Each time we talk to leaders of the Holy Institution Panagia Soumela, the religious and cultural center established by the Pontians of the United States and Canada, as well as the Pan-Pontian Federation or we cover their events, the image of the late Nikos Kefalidis appears.
In their faces, one can distinguish their sorrow for the premature and unjust death of Nikos Kefalidis, their Great Benefactor, as well as their satisfaction and pride because their common vision for the acquisition of the Pontian Land of the New World became a reality.
As the National Herald reported on the evening of September 2, 1998, Nikos Kefalidis boarded Swissair Flight 111 from New York to Geneva, Switzerland, from where he planned to travel on to Constantinople to attend a friend’s wedding.
The plane crashed off Halifax, Canada (approximately 35 miles from Halifax International Airport) and Kefalidis was among the 215 passengers and crew members who disappeared.
The news of his death had caused grief and suffering to our community, his birthplace and the Ecumenical Patriarchate, but mostly to his family, relatives, and colleagues.
Eighteen years have already elapsed since that fateful night but Nikos Kefalidis is not forgotten. Nor will he be.
His leadership, character, generosity and compassion are celebrated during the joys and sorrows of the Greek-American community and without the slightest exaggeration we can say that the name Nikos Kefalidis is written with golden letters on the pantheon of the Greek-American community and Hellenism.
Taking into consideration that few others are remembered as often as Kefalidis, the Herald decided to do this report in honor of his memory his wife and his three children, who they remained true to the ideals of their husband and father, and their achievements honor his memory.
The implementation of this decision was one of the most difficult tasks I have undertaken because I had not had the privilege of knowing the deceased personally.
Thus, as it is customary I consulted the archives of the Herald.
However, knowing that the deceased left a family behind, we contacted his wife, Laurie, and their children for their consent before moving forward.
We researched further about the Manhattan-based KLM Construction company, which Kefalidis founded in the mid-1970s.
By talking to his friends, including former business partner James Stefatos, we were informed that his family had been honoring his memory and that during the past two decades, has expanded the company and has renamed it KLM Equities.
KLM Construction was founded in 1978 and initially developed projects in the New York Metropolitan area. So far, it has developed over one million square feet of real estate and owns more than 55 properties in New York, Los Angeles, Seattle WA, and Fairfax VA. The company owns approximately 1000 residential and commercial units in New York City. Its major tenants include Apple, Tesla, Chinese Theatres LLC, Vince, Open Table, New Era, Hard Rock Café, Bonobos, Flying Tiger, and Citibank.
During the first contact with Laurie Kefalidis, I explained the reasons why we decided to honor her husband’s memory in view of the 18th anniversary of his death. She accepted and with the humility that characterizes her, she asked that we not talk about his achievements and the company, but about her late husband.
Although we had already agreed on meeting the next morning, she contacted us to request that our work be as modest and humble as was her husband himself.
The interview took place at the family’s vacation home in Northport, NY, which Nikos bought before his marriage to Laurie and at which they held their wedding reception.
Laurie and her oldest daughter, Melanie, preferred to speak “off the record” in order to keep the spotlight off themselves and on the work of their husband and father.
Images of Kefalidis, both family photographs and those from his social, political and charitable activities, were so many that it was difficult to choose the most representative ones for this story.
Dominant in the pictures is Kefalidis next to leading figures of the Greek-American community, the Church, New York, America, the homeland and the Ecumenical Patriarchate.
The photographs show that he was a protagonist and due to his presence and intelligence held a special position in the political and social life of his time. He stood next to Archbishop Iakovos, to John Brademas and other legendary leaders of the Greek-American community, at rallies of the Greek-American community on national issues, at the UN, parades, Congress and the White House.
Nikos and Laurie met in 1975 through mutual friends. At that time he owned the construction company, but had not started investing in real estate. They were married at Saint Paraskevi Greek Orthodox Church in Greenlawn, Long Island.
His parents, Symeon and Kerasia, and his siblings Chrysanthos and Effie (Melidis) with their spouses and their children had come from Greece for the wedding.
Symeon was fortunate to celebrate his 100th birthday and was considered to be one of the witnesses of the Turkish atrocities; Kerasia died at 96.
Nikos and Laurie brought three children into the world: Melanie (35), Elias (32), and Marisa (26).
Asked who should take the credit for the success of the company, Laurie smiled and with her characteristic modesty replied: “It belongs to Nikos and his colleagues who, after his passing, remained loyal and continued to work for the company and stood by me, and to my son, Elias, who took over the reins of the company and led it to new horizons.”
When asked if they visited Alexandroupolis, the hometown of Nikos, she noted that they went every year even after Nikos’ passing.
