Lenny “Low Price” Kaplan is remembered for his commitment to the city

FALL RIVER – Maybe he’s playing his kazoo in paradise.

Leonard Kaplan, also known as Low Price Lenny, died Sunday at the age of 91 in an assisted living facility in Georgia surrounded by immediate family members.

During his 45-year career owning and operating his small chain of Army Navy-style discount Gob Shops in Fall River, Somerset and Rhode Island, the Providence native and his signature kazoo were inseparable.

In this file photo, Lenny Kaplan, founder of the Senior Sweetheart competition, is seen with Anita Raposa, the winner of the inaugural Senior Sweetheart competition.

Kaplan’s promise to customers, or anyone else he met on the street, was that a store rebate was in order if they ever caught it without his instrument of signature.

The gregarious and irrepressible Kaplan also possessed a characteristic and somewhat piercing tenor voice – which served him well during his years of radio advertising and announcing local wrestling events and annual Golden Gloves boxing tournaments.

Some of the Senior Sweetheart Pageant women attended the inauguration of the Lenny Kaplan Bridge, as shown in this Herald News file photo.

Ms. Senior Sweetheart Pageant started in 1978

But it was her Miss Senior Sweetheart pageant, a beauty and talent pageant created by Kaplan in 1978 for women 60 and older, that has left perhaps the most lasting impression on the most number of people. inside and outside of Fall River.

Kaplan began his benevolent work in 1978 to raise money that year for the service organization of the Fall River Lions Club.

What followed was 36 years of competitions held at BMC Durfee High School with contestants coming to the city from various states in the United States and sometimes from other countries.

The competition also resulted in an award-winning documentary film titled “Pretty Old”, directed by Walter Matteson and produced by Sarah Jessica Parker.

Those who knew or came into contact with Providence-born Kaplan during his years as a civic-minded entrepreneur and fundraiser describe him as a man who cared about his hometown of Fall River adoption.

“I knew Lenny very well. I met him in the 1980s before I became mayor, ”said Ed Lambert, who served as mayor of Fall River from 1996 to 2007 and is now executive director of the Massachusetts Business Alliance for Education.

“He was a great Fall River character and a great marketer with his kazoo,” Lambert said. “But I think he will be remembered for how much he cared about others.”

“He considered himself the quartermaster,” laughed Lambert. “He wanted to be in charge of whatever he could get his hands on. He had wit and enthusiasm and it was a joy to be around.

The former mayor also noted that Kaplan was keen to keep in touch with Ms. Senior Sweetheart’s candidates.

“He called them his daughters and remained committed to their lives. He was just a great person, ”Lambert said.

During attorney Will Flanagan’s tenure as mayor, he declared Lenny Kaplan “Low Price” October 28, 2012. He also presented Kaplan with a key to the city.

The fine print in the proclamation presented to Kaplan that day indicated that the day named in Kaplan’s honor was shortened to 10.5 p.m., reflecting the fact that it had been “reduced” by 10%.

“I’ve known Lenny since I was born, or at least since I was five,” said Flanagan, 41.

Kaplan became the voice of the Golden Gloves

The city’s 42nd mayor said he first heard Kaplan’s distinctive voice announcing boxing matches when the Southern New England Golden Gloves were held in old Lincoln Park in Dartmouth.

Kaplan then performed the same duties when the Golden Gloves moved into the Police Athletic League building on Franklin Street.

“My dad was a huge boxing fan, and I also became a huge wrestling fan,” Flanagan said.

Flanagan says that when he was in college, Kaplan would sometimes invite him to the WSAR studio when Kaplan did a weekly radio show with a wrestler known as Mister X.

In this archive photo, Lenny Kaplan gives the first ticket to the documentary "Old enough" about the Senior Sweetheart Contest to Mayor Will Flanagan.

The former mayor also says her father’s sister was named Ms Senior Sweetheart in the early 1990s.

“Lenny Kaplan had a larger than life character,” said Flanagan. “When he walked in he would light up a room and make people smile and laugh.”

Mike Moran, who first met Kaplan while working at WSAR, said: “In his prime, Lenny was a bundle of energy – a force of nature.

“Between all of his professional and volunteer activities, he was unstoppable,” Moran wrote in an email. “Lenny’s love and dedication to everything Fall River was at the heart of everything he did. He leaves behind a ton of friends and I’m honored to have been one of them. between them.”

