Bob Kays: A legend in Marlborough

‘He is owed so much by our community’

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Bob Kays: A legend in Marlborough
Bob Kays is shown with Coach Bob Brennan celebrating a Marlborough Shamrocks national championship in 1998. (Photo/Eric Baur)

MARLBOROUGH – There was no fanfare last month when the Prospector East Saloon on Lincoln Street in Marlborough marked a milestone 50th anniversary. That is just the way owner, Bob Kays, wanted it since he is not one to celebrate his own accomplishments.

Though the French Hill eating and drinking establishment is not exactly impressive to look at, no words seem adequate to convey what the Prospector and its owner have meant to the City of Marlborough for the past five decades.

Kays’ involvement in service to the city has been so extensive that it is impossible to put together a complete list of all the charity events and functions that were orchestrated in some major way by him. Examples include the Evening of Giving, the Mayor’s Charity Ball, the Chowderfest, the Heritage Festival, the Relay for Life and the Day for Veterans, and that is only a very partial list. Beyond major annual events, it has been estimated that he has organized somewhere between 50 to 100 one-time fundraisers for people in need.

Speaking about Kays, former Mayor Arthur Vigeant said, “Any substantial fundraiser that has been held in the city, Bob has had his hands in. He has been there at every turn for every fundraiser as far back as I can remember.”

Former General Manager of Embassy Suites, Richard Tomanek, describes Kays as his longest and deepest friend.

“Bob has done an amazing job of pulling people into the giving world of the community,” explained Tomanek. “It’s never about Bob. It’s always about giving to someone else or something else for a greater cause.”

Bob Kays: A legend in Marlborough
Bob Kays with his daughters, Danielle (left) and Marci. (Photo/Lindsay Tierney)

‘He is always doing something for other people’

While Kays has made his mark as Marlborough’s foremost philanthropist, it is a safe bet that many who know him may not be aware of the fullness of the life he has lived.

He has twice traveled on extended trips, east to Europe and Asia, all the way to India and Kathmandu, Nepal. During one of those trips, he actually hitchhiked from Barcelona, Spain, to Istanbul, Turkey, a distance of about 3,000 miles.

Kays was a highly skilled basketball player in his younger years. In his adult years, he served in the United States Army (1958-1961) and later earned a reputation as an outstanding skier and an elite racquetball player. Plus, he had a role as an extra in a James Bond movie.

He was born in Portland, Ore., but grew up in both Los Angeles and Pomona, Calif. His travels within the United States included time spent in popular ski areas, including Lake Tahoe on the border of California and Nevada, Sun Valley, Idaho, and the Loon Mountain area of New Hampshire.

His arrival in Marlborough came in 1974 when he purchased The Vault at 520 Lincoln Street, which he renamed, The Prospector East Saloon.

His first big role in Marlborough came when he helped organize the Mayor’s Charity Ball in 1982. He has been the key contributor in almost every mayor’s ball since then.

Next came the Evening of Giving. Kays teamed up with Roland Simoneau, who wanted to establish a large-scale event to raise funds in support of homeless people.

Simoneau, Kays and other volunteers hoped to attract a crowd of about 400 people, and were overwhelmed when 750 people showed up.

A key person in the success of that night was Dennis Kennedy, founder of Kennedy’s Restaurant in Marlborough.

Bob Kays: A legend in Marlborough
During a surprise 85th birthday celebration held at Embassy Suites last year, Mayor Arthur Vigeant honored Bob Kays with a Key to the City. (Photo/Lindsay Tierney)

“Dennis was just and amazing guy,” commented Kays. “God rest his soul. Dennis was my rock behind all that I did. He helped me tremendously to be who I am.”

Beyond the big annual events cited already, Kays has been the driving force in organizing dozens of other events that were held to raise money for individuals and families who were going through a crisis.

In addition to fundraisers, Kays has come to the aid of many local families who have lost a loved one by handling all of the food arrangements for post-funeral gatherings at no cost to the families. An actual count is not known, but it has been estimated that Kays has served at least several dozen families in this way.

While Kays has been the ringleader for countless big events, he is quick to credit the generosity of hotels, restaurants and other businesses that chipped in their services for free.

“When they saw me coming, they put their hands in their pockets,” said Kays. “They got used to me.” Kays did not set out to become Marlborough’s king of benefit fundraisers. He just evolved into that role.

“I don’t know why I do the things I do,” he said. “When I do think about it, I do try to pinpoint it but I really can’t. When someone comes to me and needs help, I can’t say no.”

Then there is another area of service Kays has offered that falls well below the radar. Tomanek recalled a particular busy day at the hotel when Kays showed up and washed dishes all morning long. Tomanek had not even asked him for help and Kays expected nothing in return.

“It was the same for anybody else if Bob knew a helping hand was needed,” commented Tomanek. “Over a 10-year period, I guess he would do that type of thing maybe 50 times. He is always doing something for other people.”

As if all of his charitable endeavors and spontaneous service activities were not enough, Kays was the key man in the resurgence of semi-professional football locally when he became involved with the Marlborough Shamrocks back in the 1970s.

For the past two decades, Kays has had a woman by his side who has had a huge impact on his life. Back in 2004, a mutual friend suggested he connect with Stefanie Ferrecchia, owner of Dora Naves and Associates Realtors. They have been together ever since.

Bob Kays: A legend in Marlborough
Stefanie Ferrecchia and Bob Kays have been together for 20 years. (Photo/Jim Ash)

“The last 20 years Stefanie changed my life for the better, that’s for sure,” said Kays, who credits Ferrecchia for being a calming influence in his life. Not only that, he added, “She supports everything I do.”

That feeling has been mutual as Ferrecchia explained, “Bob is always pushing me forward and lifting me up. He has supported me in every way. I would not be the person I am today if I had not met him.”

Most notably, Kays was “all in” when it came to helping Ferrecchia with her children.

“He jumped in with both feet and was up for every adventure,” said Ferrecchia. “He was one hundred percent involved in my children’s lives,” no matter what was needed, no matter when it was needed.

Kays’ family also includes two adult daughters and a grandson. Danielle Kays and her son, Aya, live in upstate New York. Marci Kays lives in Los Angeles.

Now at age 85, Kays may be slowing down just a little bit, but those who know him believe he will keep giving for as long as he keeps breathing. He does not know any other way.

“He is owed so much by our community,” reflected Vigeant. Understanding that Kays’ contributions won’t last forever, he said, “I do not know if we are ever going to be able to fill that gap.”

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