Ways of Life: A baseball coach for countless boys
Also remembered: An owner of a beauty salon in uptown Charlotte; longtime Country Day history teacher who helped develop Holocaust program; longest tenured professor at Johnson C. Smith University
You’re reading Ways of Life, a weekly obituaries newsletter from The Charlotte Ledger honoring our friends, neighbors and family members who made an impact on Charlotte through the ways they lived their lives.
Mike Cipriano used baseball to teach kids lessons for life
Mike Cipriano passed away in early March at the age of 80. “He was so very kind, his smile was infectious,” a former player wrote. (Courtesy of Christine Cipriano)
By Marty Minchin
Mike Cipriano loved being outside, whether it was fishing, doing yardwork, swimming in a lake or watching birds. But his favorite spot may have been in his own backyard, throwing a baseball.
While he never was a player himself, Mike dedicated many years to coaching his three sons Bill, Chad and Shawn, countless young players in West Charlotte, and later, his grandsons. He also sat on Little League boards and managed teams.
“He was so very kind, his smile was infectious,” Chip Jones, who Cipriano coached on Little League teams in the late 1970s, wrote in a social media post. “His handshake was firm. He had a never-give-up mindset. I will forever cherish the memories, and never forget the impact he had on me, during the summers of my adolescence.”
Mike, 80, died in early March after months of declining health related to kidney disease.
He grew up in Connecticut, the only child of Charles Cipriano, who was born in Italy, and Pauline Romano of Waterbury, Conn. The Ciprianos met Mike when he was 18 months old while visiting a Catholic orphanage, where they’d hoped to adopt an infant girl. However, they learned she’d been adopted.
Then, they spotted Mike playing by himself in the corner. “That was the first time they met, and they adopted him right away,” said Christine Cipriano, who is married to Mike’s son Bill.
Mike’s family was “very Italian,” and he developed a love for Italian foods and sauces, Christine said. His dad, who was a self-employed painter, enjoyed taking Friday afternoons off and taking Mike to watch the Yankees in New York City, where he saw Mickey Mantle and Yogi Berra play.
After high school, Mike joined the U.S. Air Force and served as an assistant management technician. While stationed at Turner Air Force Base in Albany, Ga., he met Shelba Jean McDaniel at a dance. They married in 1964 and soon moved to Charlotte, eventually settling in a house they built on Delisa Drive in west Charlotte. Mike, who loved computer programming, worked at NCNB, which eventually became Bank of America.
The couple soon had their first of three sons, each born four years apart, and when the boys were old enough, Mike began teaching them how to play baseball. He coached all of them through Little League, spending hours throwing the ball with them in the backyard, and then each played on the baseball team at West Mecklenburg High School.
“A lot of his fatherly time focused on youth sports,” said Bill. “He spent a lot of time with us.”
But his sons weren’t the only ones to benefit from his coaching. He was less interested in teaching kids to perfect the physical skills of baseball than teaching them to succeed in life.
“If [a game] wasn’t working out just perfect, he wasn’t going to spend half an hour with somebody trying to get technical on their swing,” Bill said. “He would be the [team] manager, so he was more the life lessons [coach], plus trying to deal with parents.”
Former player Jones wrote that Mike did “his very best” to teach him baseball fundamentals, but “he also taught me about character, the sportsmanship displayed on the field and to play the game with integrity.”
Off the field, Mike liked tinkering with computers and playing around with the Apple Macintoshes at the store. He finally ended up buying one of the first models for himself — although Bill thinks it probably cost about twice as much as he told Shelba it did.
He also enjoyed serving at Redeemer Lutheran Church, where he was a member for 40 years, and later at Salem United Methodist Church. His Catholic dad and Baptist mom had long ago found a compromise as Lutherans; and at Redeemer, Mike sang in the choir (“even though he couldn’t sing a lick,” Bill said) and served on the church council.
Mike enjoyed coaching his grandsons, including Benjamin Cipriano (shown). Mike was very much involved in the boys’ lives. (Courtesy of Christine Cipriano)
Mike continued coaching Little League baseball when his first grandson was old enough to play, and when he retired from a 40-year career at Bank of America he joined Shelba in helping take care of their grandchildren.
