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Reclusive Macon homeless man, once a beloved teacher, will be remembered in memorial

Arthur Panish, seen here during Hurricane Irma in September, was once a high school teacher in his native New York. Panish, 75, lived along the Ocmulgee River and died March 11, two days after being hit by a car while he was crossing the Interstate 16 entrance ramp at North Avenue.
Arthur Panish, seen here during Hurricane Irma in September, was once a high school teacher in his native New York. Panish, 75, lived along the Ocmulgee River and died March 11, two days after being hit by a car while he was crossing the Interstate 16 entrance ramp at North Avenue. lfabian@macon.com

For years, Arthur Panish lived alone on the banks of the Ocmulgee River in Macon.

Panish, 75, walked the streets daily as he foraged for food in the trash cans around Baconsfield.

Never one to accept offers of help or beg for money, he was a mystery to many who drove by the Spring Street bridge.

When he was hit by a car March 9 at the Interstate 16 on-ramp at North Avenue, no one knew his name.

He died of massive head trauma two days later at Medical Center, Navicent Health.

Fingerprints led to Panish's identity and the discovery that he had a twin sister, Geraldine Panish, in New York City.

Bibb County Coroner Leon Jones set up a fund to cremate Panish's remains and sought a court order to do so.

Saturday, Highland Hills Baptist Church at 1370 Briarcliff Road will host a memorial service at 11:30 a.m. with Pastor Jake Hall officiating.

The church's administrative assistant Stephanie Wohl said many people in the Shirley Hills neighborhood were affected by Panish's death.

"When it happened, I think everybody took notice," Wohl said. "I think everybody tried to help him at one time."

Hall told The Telegraph he had heard many people talk about Panish in the days after he died.

"For those of us who live and work on the other side of the Spring Street bridge, we've at least come to know him as a movable fixture there over the past decade, at least," Hall said.

The reclusive man, who bedded down among the thick bamboo that grew near Spring Street, was once a teacher.

The New York City native studied at the City College of New York and graduated from Eastern Michigan University at Ann Arbor, according to his obituary.

Panish.jpg
Arthur Panish

Panish taught Spanish at Pine Bush High School, north of the Big Apple, not far from West Point and just west of the Connecticut border.

He delighted his students as he shared his love for music and debated in Spanish with the teens he taught.

They discussed the issues of the day, such as "long hair for boys."

Panish, with his long locks and beard, loved to travel and hitchhiked some 30,000 miles as he met new people and shared his music.

He believed adults should continue to play as children, his obituary states.

"Though circumstances later created a life on the streets, he was a lesson for all who crossed his path. He will be missed," the Highland Hills' memorial announcement states.

The community will remember him "as a quiet and dignified man."

Those who did try to help were gruffly rebuffed. Many have long wondered how he wound up on the streets and will likely never know.

"Such a mystery, but we look forward to a moment of peace (Saturday) around his life," Hall said.

Memorial contributions can be made to Macon's homeless day center, Daybreak at 174 Walnut Street.

Condolence messages can be left at the Harts Mortuary website.

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