WESTFIELD, N.J. – The Hundreds of friends, family members and admirers who filled the Church of the Holy Trinity of Westfield, NJ on December 28 for the funeral of industrialist Nicholas J. Bouras were a testament to the fact that a philanthropist is more than someone who writes a check.
The beautiful sanctuary in the modern Byzantine style in Northern New Jersey with its glowing stained glass windows and dome ringed with windows that seems to float above the congregation was filled with love and appreciation for a man who was well-known despite his preference for anonymity.
Although few present – and perhaps none – knew the full extent of his contributions, all felt his love for the Orthodox Church and the Greek-American community, and the spirit of generosity that motivated all his actions.
Archbishop Demetrios of America, who read a special message from Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, presided at the funeral with Metropolitan Evangelos of New Jersey at his side.
At the forefront of the mourners were his friends in the Order of St. Andrew – his brother Archons of the Ecumenical Patriarchate – and fellow members of the American Legion, Hellenic Post 400.
Bouras was a highly-decorated WWII veteran. In 1942 he enlisted in the U.S. Army Air Corps in 1942 and served as a bombardier and navigator in Europe, reaching the rank of Major. He received the Distinguished Flying Cross and the Air Medal with Seven Oak Leaf Clusters.
Bouras’ nephew James Billetz spoke at lenghtn with Jason Grant for an article in the Newark Star Ledger. He and his wife, Pamela Kariotis, emailed friends the link, wanting to share some of the stories of their uncle’s extraordinary life, like the following about one of Bouras’ runs deep into Germany, sitting in a bubble-like compartment at the bottom of a B-26:
“Nothing but beautiful open sky stretched ahead, says Billetz. But soon, Bouras and the pilot spotted endless puffs of black smoke from anti-aircraft guns. The pilot radioed down, “Nick, what do we do?” Bouras said, “Turn around, we gotta go home.” And the 36 B-26 bombers suddenly circled back.”
Back at the base Bouras was nervous when he was called in to see a general, unsure he had made the right call. The general “picked him up and hugged him and said, ‘Nick, you did the right thing, we gave you the wrong coordinates.’ Many lives were saved.”
At the funeral, Archbishop Demetrios’ words were brief but meaningful. During the service he interspersed scriptural and hymnal passages and mediations on of the mystery of death.
The Archbishop led prayers for the forgiveness of Bouras’ sins and eternal rest and noted that although the achievements and riches of this world are left behind in the passage to the next – the choir of clergy beautifully chanted Makaria I Odos/Blessed is the Path – the disposition of Bouras’ soul and his cultivation of humility and generosity would yield a spiritual harvest.
Numerous Bouras acquaintances expressed the belief that the philanthropic core of Bouras’ life will lift his soul into a welcoming embrace from St. Peter at the gates of heaven.
A benefactor is any man who supports a cause, but a philanthropist is a good man who truly loves his fellow man – the literal meaning of the Greek word. That was the essence of the tributes to Bouras expressed by friends such as Fr. Alexander Karloutsos, Protopresbyter of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, and Stephanos Cherpelis, former president of the Board of Trustees of Manhattan’s Holy Trinity Cathedral.
Fr. Karloutsos told The National Herald “Because of the extraordinary yet humble service to his church and country, we are not simply mourning the passing of Nicholas J. Bouras, we are celebrating a legendary life. A man who constantly gave and never took, always remained anonymous and away from the limelight because he loved God and his neighbor more than himself.”
Cherpelis also reminisced about the loving relationship and partnership in all matters that Bouras had with his wife Anna and noted finally that his philanthropy transcended his wealth, rather, it was his spirit of generosity that made the greatest impact on the people he encountered. “He contributed millions about which no one has any idea,” he said.
There wer many similar observations of the man who took to heart Christ’s message that charity is best given anonymously. At the funeral, Archbishop Demetrios said Bouras has to be persuaded to accept the Athenagoras Human Rights Award from the Order of St. Andrew the Apostle in appreciation for the quiet assistance he gave the Archdiocese and the Patriarchate.
He was also an early contributor to the effort to rebuild his patron saint’s church at Ground Zero.
Bouras was also a benefactor of the annual Greek Parade on Fifth Avenue and the Star Ledge added “and countless individuals when they needed a financial hand…’If someone needed a wheelchair — or education — people in need,’ said Billetz, ‘he was always writing a check. But he always asked that it be anonymous.’”
Bouras helped found Holy Trinity in Westfield and he financed the building of St. Anna Greek Orthodox Church in Flemington, which was named after his wife, who died in 1994 after 53 years of marriage.
Bouras was born in Pontiac, MI, grew up in Chicago and graduated from Northwestern University. His father came from Greece as a young man and was a successful businessman. Bouras’ mother was from Leondarion.
When Bouras returned from WWII, his company, U.S. Steel, transferred him to New Jersey and in 1960 he and his wife established a company which eventually comprised five subsidiaries that produced of fabricated steel components for the commercial real estate industry.
The company generated the resources for his philanthropic work, but Bouras contribute more than just money.
Fr. Karloutsos met Bouras when he joined Leadership 100 – the endowment fund of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese – in the 1980s, and he told TNH “he continued to lead, not because he was asked to lead – he was asked to serve. It was never about being out front, but like a good shepherd, from behind the scenes he made sure people were doing the right thing.”
Although he was not a founding member of Leadership, “he was very instrumental in making Leadership grow, and without him the foundation of Leadership 100 would not have been strong.”
“Nicholas Bouras new the essence of the word philanthropos. He truly loved, he truly gave and he truly lived. Eternal be his memory,” Fr. Karloutsos said.
Cherpelis, who became a friend, also knew him as a great benefactor. “Whenever I knocked on his door, he opened it wide…and he never said ‘no.’” “He was a great Christian and family man. A man of great faith and lover of his Church,” who because of his faith expressed his values of generosity and philanthropy anonymously.
He noted that when the Niarchos Foundation made a donation to the Cathedral school on a matching funds basis, Bouras was the first one Cherpelis turned to and the former immediately wrote a check for $200,000.
Cherpelis added, I lost a great personal friend,” whom he admired not only for his success but for remaining “a simple man with a pure heart regardless of his millions.”
After the funeral there was a solemn procession to the Fairway cemetery across the street from the church Bouras helped build and the community he loved. The pall bearers included Judge Nicholas Tsoucalas, Savas Tsivikos, Alex Pritsos, and Cherpelis.
The pastor, Father Peter Delvizis, was joined in the solea by local clergy and former pastor, Fr. Demetrios Antokas. He and Presbytera Maria Antokas travelled from Bethesda, MD. Among others who traveled far was Nick Larigakis, the president of the American Hellenic Institute, of which Bouras was major benefactor.