“He’d pick them up from school,” Christine said. “He was extremely involved in our sons’ lives.”
Mike also never lost his affinity for Yogi Berra. Along with dad jokes, quips and funny quotes, he loved Berra’s one-liners, many of which he learned from a book Christine gave him. One of his favorites was “five out of four people have trouble with fractions.”
He retained a deep love for Italian food (although a recent DNA test revealed Mike was 100% French) and sweets — many of his teeth sported metal fillings, and on his recent 80th birthday, he surprised his family with a request for cheesecake over a favorite, red velvet.
After many years in West Charlotte, Mike and Shelba moved to Denver, N.C., to live closer to their sons and their families. For the past eight or nine years, Mike took care of Shelba in their home as she battled dementia.
“He was a complete saint,” Christine said. “He took care of her day and night. He was so loving and adoring, the epitome of ‘in sickness and in health.’”
When Mike’s health began to fail, Bill and Christine moved Shelba into their home. “I think the only reason he was able to leave us at the time he did was he knew Bill and I had taken her in,” Christine said. “I think he felt like she was in good hands with us.”
While Mike is remembered for his great love for family, his many friends and his impact on his community, the sport that he loved since he was a child may define his legacy.
“He had such a wonderful life, and a lot of story to him,” Christine said. “But what stands out for me the most, and probably for Bill and his brothers, too, is baseball.”
Marty Minchin is a freelance writer based in Charlotte.
Remembering Parks Helms – in their own words
Longtime Charlotte politician Parks Helms died Saturday at the age of 87, leaving behind a legacy of strong Democratic leadership as a state lawmaker for 10 years and a county commissioner for 16.
In life and politics, he presided with a gentlemanly air and an unusual intensity, and was known for his tendency to advocate for the poor and disenfranchised. He sponsored a bill that brought liquor-by-the-drink to Mecklenburg County in 1987, and he served as county commissioners chairman for a decade.
Here’s what fellow politicians had to say about him Monday after learning of his death:
Former Democratic commissioner Dumont Clarke: “Parks was a political leader across generations. … Parks was a visionary. And he knew how to bring people together around his vision. He was greatly respected by the business leaders of this community and could see what Charlotte had the potential to become, better than a lot of the rest of us.”
Former Democratic commissioner Norman Mitchell: “We did some good things under his leadership. There was an integrity . . . When he said something you could take it to the bank. We have lost a valuable citizen for the state of North Carolina.”
Democrat George Dunlap, current chairman of the county commissioners: “He was real influential in getting the vote out and making sure the right people were running for office.”
You can read The Ledger’s obituary of Helms here.
Other obituaries this week:
Theresa (Tere) Stokes Argo, 77, of Charlotte was head nurse of the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at Charlotte Memorial Hospital. Tere served as a registered nurse for many years in pediatrics. She later entered home health care and finished her career in quality assurance.
Ethel Elizabeth “Ms. Liz” Brown, 84, of Charlotte obtained her beautician’s license from Dudley Beauty College and opened and ran her beauty salon in the uptown community for over 20 years. Ms. Liz was a member of a few churches in the Charlotte area including Saint Luke Missionary Baptist Church, Grier Heights Presbyterian Church and Mount Moriah Primitive Baptist Church. She enjoyed cooking and traveling.
Gwendolyn Featherstone Cathey, 94, of Charlotte worked in the medical records department at Charlotte Memorial Hospital. As a longtime member of Covenant Presbyterian Church, Gwen was active in women’s circles, various mission projects and the Mr. and Ms. Sunday school class.
Margaret Evelina Dumpson, 86, of Charlotte was a long-standing member of New Covenant Bibleway Church in Charlotte. During her life, she demonstrated compassion towards others by always greeting them with her infectious smile.
Druecilla Grier, 90, of Charlotte served as a member of St. John Baptist Church, where she was the director of Voices of Hope and Angels of Love choirs, a Sunday school teacher, and president of the missionary department. Druecilla was a member of St. Paul Presbyterian Church for several years and a member of the Order of Eastern Star. She was educated in Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools and went on to work for them and later retired.
