By Cliff Nichols
For The Register-Herald
During his teenage years, Mickey Furfari got involved in the newspaper experience and sports coverage.
As he prepares to celebrate his 90th birthday on Monday and the start of his 68th year covering West Virginia University athletics, the enthusiasm remains strong.
Furfari has always enjoyed meeting people who have read his columns and stories.
“People stop me when I’m going to the stadium for football or the Coliseum for basketball or Hawley Field for baseball,” Furfari said. “They say, ‘Aren’t you Mickey?’ That helps make my day.
“I tell them that. I insist on knowing their name and where they’re from. You can imagine the friends that I have created through my columns and other stories.”
Furfari got started at an early age.
“While other guys were dating, Mickey Furfari was hanging around the Morgantown Dominion News, learning the ropes, running errands for the guys, just getting to know them,” Furfari recalled.
After graduating from Morgantown High School, Furfari attended WVU in 1941-42.
In the summer of 1942, Furfari was told that The Associated Press had a 40-hour-a-week news job open in Huntington.
“They were willing to pay $25 a week,” Furfari said. “That was a lot of money in 1942. That was pretty good money.”
That was his first time out of Morgantown. While working, he took a few hours of courses at what was then Marshall College.
In 1943, he was drafted and served in World War II.
He served in the infantry but was not involved in fighting. He was in France, Belgium, Holland, Germany and Czechoslovakia.
“The war ended when we were in Czech,” Furfari said. “I can remember the first night the war was over, we poured some vodka on the bon fire. But we were also smart enough to consume some of it.”
Occupation duty, after time back in the United States, followed near Tokyo.
While there, Furfari, who had been a mail carrier and personnel officer, became sport editor of the Pacific Stars and Stripes.
His first job after completing work on his degree at WVU was with Shorty Harman at the Charleston Gazette, from June 1948 to February 1949.
He came back to Morgantown as sports editor of the Dominion News, earning $60 a week. His wife, Betty, also a journalist, worked at the newspaper as society editor and in public relations for Ruby Memorial Hospital.
He worked more than 40 years with the Morgantown newspapers, retiring in the summer of 1989 as the Dominion-Post’s executive sports editor. He immediately began work as a syndicated writer covering WVU, a position he holds to this day.
“You know, I would not change anything in my whole career,” Furfari said. “At one time I was writing for seven newspapers. I just enjoy it. I would not change anything. If I could start over again, I wouldn’t hesitate at all.
“I didn’t get rich, but I made a good living. You know, I’ve been so blessed with family and friends.”
He considers his time with New York Yankees great Joe DiMaggio his greatest interview. It was arranged by Dyke Raese, who coached WVU’s basketball team to the 1942 NIT title. Raese was then head of Greer Industries.
DiMaggio, who had friends in Clarksburg, was in Morgantown to visit with children at the hospital and was staying at Lakeview.
“He was just so great,” Furfari said, recalling that DiMaggio offered to return for more questions after his visit to the hospital if needed.
Furfari, who survived two bouts with cancer, is legally blind and has some difficulty hearing, still works virtually every day. He tapes and transcribes interviews and writes his stories longhand. He gets assistance, which he appreciates, in typing the stories and sending them via e-mail.
“I’m happiest when I’m working,” he said.
He particularly enjoys talking to former WVU athletes and coaches and writing updates about their careers.
Furfari has maintained a friendship with WVU’s most well-known athlete, Jerry West, for more than half a century.
“To me, he, to this day, is a personal friend,” Furfari said. “That means much to me. I asked him one day, ‘Jerry, why do you still consider me a friend?’
“He said, ‘Mickey, I always thought you were very fair in writing about me and others when I was playing at WVU. I thought you were very fair, and I didn’t think some others were fair. I’ve dealt with a lot of media throughout my career.’
“I cherish him. I admire him. He’s a great person.”
Furfari has also written two books in recent years, “Mickey’s Mountaineer Memories,” volumes 1 and 2.
The books, priced at $25 plus tax, are available at the newspaper office. Both books may be purchased for $40 plus tax.
Furfari will celebrate his birthday Monday at Olive Garden and enjoy his favorite food, eggplant parmesan.
Then attention turns to an important WVU football season following the Mountaineers’ 7-6 2012 campaign. Furfari is eager to see if the new-look Mountaineers can bounce back.
“You bet. You bet,” he said. “That’s why it’s so important, so important, not only from the standpoint of the fan base but the students of West Virginia University.”
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