2003 Winner: Mike Stack
As long as I’m alive, I’ll be at the Hemingway Look-Alike Contest,” promised Mike Stack, 2003 winner and then judge at the annual event.
Mike’s devotion to the cause and camaraderie of the colorful conclave typifies the passion gripping the grizzled guys who compete for the coveted title of Papa.
An electrical contractor from the town of East Chester in the county of Westchester in the state of New York vividly recalled the moments of his victory, which came in his sixth year of vying for this elusive, top prize.
Before the final speech to the judges and enthusiastic audience at Sloppy Joe’s Bar, Mike secluded himself in a hotel room to carefully craft his remarks.
“I didn’t even have a beer all day, because I wanted my speech to be perfect,” he said. As the big moment grew near, Mike, in khaki pants, white shirt, and a beige sports vest, headed to his fate at the famed watering hole.
“You can speak for as long as you want, but I kept mine to 15 seconds because I was too damn nervous when I got up on stage before the judges and that wild and noisy crowd. I forgot what I had written down, so I just ad-libbed some comments.”
Then 62 years old, Mike had a lot going for him beyond his Hemingway physical resemblance. Like his hero, he loved to fish, a sport he pursues avidly to this day. He loved reading Hemingway’s books. His favorites were The Old Man and the Sea and For Whom the Bell Tolls.
He especially loved Key West and Sloppy Joe’s.
“I just love the guy,” said Stack. “The feeling is just overwhelming.”
After delivering speeches, the five remaining hopefuls gathered in the street outside the bar while the judges convened to pick a winner. One of Mike’s finalist friends asked him if he wanted a beer. Mike declined.
“No, I won’t have a beer until I hear if I win or lose.”
As time wore on and the scorching, tropic sun wilted the wannabes like butter on hot pancakes, Mike entertained second thoughts about the liquid offer.
“You know what? To heck with it! Yeah, I’ll have one.”
No sooner had the beer arrived, and just as he lifted the bottle to his parched mouth to down one, big gulp, the loudspeakers boomed the winner―Mike Stack.
He was so surprised he spit the beer right out in shock. After the ceremonies, a New York Post reporter asked Mike the reason he was picked as the winning Papa look-alike.
“Only the judges, Ernest, and God know,” he answered.
One of the prizes presented him by Sloppy Joe’s John Klausing was a $100 bar tab. Surrounded by past Papas and thirsty wannabe friends, Mike told Klausing the $100 would be gone in 30 seconds. And 30 seconds later, it was, but Mike walked away with other spoils of victory―bust of Hemingway, five-day stay at Doubletree, and Continental Airlines airfare.
“Flew to Alaska and went fishing. What a thrill!”
The original Papa would have been proud of his angling prowess, which landed salmon, pike, and trout.
And the 2003 Papa finally got his beer―in fact, two brews.
“Two lovely ladies came to me and each had a cold beer in their hands. I told them, ‘God bless you, girls.’”
They were the vanguard of many women who wanted photos posing with the silver-bearded men who favored Ernest Hemingway in more ways than one.
“I have six pictures of different women sitting on my lap,” laughed Mike, who became wary of cameras after his third year of competition―the year his wife stayed home and he ended up in a television documentary.
“Into Sloppy Joe’s walks this gorgeous girl more than six feet tall. She was dressed in a skimpy outfit and Kentucky Derby hat. She came right over to the bar, threw her arms around me and asked if she could have her picture taken with me.”
Ever the gentleman, Mike obliged, but later cringed when told the Stack-Amazon Woman meeting made the cut for a documentary to be aired across the globe.
“Oh, Lord, when my wife sees it, she’s going to think all we do is hang out at the bar with our arms around girls.”
Mike was right, but he was savvy enough to warn his wife about the show, even showed her a photo of the meeting.
Said Mike, “Oh, there were hundreds of people in there.”
The following year, Mike’s wife attended the competition with him. The Mamas love their Papas. And the Papas love their Mamas and their families.
“My grandson is named after me. The day he was born, I signed him up in the Hemingway Look-Alike Society!”
Mike passed away in 2008.