Joyce Hagen Hardin, 84, of Mint Hill was active at St. Gabriel Catholic Church in Charlotte for more than 40 years in the women’s group and round robin bridge group. Joyce was the assistant director for Friendship Trays for several years. She loved rainy days and black clothes with colorful accessories.
Edward Eugene Kelly, 77, of Charlotte taught history for 40 years, including 37 years at Charlotte Country Day School. He was The Richard V. Bray Master instructor of history and helped develop a program to study the Holocaust, which culminated in an annual trip to Washington, D.C., during which students visited the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. Mr. Kelly was a member of Christ Episcopal Church, where he participated with the choir for more than 40 years.
Randall Rich Kincaid Jr., 83, of Davidson taught economics at Queens University and was instrumental in the launch of the Queens executive MBA program. He enjoyed the theatre and loved playing the piano and singing.
Helen Beatrice “Bea” Helms Link, 91, of Mount Holly was a member of Covenant United Methodist Church in Charlotte for many years. She was a member of the Red Hats Society and enjoyed shopping and gardening.
William “Bill” R. Manus, 74, of Charlotte was a proud graduate of Harding High School, Class of 1967, where he lettered in track and football. He later retired from Reynolds Aluminum in Charlotte, where he was an aluminum fabricator. William was a member of Woodlawn Baptist Church. He loved history and playing chess and was willing to teach anyone wanting to learn.
Clarissa Ada Bush McClure, 100, of Charlotte became a member of Macedonia Baptist Church in Charlotte after moving here. At Macedonia, Clarissa served as vice president of the senior choir, a member of the mother’s board and the missionary circle. She was one of the first to join the mass choir. Clarissa loved to sing, especially with her sisters. They sang together in a group called “The Bush Sisters.”
Mary Ellen Montgomery, 95, of Charlotte was a longtime member of Sharon Presbyterian Church in Charlotte. She loved working in her yard.
Robert (Bob) L. Pace Sr., 96, of Charlotte joined the Charlotte Fire Department in 1949 and retired as battalion chief after 34 years of service. He was a Mason and owner of Bob Pace Golf.
Elizabeth “Beth” Cooper Parker, 59, of Fort Mill, S.C., was the founder and co-executive director of the Steele Creek Soccer Club in Charlotte. She excelled in that capacity and was awarded the North Carolina Youth Soccer Association Volunteer of the Year award. Beth traveled all over the U.S. and Europe.
Dr. Rufus Grier Pettis, 86, of Charlotte was the longest tenured professor and retired from Johnson C. Smith University after 41 years as a professor of mathematics. He had an active career in teaching, including stints at Second Ward High School and Central Piedmont Community College. He was an active member of First Fellowship Charlotte Church and the Charlotte alumni chapter of Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity. In his leisure time, he enjoyed gardening, winemaking and fishing.
Laura Moss Shirey, 93, of Greensboro moved to Charlotte in 1954 to help open an Aetna office. She was a member of Eastern Hills Baptist Church. In her younger years she enjoyed competitive bowling and women’s softball.
Donald Eads Stevenson, 97, of Charlotte was a co-founder of Smith and Stevenson, a manufacturer’s representative agency in Charlotte. He was president and CEO for many years before retiring in 1995. He joined Westminster Presbyterian Church after moving to Charlotte. Don was an avid skier and traveled the world skiing the slopes of North America and Europe, but always with a fondness for Vail, Colo. He was an accomplished fly fisherman for several decades.
Mary “Mimi” Anne Boone Thomas, 85, of Charlotte moved to Charlotte to become an elementary school teacher. Mimi was a member of Christ Episcopal Church. She served as president of the Christ Church kindergarten board, was a volunteer at Charlotte Latin School, serving on the parents’ council and was a member of the Junior League of Charlotte. Mimi was a member of Charlotte Country Club, where she loved playing tennis and golf for decades.
Ways of Life condensed obituaries are compiled by Darrell Horwitz, a Charlotte-based freelance writer who writes about sports, local news and restaurants. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org
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Ways of Life editor: Craig Paddock