SPRINGFIELD, Mo. – The nonprofit group Fight Colorectal Cancer has unveiled a sizable mural in downtown Springfield honoring late professional wrestling legend Mike Pappas, “The Flying Greek.”
Pappas’ friends and family knew him as Manoli Savvenas outside of the ring. The former wrestler who once battled Andre the Giant retired from the entertainment business in 1978 and opened Manoli’s Jewelers in Springfield. The master goldsmith serviced over 50 major stores during his decades of work in the Queen City.
Erin Quiko, Fight CRC philanthropy program manager, says Savvenas was diagnosed with stage four colorectal cancer during a routine check-up. After learning about the disease, the local jeweler and his wife, Valerie, unexpectedly walked through the nonprofit’s door in a show of support.
“We were so blessed. He truly wanted to let his voice help us raise awareness,” Quiko says.
Before his diagnosis, Savvenas showed no signs of colorectal cancer. After wrestling with the illness in his biggest battle yet, Savvenas tragically lost his life to it at the age of 81 on Dec. 31.
In a show of appreciation for Savvenas’ legacy, Fight CRC organizers visited with Paul Tillman, owner of the old Woolworth building on Park Central Square. The parties discussed painting over an aging and defaced soft drink advertisement featuring dancing bears, and adding a tribute to Savvenas.
Onlookers will notice the beloved dancing bears have returned, though – added to the bottom right-hand corner of the Mike Pappas mural.
After the mural received approval, organizers began searching for the right muralist for the project. Fight CRC found muralist Blake Bermel of Austin, Texas. Ironically, Bermel grew up in the Branson area and happened to know Fight CRC President Anjee Davis.
Quiko says the project only cost Fight CRC a well-spent $5,000.
“Hands down, we said we have to do it,” Quiko told The Heartlander. “Manoli was such a figure in Springfield, and it’s the best way to put that word out there to fight colorectal cancer, to honor Manoli, his legacy and to honor what he was trying to help us do by raising awareness. It came out beautifully.”
Quiko says Savvenas’ wife, Valerie, has sold the family jewelry store and moved to Columbia to be closer to family after Manoli’s passing.
“They took a trip down and took pictures in front of the mural. For the family, it’s beautiful, and they are so appreciative.”
“The Flying Greek” mural can be seen coming from the west side of Park Central Square, and has already earned positive feedback from the community. Quiko says she will always remember Savvenas for his positivity and small stature while maintaining a giant personality.
Fight CRC provides patient support through advocacy, seeks policy changes and leads breakthrough research. According to the organization’s website, Fight CRC is the leading patient-empowerment and advocacy organization in the United States for colon and rectal cancer research, policy and treatment.
“Our word is to get screened,” Quiko says. “This is something that, if detected early, is preventable and can be curable. You just need to make you get screened.”
To learn more about “The Flying Greek” Mike Pappas and his legacy, a free documentary can be found on Youtube. The film was directed by local award-winning filmmaker Jason Brasier.