Anthony Papaneri, 92, of Haughton, passed away peacefully at home surrounded by love on March 15, 2023. Anthony (Tony) was born on November 1, 1930 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania to Mary and George Papaneri.
He often shared stories about growing up with his brother George which included selling bologna on the street corners of south Philly to help their family make ends meet during the Great Depression. It was on the streets of Philadelphia that he found his life-long and life-changing passion for basketball. With no place in the neighborhood to play, Tony, George and best friends “Dippy” and “Giggy” constructed their own basketball hoop from a fallen telephone pole, scraps of metal and a “borrowed “ net, strategically placing it under the street’s only light. Countless hours of neighborhood play earned him a starting position on Overbrook High School’s Varsity Team, winning the Public League Basketball Championship in 1948. He caught the attention of nearby St. Joseph’s College’s (now University) coach and was awarded a four-year scholarship, which he called “the turning point of his life.” It was at St. Joseph’s that his deep Catholic faith was cemented and where he met his love and partner Patricia. Upon graduation in 1953 and completion of Officer Candidate School, he was commissioned a second lieutenant in the U.S. Air Force. Tony and Patricia were married at Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic Church in Philadelphia in1956–the first graduates of St. Joseph’s to marry.
Tony and Patricia’s 27-year Air Force life began at Ramey Air Force Base in Puerto Rico, where life-long friendships were formed. Tony’s Air Force career highlights include serving as a radar navigator on the B-36 and the B-52 Stratofortress. In 1961, he was a member of the crew that won the Strategic Air Command Combat Competition. He was mobilized and was in the air during 1962’s Cuban Missile Crisis. In 1966, Tony was assigned to the 463rd Tactical Airlift Wing, a C-130 squadron, serving three years in the Vietnam War. He received the Distinguished Flying Cross as a result of his plane taking 17 bullets from unfriendly fire. Tony went on to numerous leadership roles, including a tour at Strategic Air Command at Offutt Air Force Base. He retired as a Colonel in 1980 from his final position as Deputy Commander of 1st CEVG, Barksdale AFB.
After Air Force retirement, Tony was hired as the Physical Education Teacher at Christ the King Elementary School where he earned the beloved title of Coach Papaneri. He had already taken an active role in youth soccer with sons Thomas and Anthony, and was on the ground floor of the local soccer movement, assisting in the formation of the Caddo-Bossier Soccer Association (CABOSA). Despite an impressive record of 180 game wins, 34 losses and 21 ties, Coach Papaneri would recount feeling the most proud of his teams that won league sportsmanship awards.
Tony will be remembered for his unwavering Catholic faith and a life that exemplified honesty and integrity. His life-long commitment to his wife of 64 years, Miss Pat, and consistent dedication to doing the right thing serve as a constant reminder to his family. Tony’s attention to detail and work ethic in all that he did will be lovingly remembered, from creating a diagramed backyard “secret garden” and sanctuary over a 40-year period, to devising his own winning system for evaluating the horses at Louisiana Downs. He was generous and committed to supporting numerous veteran, underprivileged children and Catholic charities.
In his favorite role as “Pops” to eight grandchildren, he was absolutely adored, unfailingly offering support and praise in all endeavors. He will be remembered for sharing his love of stars and navigation, especially Orion’s Belt, awarding two-dollar bills and above all remaining patient and loving, even when the sleepover mattresses failed to inflate, leaving grandchildren laughing and sleeping on the floor.
Tony is survived by children, Christine Whitehurst (Brian) of Cincinnati; Thomas Papaneri (Helen) of Baton Rouge; and Anthony Papaneri (Jennifer) of Helena, Montana as well as grandchildren, Lauren (Whitney), Caitlin (AJ), Matthew (Cierra), Sean, Sarah, Michael, Drew and Colin and great granddaughter, Sydney.
He would want to thank his friends and beloved 47-year family of Christ the King parish, as well as adopted son Brien Quigley for his constant friendship and ever present support, best friends Shirleyann and Tom Gleason for their love, hospitality and countless runs to the base, Shirley Thomas for weekly reminiscing and Mary Morgan and family for their unwavering love. Additionally, the family cannot sufficiently thank Mary Daniels for her loving care and Father Fidel for his weekly visits and limitless spiritual guidance and companionship during these last many months. Family practice Dr. Patrick Deere, the second floor staff at Willis-Knighton Bossier Hospital and St. Joseph’s Hospice were instrumental in providing compassion and the highest level of professional care during Tony’s last days.
Rosary services will be held at 9:30 am on Saturday, April 15, 2023 at Christ the King Catholic Church, 425 McCormick St., Bossier City. Mass of the Christian Burial will follow at 10 am, officiated by Rev. Fidel Mondragon. Inurnment will follow at Hill Crest Memorial Park in Haughton.