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The Torrents of Papas -- Two local gentlemen to compete during Hemingway Days

Two local gentlemen to compete in Key West look-alike contest during Hemingway Days

July 8, 2015
Melissa Schneider - Editor ( , Fort Myers Beach Bulletin, Fort Myers Beach Observer

Two local island gentlemen are eager to make it down to Key West within the next couple of weeks. Not only is the tiny island full of beautiful sight and sound worthy of a visit throughout the year, but the week of July 21 to 26 is additionally special, as it marks the 35th annual Hemingway Days festival, dedicated to the celebration of Ernest Hemingway and all of his feats and accomplishments. Activites within the week include a running of the bulls, 5k run/walk, marlin fishing tournament and more. Our very own Mitch Pacyna and J.J. Jerele plan to compete in the author look-alike contest, one of the crowning moments of the week's festivities. Sloppy Joe's, Hemingway's favorite island hangout, is "home base" during the week-long celebration.

The winner crowned as "Papa" among his "wannabes," Mitch and J.J. are prepared to compete against hundreds of other look-alikes, who are not only dedicated to grabbing the title, but also dedicated to helping the local community in the process.

"The entire competition is about raising funds for the Hemingway Look-Alike Society and its scholarship program. Not only are we competing, but we're each doing what we can prior to the event to raise funds to provide students attending Florida Keys Community College a helping hand," explains J.J., a two-time Hemingway Look-Alike finalist and mentor to Mitch, who is one of the Hemingway Look-Alike Society's newest members.

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Island residents Mitch Pacyna (left) and his mentor and two-time finalist J.J. Jerele are eager to take part in the Hemingway Look-Alike contest in Key West during the Hemingway Days festival, July 21 to 26. Not only is the festival all about all things Ernest Hemingway, but funds raised through multiple platforms throughout that six days go directly to the Hemingway Look-Alike Society’s scholarship foundation. Visit Photos by Melissa Schneider.

"I'm both excited and nervous," the new member stated. "But with J.J. as my mentor, I've learned a lot more now. I have so much fun with these guys it's just a riot; all these guys are so nice, so much fun."

In fact, the society members all form a close bond, similar to that of a fraternity, and they all regularly keep in touch, with several scattered around the world.

"This is an international society, and we all really become very close," J.J. said. He reflects on how he first became a part of the close-knit group. "My Papa mentor is Jack Waterbury, the oldest living Papa of the 34, nine who have passed away. I went down to Key West in 1995, not knowing a thing about the [Hemingway Days] festival. Competing in a golf tournament down there, each leader was a Papa, and mine was Papa Jack Waterbury. We hit it off and stayed real close, keeping in touch and he wanted me to participate in the Look-Alike contest. I said yeah, yeah, yeah. Well, my white hair and beard finally grew in, I gave him a call in 2012, told him I'm coming down. He told me to go in and register [for the contest]; I was totally shocked. I registered, got 'the bug,' and then was a finalist in 2013 and 2014. It just grows on you."

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And Hemingway? Well, J.J. says he was truly a man's man. "I'm a third-generation cracker fished since I was 6 years old. Read 'The Old Man and the Sea,' later saw the movie with Spencer Tracy and said, 'Who is this Hemingway?' He's a man's man. Served in WWI, WWII, he hunted, he fished, he did everything. If you were a man, he was your hero."

Seeing the excitement and "brotherhood" between Mitch and J.J., you can really tell being part of the society creates a bond between its members. The two local men first ran into one another down in Key West, not realizing they resided within miles of each other just a few counties to the north.

"I had been going down there for the Hemingway Days Festival since 1996, when I accidentally stumbled upon it," Mitch explained. "Since then, Mary and I?have gone every year, and I've met more and more Papas and contestants while taking their pictures throughout the years."

Competing against hundreds of other members and contestants this year, and judged by all living Papas of the previous matches, J.J. and Mitch have been maintaining their beards and hairstyles, Mitch being sure to swing by Bonnie at Beach Barber for a final trim and clean-up before heading down to the festival.

"It's just going to be a lot of fun," J.J. said. "Competing in the contest, being a part of this society and knowing we're helping local college students with scholarships, it's just so much fun."

Virtually every event schedule within the six-day festival is catered around collecting some type of donation (however big or small) for the scholarship foundation, and a large auction Thursday night is among them, with all funds raised going to the cause. J.J. is donating some custom-created pieces of Hemingway artwork to the society, as well as an autographed book by Randy Wayne White, each to be auctioned off that evening, and Mitch has been working on gathering donations, as well. All donations are tax-deductible. If interested in making a contribution for the foundation, whether monetarily or in the form of a gift that may be presented for the big society auction, call Mitch, 954-494-0423, or visit

"It's very important to the [Hemingway Look-Alike Society] foundation that the registrants assist with its cause. Everything raised that week goes directly to the cause, and that's why we're sure we do everything we can to help," J.J. stated.

We wish our local gentlemen the best of luck on their Hemingway journey in the coming weeks. Keep up-to-date in the Hemingway Days events by visiting

"In the late summer of that year we lived in a house in a village that looked across the river and the plain to the mountains." -Ernest Hemingway, "A Farewell to Arms" (1929)



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