OLEAN — The Village Green Pub has a homey feel.
It’s classy. Co-owner Michael “Milo” Belvees liked it that way.
Thousands of patrons — friends, family, neighbors and passers-through — have enjoyed the hardwood, brickwork, photos of yesteryear and hospitality on tap at the famed North Union Street lounge for 26 years. To probably just as many area kids, he was a well-regarded youth sports coach and booster.
Belvees — just Milo to so many — passed away Tuesday at home following an apparent heart attack. He was 66.
“You could never find a better partner,” said Pete Wallen, a fellow graduate of the Olean High Class of 1967, with whom Belvees opened the Village Green at the Olean House in 1989.
“He was certainly a great person. He would do anything for anybody. He was here every day; worked the bar every single day and didn’t miss anything. He was cheerful, reliable, what else could you say about the guy? He has certainly been an icon along North Union Street.”
Belvees and Wallen purchased the current 311 N. Union St. location in 2000. Its current bar originated at the former Welch’s Restaurant & Bar up the street, Wallen said.
Belvees worked Monday.
“Tuesday, I got a call that he wasn’t at work. I thought that’s really strange because he never misses a day,” Wallen said.
Larry Sorokes, Adam Jester and Dennis Pezzimenti, once one of Belvees’ youth athletes, stopped in Monday and saw Belvees in good spirits.
“He did seem fine,” said Sorokes, Greater Olean Area Chamber of Commerce (GOACC) chief executive officer. “He complained about the aches and pains of aging and how his 15-minute walk to work was now a 30-minute walk, but he was in great humor.
“We talked with Milo for maybe a half-hour about all the changes in downtown Olean and what his future plans were. It’s very surreal, looking back on it. I’m so glad we stopped. Milo was an Olean icon and will be greatly missed.”
Belvees was a coach and benefactor of the Olean Little League program for 34 years, said his cousin Dave Carucci.
John Firkel of Olean and Carucci both recalled his football pool for a good cause during the NFL season.
“All those proceeds went to the Little League,” said Carucci, Olean’s mayor from 2006 to 2010. “All he’s done all his life is give to kids.”
“That probably raised $100,000 or more for Little League over the 25 years he ran it,” Firkel added, noting the state liquor authority ended it several years ago.
Scott Johns originally approached Belvees about assisting Little League.
“I know there will probably be some people that disagree with this, but there wasn’t a player that he didn’t love,” Johns said. “He was always good to kids. Even when he was kind of tough on them, he always cared about them.
“He just had a way about himself. For a guy never being married or never having a child, he certainly understood kids. He gave his life for that.”
Belvees also was a sponsor for City Cup softball and the annual Gus Macker 3-on-3 basketball tournament, Carucci noted.
The Village Green has long been a meeting place for various organizations.
“Any meeting we needed to be held, all I had to do was call Milo and he’d say yes,” Carucci said.
Meme Yanetsko, GOACC chief operating officer, sat through many of those meetings. But the Village Green has always had a family feel, more like “Uncle Milo’s” place, she said.
“Whenever we wanted to host a surprise party, it was always at Village Green — my dad’s 70th, my husband’s 50th, my 40th,” Yanetsko said. “I cannot remember my first time at Village Green, but do remember being enveloped into Milo’s family. He made us all feel welcome at his bar.
“Milo was a fixture, an ambassador, a gentle soul, a lover of baseball and Bonnies, always a part of whatever was going on in Olean.”
Belvees became close with many of the St. Bonaventure basketball coaches, due in large part to his North Union establishment and the bar stools that would unite them.
For men’s Coach Mark Schmidt, the Village Green quickly became “his place.” Since he’s been here, Schmidt has made regular stops, not just after Bonnies home wins — which has become the norm — but also to see one of his favorite familiar faces.
“I always liked going down there,” he said, “One, because we won, but two, to see him sitting behind the bar … I used to go in there by myself in the summertime and sit at the bar with him and just talk.”
Greg Kennedy, formerly of Bona’s athletic department, even ended up bartending at Village Green from time to time.
“He was fatherly in a way,” said Kennedy, now director of corporate relations for the George Mason University athletic department. “I was just starting out after college, and I didn’t really have any family in the area. He was a friend you could lean on for advice. … He turned me into a semi-decent bartender.”
The connection between SBU and the Village Green doesn’t stop with basketball. For years, it’s been exactly what its name suggests — a common ground — for any number of Bona athletics officials.
“He’s obviously an important part of our existence in that he was kind of a central bastion to anybody that came in, because he’s such a welcoming person,” said Sean McNamee, Bona’s longtime swim coach. “He was surly, but when it came down to brass tacks, Milo’s was an island that many in our department would gravitate to.”
Later in life, being surly was part of his charm. Belvees was known for shutting down early just because.
“It got to be a joke around how Milo would have a bunch of people in, and then 10 o’clock would roll around and he’d say, ‘Drink up, we’re closing,’” said lifelong friend Anthony “Butch” Ramire. “Milo was his own guy. He had his own hours and just did what he did. When he felt it was time to close, he just said, ‘I’m closed.’”
The Village Green will remain closed the rest of this week, Wallen said.
“We’ll still move on. We’d like to be looked at as part of the historic part of Olean,” he added. “I’d be more than willing to show people the history inside, the history we’ve tried to preserve. I think that’s what our claim to fame in Olean is actually. This is where we landed. We’re supporting Olean.”