He’s a familiar figure who daily walked from his Carriage Hill apartment complex along Market St. to Youngstown State University almost every day; and then back!
Few know his name, but most recognize him as ‘the man with the hats.’
He is 65-year-old Eugene ‘Sonny’ Shapshe, who when interviewed by The Boardman News in July 2007, said he walks because he can’t drive, and can’t read or write.
When Sonny wasn’t walking, he was making the hats that so many motorists saw everyday as he walked along Market St.
“I walk every day, and when I’m not walking, I working on my hats,” Mr. Shapshe told The Boardman News.
Sonny’s hats are his art. He has made them for years, and they generally reflect the time of year.
Last Friday night, Nov. 25, near 9:00 p.m., Sonny was walking near 7524 Market St. in a Christmas hat when all of a sudden he was struck by a Colbalt driven by a 21-year-old Salem woman. The impact knocked him more than 50 ft., and by Monday of this week he remained in critical condition at the St. Elizabeth Hospital Medical Center with head severe head injuries.
Published reports indicate the Ohio State Highway Patrol is still investigating the accident. The car that struck Mr. Shapshe, in front of Boardman Lanes, next to his residence, was reportedly driven by Danica Jackson.
Mr. Shapshe was born in Czechoslovakia and came to the Mahoning Valley when just a child. He lived most of his life in Campbell, where a Campbell native, the late George Tablack, saw to it that Sonny got a job with the Ohio Department of Liquor Control.
However, following brain surgery at 29-years-old, Sonny was forced to give-up his job.
So he turned to walking and making hats. He doesn’t say much about it, but he is also an accomplished painter.
“I’m never afraid while I’m walking,” Mr. Shapshe told the Boardman News, adding “Most people want to take a picture of me, or they offer to buy my hat. The hats make people smile.”
Several years ago, Mr. Shapshe wanted to go to Warren. Early in the morning he began the trek, stopping here and there if someone offered him a cup of coffee, or perhaps to talk to any number of police officers wondering what he was doing, and if he was okay.
“I started in the morning, and came back when it was dark,” Mr. Shapshe said.
In 2006, he walked to the Canfield Fair and back, then later observed “I’m not doing that anymore, too many cars.”
A kind and gentle man, Mr. Shapshe told The Boardman News “As long as I remain in good health, I will continue to walk and make hats. It’s what I like to do.”