Paul Morrissette has been involved in the management of the Golden Gloves of Southern New England for several years.

“I think I met Lenny in 1968 when we were running the Gloves for the PAL (police track league),” said Morrissette, 79.

“We were stuck for an advertiser and he volunteered. People loved it and he became the voice of the Golden Gloves of southern New England.

Morrissette says Kaplan had a penchant for creating nicknames for fighters, including “Marvelous” Marvin Hagler – who fought on a Golden Gloves card in Lincoln Park before going pro and eventually becoming the middleweight world champion.

Hagler died last March at the age of 66.

Known for the nicknames:When did boxing legend Marvin Hagler become Marvelous? The story has its roots in Fall River

“Years later, when he (Hagler) called me once and asked me, ‘How’s my announcer buddy?’ Said Morrissette.

Morrissette recalls that after his father died in 1980, he asked Kaplan what his father paid him to be a ring presenter.

“Lenny said, ‘You could never pay me. I don’t want a dime,” Morrissette said, adding that “he just did it out of love for it.”

“Lenny was one of the biggest promoters I have met. He was a good chatterer and was one of the nicest guys I have ever known. I will miss him so much, ”said Morrissette.

In 2018, Kaplan was honored for its civic contribution with the name and unveiling of the Heritage State Park Pedestrian Bridge as “Low Price Lenny” “Leonard Kaplan Bridge”.

Kaplan’s son talks about the Gob Shop days

Kaplan’s son Alan Kaplan remembers working as a boy in his father’s Somerset store on Route 6.

“I would stand in front in the summer and be Santa Claus in July,” he said.

Lenny Kaplan is seen at the Gob store.

The first Gob Shop opened in 1954 on Pleasant Street in Fall River.

Kaplan, who lives in Johns Creek, Ga., Said his father opened a small Somerset Gob store on GAR Highway, but then moved across Route 6 when he bought a 13,000 building. square feet circa 1970.

“There was very little on this road at the time and he decided to expand. He had a lot of nerve, ”Kaplan, 63, said in a telephone interview.

“We were assaulted for the first two years,” he said. “We had in front of us a big male mannequin that people loved and who took pictures with their children. The city wanted us to take it apart, but the customers loved it, so it stuck.

Kaplan said his father decided to close the Somerset store in the 1980s when he knew the state intended to close the Brightman Street Bridge and redirect traffic to what would be known as from Veterans Memorial Bridge.

He says that was when his father moved into a small retail space near the bottom of Pine Street in Fall River overlooking what was then the Harbor Terrace social housing project.

“It wasn’t the best neighborhood, but the store was never broken into because it was so popular,” Kaplan said.

In this file photo, Lenny Kaplan and the women involved in the Senior Sweetheart competition enjoy lunch at the Flint Senior Center.

Kaplan says his father, who was stationed in Okinawa during the Korean War, ran a promotional company called Promotional Advertising Associates and had a contract for more than 30 years to sell advertisements on the Fall River and New Bedford buses. Southeastern Regional Transit Authority.

He says his father’s health started to decline five years ago. While staying at a Rhode Island nursing and rehab facility in 2016, Kaplan asked his father on the phone how he was doing.

“He said, ‘I’m trying,’ and my dad had never said those words before. I knew he couldn’t do it, ”Kaplan said, biting back tears.

He says he and his wife Susan, who regularly traveled from Georgia to Rhode Island to spend time with Lenny, decided to bring them to their Georgia home.

Kaplan said his father fell in 2018 and was later diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease: “But he never complained.”

The only time Kaplan says Lenny seemed disappointed was when his father was later transferred to an assisted living facility.

“He didn’t care if he was in a wheelchair, but it bothered him that he didn’t have his normal voice anymore,” Kaplan said.

Kaplan says that shortly before his father’s death, he was extremely moved by an encounter with a woman in a wheelchair with ALS, or Lou Gehrig’s disease, who is unable to speak and who lived within walking distance. Lenny’s doors in the assisted living facility.

“She wrote something with a pen on paper and held it up. He was like ‘Lenny is my favorite.’ It has even touched the lives of people living with assistance, ”Kaplan said.

Charles Winokoor can be contacted at [email protected]. Support local journalism and subscribe to The Herald News today.

Luz W. German