“The only year we did not go Greece was in 1986 because of the Chernobyl accident, so instead of going to Greece that summer, the grandparents came to the U.S.”
Referring to the distinctive features of her late husband’s character, she noted: “Nikos was born generous and we see that in his siblings Chrysanthos and Effie.
Besides having received a higher education, he was educated in the broadest sense of the word. He attended the best schools, was studious and intelligent. All these qualities enabled him to do things that many other people could not imagine doing, even if they had the economic potential to do them, to do all that Nikos had done for his fellow man, for the Greek-American community, for the Church, for the America, for Greece, for the Ecumenical Patriarchate and our Greek and Cypriot national issues.
When asked how difficult all these years of Nikos’ absence have been, she nodded, took a deep breath, and among other things noted: “they have been difficult years, in the fullest sense of the word. They say that time heals all wounds and eliminates the pain. However, the pain constantly returns. During both the difficult and happy moments of life, the pain grew; it festered and was unbearable, but you comprehend the obligation of a mother toward three underage children.
“I was lucky because I had three excellent children who wanted to make their mother happy and keep their father’s memory alive every step of the way,” she pointed out.
Melanie added: “My siblings and I are lucky, because during the last 18 years since we lost our father, our mother stood by our side as both a mother and a father.”
The year that Kefalidis died, Melanie was about to begin her college education, and due to the grief and anguish, her mother suggested she take a year off from school and return the next year, but Melanie refused, reminding her that she had to strive to make both her mother and her grandparents in Greece proud of her and do credit to her father’s struggles.
As for the love which the Greek-American community showed them after her father’s death, she noted: “The Holy Trinity Cathedral in Manhattan, Archbishop Iakovos and Fr. Charalambos Stephanopoulos, Paulette Poulos and other board members of the Cathedral stood by us and we are grateful to them.”
From Pontos to the US
The history of the Kefalidis family is identical to the history of the Greeks of Pontos and Asia Minor who were brutally uprooted from their ancestral homes.
Symeon was born in October 1910 in the Pontian city of Argyroupolis. During the difficult years of the genocide which the Pontian Greeks suffered by the Turks, Young Turks and Kemalists – he personally witnessed horrific crimes against the Greeks and Armenians by the Turks – he left Pontos with his family and settled on the hillsides of the Caucasus, between the Black Sea and the Caspian Sea, where he became involved with trade and other business activities that reached Moscow.
Unfortunately, his woes were not meant to stop there. He was persecuted and oppressed by the Stalinist Bolsheviks – two of his brothers were sent to exile in Siberia for hard labor – resulting in his decision to return to Greece in 1939 where he settled in Alexandroupolis.
Once again, the hardships of World War II and the persecution suffered by the Greeks of Thrace and eastern Macedonia by the Bulgarian and German troops sealed the lives of Symeon and Kerasia Kefalidis.
Nonetheless, they cared for their family and had two other children, Chrysanthos, resident of Athens and Effie, resident of Alexandroupolis, from which they had four grandchildren.
Kefalidis was born in 1943 in Alexandroupolis, where he lived with his parents until age nine, after which he was accepted on a scholarship to the famous Anavryta Classical Lyceum, a boarding school in the northern suburbs of Athens. He later studied at the University of Athens, where he received a degree in Economics.
He immigrated to the United States in 1970 and was naturalized as a citizen several years later.
Through KLM, he developed properties in many areas of New York by erecting apartment buildings and shopping centers. In 1989, he was instrumental in the founding of “Beta Steel Corp.”, a large privately owned steel mill in Portage, IN, for which he served as Chairman of the Board.
Kefalidis developed great acquaintances, friendships and cooperations with important figures of the political, religious, business, and social life in Greece, the United States, and other countries.
He was a personal friend of Greek shipping and steel magnate Theodore Angelopoulos who, as a testament of their friendship, chose him to be his best man in his wedding with Gianna Angelopoulos-Daskalaki, which took place in 1990 in Constantinople.
In fact, a large photograph of the late national benefactor and philanthropist, Panagiotis Angelopoulos, father of Theodore Angelopoulos, hung in a central spot in Kefalidis’ office on East 56th Street in Manhattan.
Close to Greek-Americans and to All Humankind
Beyond his business activities, Nikos Kefalidis played an important role through his active participation in social, political, religious, and charitable institutions and organizations.
In 1994, he was selected as a member of the Democratic National Committee. He served as a member of the Archdiocesan Council of the Greek Orthodox Church of America and as vice president on the Board of the Archdiocesan Cathedral of the Holy Trinity in New York.
Kefalidis was a Great Benefactor of the Holy Institution Panagia Soumela, the Ecumenical Patriarchate, as well as many other Greek-American institutions.