If you met Matt Evangelist, you really didn’t have a choice, you had a friend.
Whether it was someone he met as a kid growing up in Frankford, someone he knew through bartending or someone he knew playing or coaching sports in the area, Evangelist had a way of leaving an impression on everyone he came in contact with.
And that’s why so many are mourning right now.
Evangelist, who lived in Parkwood, passed away after a nearly three-month battle with coronavirus.
He is survived by his wife Karen, two children Matthew, 9, and Jenna, 11, as well as his father Mario, sister Diane Grimmie, brothers Mario, Mark and his wife Carole, and Michael and his wife Michelle, as well as his in-laws Tom and Kathleen Malone, Jay and Shannon Boss and Brian and Rachel Boss, and his third child, his dog Harley.
But the pain spread far beyond his family.
Evangelist had friends all over the world, but his territory was Northeast Philly, and everyone is in mourning.
Evangelist is forever a Pioneer.
But every school would have been proud to call him one of their own.
Evangelist graduated from Frankford High School in 1986, and he was one of the top athletes to ever come out of the school.
He was a stud two-way football player and also a great baseball player. But once he graduated, he did his best to help every high school in the area.
He coached football at Northeast and Esperanza, and helped out with Frankford Boys Club. He would always go out of his way to attend benefits for North Catholic. He also made his fair share of friends from Dougherty and Judge.
If he could help a kid, he jumped at it.
“Matt was such a competitor, and he always gave his personal best to anyone he could help,” said his friend and former teammate at Frankford, Mike Libacky. “He was a quarterback and he could throw, man. But he overcame a lot.
“When he was younger, he was born with two club feet. For the first six or seven years of life, in and out of Shriners Hospital for surgery. If you looked at him, his one leg was like a pencil. But I can tell you this, it never stopped him. You would never know. He brought it. You got hit by Matt, you wouldn’t be able to tell. He was such a competitor.
“After high school, he just wanted to help. We were Frankford guys, but North guys would call us imposters because we went to their events. Then he was a bartender, so he made friends with Judge guys, guys from all over the area. He knew everyone. I’m telling you, if you went on a plane with him, someone would yell, ‘Yo Matty!’ Everyone knew him and everyone was his friend.”
Evangelist had a lot of close friends, but his inner circle was his family and friends like Libacky, his business partner Franny “Mack” McIntyre and bar owners he worked with, including Frank Woltemate, of Harrington’s, and Jerry Curran, who owns Curran’s.
“Matt was the most loyal person I’ve ever met, and he was the calmest person no matter what happened,” McIntyre said. “We were business partners, he would bartend and I would DJ, and then we started a sports apparel business, EMAC’s, and he would always calm me down if we were having a problem. He was so cool. Always even keeled. We were partners, but now I’m partners with his family because he would do the same.
“We were friends from the neighborhood, then we ran in the same circles after high school. When he was sick, I told her not to tell him because he was a Frankford guy, but all of North Nation was praying for him. She would laugh. I put it on the North Catholic Facebook page, and everyone loved him. He was one of us, even though he was a Frankford guy.”
Evangelist’s passing hurts even more because it was so shocking.
He was in great shape, he always took care of himself, he never smoked. He got coronavirus, and it severely attacked his lungs.
He went in the hospital shortly before Thanksgiving, and battled the virus until the very end. He had good days and bad days, but 36 hours before he passed away, he was put on the lung transplant list. People thought the worst was over, but two days later, he was gone.
“It was like he was fighting Mike Tyson, he went 15 rounds with him and he got hit with an uppercut right before the bell,” McIntyre said.
“He got Murphy’s Lawed, everything that could have gone wrong, did,” Libacky said. “But he fought. He wanted to live. He loved his family so much, I know he wanted to be there for them.”
He wasn’t just there for his family.
He was there for anyone who needed him, including people he didn’t know.
There were times local teams asked him to play quarterback. They got him for his arm, but it was his heart that helped them the most.
“He was the best flag football player around,” Woltemate said. “I was a rusher, and he was my quarterback. Younger guys from Dougherty would ask me to get a quarterback, and I’d bring him. They loved him. They loved the way he played, but he had a way about him. People just wanted to be around him.
“He was the most loyal person and the calmest person no matter what happened. If there was a fight at the bar, he would make it calm down, he just had that way about him. A great father. Always even keeled. And everyone wanted to be around him.”
Evangelist was very competitive on the field, but away from it, he was very caring.
And he loved to give back.
That’s why he started a toy drive every year for children at Shriners Hospital.
He had help, but it was his baby and he was proud of the success of it, and he made sure the patients got exactly what they wanted.
“It wasn’t your normal toy drive, his Toys for Tots was off the charts, it was the best,” Libacky said. “When he would go down there with a truck, they would roll out the red carpet. They don’t usually let people on the floor, but he wanted to get close to the kids so he would know what kind of gifts to give them. He would think of certain kinds of gifts. And when people would donate gift cards, he would go up to parents at the hospital and say ‘Here, go have dinner.’ People from other countries, it didn’t matter who they were. Black, white, Chinese, gray, whoever they were, he wanted to help.
“He wanted to help them because he was there. He was one of those kids. He wanted to help those kids and make sure they were taken care of.”
“The toy drive will continue, I can promise you that,” Woltemate said. “It’s not even a question. We’ll do it because that’s what he would do. We all love him so much, we’re going to continue doing it to help people and in his honor. It’s what he would do.”
Evangelist brought that passion to everything he did.
It’s why he was successful in football, both in playing and coaching. It’s why he was successful as a husband, father and friend. It’s why he was great at running a toy drive to help others. And it’s why he was such a great bartender.
He worked at bars across Northeast Philadelphia, including the Red Rooster, Lazy Joe’s, Curran’s, the Rhawn Pub and the FOP, and at Seaport Pier in North Wildwood, New Jersey.
“Matty E was the ultimate family man,” said John Little Jr., of Seaport Pier. “When it comes to the bar business, Matty was a rare breed. He treated every place he worked like it was his own and every guest as a friend. He will be greatly missed as a true example of hospitality but most importantly as a friend to us all.”
“Matt would put his own money on the bar to buy drinks for people,” Libacky said. “He would buy people drinks from his money, not from the bar. Bars were so lucky to get him because he was honest. You could trust him. He wasn’t a 10 model, a young girl. He was a bald guy, but bars loved to hire him because he was the draw. People loved going to hang out with him.”
“We were a great team,” McIntyre said. “A North guy and a Frankford guy. I was the DJ, he was the guy who everyone wanted to be around. Just a good guy. He loved his family, he loved them. It’s hard for everyone, but it’s so hard for his family.”
Everyone misses him, but everyone is happy that he was in their life.
And he’s not the kind of guy you’ll ever forget.
“Matt was loved because when you were around him, he made you feel important,” Woltemate said. “I told guys who maybe played two or three football tournaments with him, and they’re crying. They didn’t know him well, but they knew him enough to know they loved him.”
“Matt was the kind of guy who truly cared about people.” Libacky said. “We joked he was a professional mourner because he would go to so many funerals. When someone’s mom or dad would die, even if he didn’t know them, but knew someone close to them, he would go to be supportive.
“There will never be a guy like Matt. He lived his life to make others happy and to help people. A lot of people lost their best friend. That’s the kind of guy he was.”
To donate to his family, visit https://www.gofundme.com/f/27rb22-me19?utm_source=customer&utm_medium=sms&utm_campaign=p_cp+share-sheet.