He is a member of the Meriden Hall of Fame in the business/commerce realm. He was also inducted into the Meriden Boys & Girls Club Hall of Fame in 2016
Hamrah was also a regular at he Record-Journal Best of the Bunch Brunch, an event that honors high school athletes at the end of each school year.
Longtime Maloney boys basketball coach and current Southington girls basketball coach Howie Hewitt said Hamrah will be sorely missed. The two knew each other for more than three decades.
“No one supported Meriden athletics like George did,” Hewitt said. “He was always promoting the kids and he loved the athletes. The girls at UConn loved him. I know he got some messages from some former players like Breanna Stewart when he was sick. He knew all of them.
“He would do anything for anyone and he was behind anything in Meriden from an athletic perspective,” Hewitt added. “He always knew who was playing and how the teams were doing. He was a great man and will be missed by the sports community in Connecticut, in particular in Meriden.”
A Mass of Christian Burial celebrating George's life will be held on Thursday at 11 a.m. at St. Joseph Church, 22 Goodwill Avenue in Meriden. Burial with military honors will follow in Sacred Heart Cemetery in Meriden. Everyone is asked to meet directly at church.
Visitation will take place Wednesday from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. at Beecher & Bennett-Flatow Funeral Home, 48 Cook Avenue in Meriden
Social distancing and masks are required at all services. In lieu of flowers, the family requests donations may be made in George's memory to St. Joseph's Church, 22 Goodwill Avenue, Meriden, 06451.