The Promise Keeper

Paul-MuscentiThe only thing that gives away Paul Muscenti’s age is his disclosure of when he joined the Boys & Girls Clubs. In 1945, the post-war boom had relocated 8-year-old Paul and his family from Cleveland to the Valley. Settled in West Phoenix—“the sticks,” he recalls, humorously, considering that the sticks probably now has more Taco Bells per capita than actual sticks—Paul would ride his bike toward the city searching for something to do. It wasn’t long before he discovered a Club on 9th Street and Van Buren. It was known then only as the “Boys Club,” est. 1946, as new to town as Paul was. In time, each would help the other thrive.

But yes, aside from being an original Club kid, Paul Muscenti rejects the notion of 78 years. In fact, he walks to meet us for lunch, across the street from Arizona Bank & Trust, where he serves as chairman. For his lunch side, he opts for the salad instead of fries, lamenting that his time at the gym alone has not been doing enough to meet his fitness goals.

It’s more than physical though. Paul recalls his youth and various elements of Valley lore with the sharpness of someone who experienced it all yesterday. (Combining his love for athletics with pinpoint nostalgia, Paul mentions how he and his friends used to water ski the city’s canals by tying ropes to the backs of cars.) But it’s not so much the accuracy that’s impressive—it’s the passion. And it’s difficult to fathom something that Paul Muscenti is more passionate about than the Boys & Girls Clubs.

It was the Boys Club’s first Christmas party for its kids, and the event was sponsored by the city’s Junior Chamber of Commerce. At 1st Street and Monroe, they arrived on a flatbed truck with gifts in tow for the Club kids. Paul climbed onto the truck and a young man handed him a small bag that included some hard candy and a toy, and it still resonates as one of the most genuinely happy moments of his young life. Right then and there, he made a promise to himself that he’d make it his life’s mission to repay the Boys & Girls Clubs. This is likely not the first time Paul has shared this anecdote, but as he recollects it a latest time, he eyes gently well up. Like Paul himself, his passion for the Clubs appears unaffected by the passage of time.

After graduating from the University of Arizona, Paul joined a management training program at the First National Bank of Arizona. He was soon asked to join the board at the Boys & Girls Clubs of Metro Phoenix.

“Now it’s time for me to make good on my promise,” Paul recalls, wistfully.

His commitment to BGCMP transcended even his own career. When Paul and a few banking friends started Metropolitan Bank, where he served as president, he made sure the financial establishment was a friend to BGCMP. That remained the case wherever Paul went. For years he served as chairman of the annual, cherished trips to Las Vegas for board members and guests, and he fondly reminisces about the camaraderie those trips engendered. One would think that literally decades of financial and personal dedication to BGCMP would more than make up for some hard candy and a plastic toy, but it was the joy Paul was always trying to repay. When describing what it was like to take Club kids holiday shopping and watch a boy pick out new shoes, a girl take home a new dress, Paul says, “You can’t put a price on that.”

We talk Valley history and American history, and Paul shares fantastic stories we’ve never before heard. Everything teems with genuineness, an authentic positivity that seems all but lost in this skeptical age. Paul describes several of his back-in-the-day running mates as “the nicest guy you’d ever want to meet,” and we’re left certain they’d fall over themselves trying to reciprocate the praise.

Beyond his demeanor or even his history of involvement lies a deeper kindness we’re acutely aware of. The backdrop of our meeting is the fact that Paul has named the Boys & Girls Clubs of Metro Phoenix Foundation in his will and trust. It will be a gift that will have immeasurable impact, the indefinite extension of a promise once made. We’re immensely thankful for both the gift and its status in a distant future that seems as far away from now as 1945.

We shake hands and promise to talk soon as Paul prepares to hustle his way back to work, shedding some calories from the chicken and salad. He’s found, by the way, the best kept secret in the Valley, a gym where he can shoot hoops and exercise in peace. We wouldn’t dare betray his trust. He has, after all, placed his trust in us.


Photo: Paul Muscenti

Caption: Paul Muscenti coached basketball—as well as football and softball—for a Tucson grade school during his time at University of Arizona. His love for athletics and for providing a positive influence on the lives of youth goes back a long ways.