Sarah and George Pappas met through an art class as Penn State University. At the time, George was an art professor and Sarah was one of his students. “After I took the first class with him, I made sure I took every other class he offered,” Sarah said.
After she graduated, Sarah wrote George a letter thanking him for his enjoyable classes and inviting him to look her up if he was ever in New York City. “I didn’t remember her at first, but I took out my grade book, saw I had noted “tall girl” next to her name, and remembered, “said George. When he was in the city for a conference, he called her up, and they then dated for six years before marrying. He taught at Penn State for 10 years before moving to Tampa where he taught at USF for another 27 years before retiring in 1993.
George’s family is of Greek heritage – his father was a Greek Orthodox Priest- and his work is largely influenced by icons and mythology, but with a modern, abstract twist.
George dropped out of Norwich College after two years, or rather was asked to leave due to an excess of demerits, and transferred to MASS College of Art to pursue a formal art education. “Once I entered art school, I had straight As,” George said. “He was finally studying his passion,” Sarah added in. He then went off to Harvard to earn a master’s in teaching and a doctorate from Penn state after that.
Sarah’s youth was also colorful, although by cultures not paints. Her father worked for U.S. Steel and his work took them to Puerto Rico, Cuba, and Mexico. Growing up in these countries shaped Sarah’s world view and is where she developed her love of bright colors. When she and her family moved back to the U.S., Sarah envisioned herself finishing school, marrying her high-school boyfriend, and having kids. “I was a typical girl growing up in the ‘50s, when women weren’t supposed to have aspirations,” Sarah said. “Even while I was attending Penn State, my dream job was working at Revlon as a secretary because they wore red jackets.”
Instead, her first job was at an insurance company. Although not quite the job she had been dreaming of, it turned out to be the beginning of her path towards a career in education, something she hadn’t even begun to dream up. Her company, Mutual of New York, offered tuition reimbursement to employees who pursued and passed graduate courses. “I got my master’s in social science education for free,” Sarah said.
Sarah had never imagined herself being an educator, rejecting the notion because she didn’t want to do the same thing as her mother. She also never thought of herself as smart until one of her master’s program professors gave her a glowing review. After that, she slowly became more ambitious in her plans for her life, eventually becoming a University President a few decades down the road. “It’s amazing how you can change when you have mentors,” she said.
George still paints every day in his home studio, often times with a Red Sox, Patriots, or Celtics game on in the background. Their home is full of his large, colorful pieces, and the influence of Greek icons can be seen in each work. Sarah, the more social of the two, maintains her heavy community involvement. She is on the Ringling Board of Trustees and Tiger Bay Board, volunteers at Sarasota Memorial Hospital, and is a member of a few women’s groups around town. They both stay active using the Plymouth Harbor’s Wellness Center, and Sarah attends Zumba every week at the YMCA.
So, where do they find their continued zest for life? In the activities they have always loved. “Look at me, I’m 90 years old and never thought I would be this old,” George said. “Just keep up your creativity.”