Forks in the Road: The Gagas Family’s baking, banking legacy

Chris Gagas

Selling pots and pans can be a very lucrative occupation. Selling Certificates of Deposit and financing homeownership can also be a very lucrative endeavor.  If you don’t believe me, just ask Chris Gagas.  

Chris was the owner and operator, with his late brother John, of the National Restaurant Supply,  a wholesale provider of restaurant equipment, which was originally located on East Second Street, where the Oswego Midtown Center now sits.  The building was razed during urban renewal in the sixties, and the business relocated to the former Loblaw store at East Third and Bridge, which is now a thrift store.  The Gagas family also operated a retail store from that location called “The Pampered Kitchen.”  Chris’s wife, Constance, managed that store and even did her own commercials on radio station WSGO.  I remember that business well, in part because my neighbor, Mrs. Dorothy Ahern, was the manager and bookkeeper of the business. Her daughter Maureen was my very first girlfriend.  They lived two doors up from me on Seneca Street (I know that this is extraneous information, but I can’t help devolving into “Oswegospeak” from time to time).

Chris was one of 5 siblings: his brother, John, is deceased but his sister, Elaine, and brother, Theo, live in Syracuse. A sister, Rita, lives in Denver, Colorado.  Chris is an army veteran of the Korean conflict era, serving overseas in Germany, and is a graduate of Hobart College in Geneva.

Chris was very active in many community boards and organizations, including the Oswego Jaycees, Rotary, United Way, Chamber of Commerce (for which he won a Man of the Year Award), the Port of Oswego Authority Board Chair, SUNY Oswego Foundation Board and the Riverside Cemetery Board amount others.  He was appointed to the board of Oswego City Savings Bank in 1965 and became Chairman and CEO of the board in 1986, serving until 2000, and then another seven years as Board Chair.  He succeeded Hal VanOpdorp, a lawyer who was known more for his cautionary character than visionary reach.  Chris helped to set a new and bold course for the bank, first with an attempted merger with Oswego County Savings bank, and then when that fell through, with the expansion, re-organization and renaming of Oswego City Savings bank to Pathfinder Bank in 1995.  Chris credits his son Adam with conjuring up the name Pathfinder, in honor of James Fenimore Cooper and his historic attachment to the Oswego area, along with the bold and innovative approach the term projects.  Along the way, Chris engineered the purchase and demolition of the adjacent old Dime Savings bank building, which expanded the main branch parking lot and acquiring several storefronts to the north, which were incorporated into the main office.  Along the way, Pathfinder also acquired Columbia Bank, on East Bridge Street and several other branches were built during his tenure in places like Mexico, Fulton, and Central Square. Today the bank operates 11 offices throughout central New York and it’s assets have grown from $82 million when Chris became CEO to $300 million when he retired.  Today, the bank boasts assets of over one billion dollars and is actively engaged in several large commercial projects in the city of Oswego and elsewhere.  That is an impressive record of growth indeed and is due in no small measure to Chris stewardship during the critical expansion period.  Taken in the aggregate, his is a very accomplished and productive career, which has greatly benefited his native Oswego, for which all Oswegonians are appreciative.

Chris and his wife Constance, who passed away in 2016, are the parents of four children, about whom Chris often quipped “Every gray hair I have in my head I earned from my children.”

They have all gone on to accomplished careers, including his daughter, Anastasia, an attorney in Oswego, and his son, Adam, an investment advisor.  His children Charles and wife Claire, with their two children, and Greg and his wife Holly have one child and live in California.

Chris, who is now in his late eighties, shows no signs of slowing down, as was evident to me when I recently bumped into him and his dining companion at a downtown Oswego restaurant.  We are all banking on a healthy and lively future for him and his family going forward.

John T. Sullivan is a former Oswego Mayor and the author of three books, “Forks In The Road” parts I and II and an autobiography “Pee Not Your Pants — Memoirs of a small time mayor with big time ideas,” available locally in the river’s end bookstore and online.  His column appears exclusively in The Palladium-Times on the first Monday of each month.

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