BOSTON – Merkourios or “Mike” Angeliades as he is widely known, started his journey of his life in the small but beautiful island of Simi in Dodecanese. He came to the United States dreaming of its opportunities, for those not afraid to work and he realized the American dream. Angeliades became one of the most prominent businessmen in the construction field. His company is the fifth biggest of its kind in the Metro New York area and among the first 400 in the country. When he left his island he took with him the fervent prayers and wishes of his parents as well as the patron Saint Archangel Michael known as Panormitis of Simi, hoping to be covered with his wings all of his life, but he quickly learned how to fly himself, so to speak.
Angeliades became big and successful professionally, socially, financially, but said he has never forgotten his roots and descent, and he’s decorated his surroundings with reminders to make sure.
Among the decor in his office is huge photographs of his island Simi, which he calls the “holy place.” He pointed to his home where he was born and said that he misses Simi a lot, but he is quick to say, “I thank God I visit Simi at least twice a year, Simi is the nostalgia of my heart.” He said remembers growing up in his island and “the warmth of his family, the values and ideals that my parents instilled in my heart” he said, and he added “things were very different at that time.” Simi was a beautiful but small island, too small to contain his big dreams and visions. He went to work on a big ship as other friends and classmates of his had done. “I worked on a cargo ship for one and an half year to almost to all the ports of Europe,” he said. His father’s and mother’s brothers had immigrated to the United States and they extended an invitation to him to come and try America, the land of the free.
THE AMERICAN WAY
“I happened to depart from Simi to the U.S. on the feast day of the Archangel – Panormitis; it was such an unforgettable day,” he said. In his many travels, including to Europe, he said imagined America to be “very different,” and added, “In the beginning I did not want to stay, I wanted to go back to Greece. After all my salary here was much less of what I was making in the ships.” In the beginning he tried out many jobs. He began working in a factory place packaging cheese, olive oil, olives which were imported from Greece and distributed to the U.S. “My first salary was 85 cents per hour. I did not stay long, just two months and then I went to work for the Argo Boat Company which was constructing boats owned by a man from Simi. My salary was increased but again I was not happy there. The following summer I went to work for an ice cream company. I worked in the freezers loading the trucks for the day’s rounds.”
He then worked as a painter of the bridges, but he did not like it there because as he explained “I had to climb high on the bridges and work from there, it was a dangerous work and the people were not that great.” George Levesanos, a friend of Angeliades’ father, owned a small construction company building restaurants. He said that “Mr. Levesanos hired me, I liked the job even thought I was making one-third of the money I was making paintings bridges.” It was there that Angeliades said he remembered his father’s occupation and his small carpentry shop in Simi. “My father was making everything from doors and windows to furniture by hand and without electricity.” Angeliades used to help his father at their store during the summer break and he had an idea about carpentry. He said that, “By working with Mr. Levesanos I realized that it was something that attracted me more than any other previous job that I had tried, so began learning more and more about the secrets of the job as much as I could.”
CONSTRUCTING HIS DREAMS
In 1967, he made the first huge step when with his cousin George Nikolis established the A*T Construction Company renovating homes. Three years later in 1970 they stopped renovating homes and established another company and started renovating restaurants. He said, “In the beginning we started with small jobs and in a short period of time we ended up doing general reconstructions.” Angeliades has build from the scratch 182 restaurants in the New York Metro area. He said, “I sold the majority of them to Greeks, I financed all of them and I never went to the court for any reason and I am saying this with a sense of pride.” He also said that “perhaps others may have built more restaurants but what I am saying is I did not go to court for any of the 182 that I built,” and he added: “I lost a lot of money, but I had a different philosophy, I said to myself you lost, okay then leave. I am not foolish neither I had a lot of money and I just forgotten them, but when the restaurant did not do any business how could I ask the man to pay me, from where?”
In 1990 he split with his cousin and established his own company known as M. A. Angeliades, which does big federal jobs such as libraries, court houses, and schools and is reconstructing the Blinker train station in Manhattan which is going to cost $96 million. He said that it will be finished by November of 2011. Every time Angeliades finishes a job he said feels an inner satisfaction. “I cannot describe to you how I feel,” he said, adding, “When I see a big job done I say to myself it is not so much for the money, but where I was and where I am.” Angeliades’ company has done a lot of reconstruction work in many train stations, especially in the Bronx area.
A FAMILY MAN
Angeliades’ wife is named Libby and they have four daughters and four granddaughters. He said adores his family and he adds that, “I never forget the three great values that my parents taught me: country, faith and family.” Angeliades is a cultivated and philosophical man, which is immediately apparent to any one who converses with him. He said that, “One should be honest and truthful with himself first and to try to be honest and truthful with the rest of the word.” And he added, “When you do something do it as well as you can in order to be effective and successful and also you should assume your responsibilities and to hide behind someone else.” Asked to identify some of the happiest days of his life, he said, “When I met my wife and we got married and also when our daughters were born.” He also said that, “every day and every moment someone should his best he can in order to sleep well and peacefully at night. There will be good and bad days but I think we should face them consciously because all of us are taking tests on this earth.” The most painful days of his life were when his parents died. “It is sad when you lose your parents,” he said. He stood by them, he supported them as a guardian angel and he visited them often in Simi, he said.
Although he did have an academic background, he said he did not want to go for advanced education because, as he explained, “My family did not have the financial means. I was supposed to go to the Education Academy in Rhodes to become a teacher but I did not like that field, plus my salary would be minimal so I preferred to get away from the limited environment of Simi and of Greece as matter of fact.” He has no regrets but as he explained, “My Ithaca is there, in Simi, in Greece, which I love with all my heart.”
God and the Church play a pivotal role in his life. He said, “I believe deeply in God, although I do not show it; what is important is to make your prayer whenever you are without any formal preparation” and he added that “I speak to God and to myself every day, we are in communication.” Many times he converses with himself. He said, “It is important to converse with yourself,” and he added that, “Sometimes I am asking myself why you are assuming new jobs, for what?” Recently, Angeliades purchased 47 Dairy Barn Stores in New York. “There are times that I ask myself why you are adding problems? Why don’t you sit down and relax? But again when I achieve something good, I forget all the problems and I start from the beginning.”
Nostalgia led his steps last to Simi time and again. “I cannot describe my joy and my emotions when I stand in front of the icon of the Mother of God in the same church that I was standing without shoes when I was a small boy and I recited the prayer to the Theotokos, bearing the joys and the bitterness of an entire life.” Speaking about the course of the Greek-American Community he said, “We can do much more, but there is no leadership,” and he added, “We carry with us the patrimonial mentality – ‘Why you and not me?’ The Greeks abroad have the goblin of progress and creativity.”
Thirty years ago he contributed to the creation of the Greek Orthodox parish of the Archangel in Roslyn, N.Y. Today the parish is in the process of building a new church which is going to cost $15 million dollars and Angeliadis has been a major contributor He said that, “A lot of times I ask myself why we build so big churches? We today can support them, but would our children and grandchildren be able to support sustain them with all their high expenses just to be filled twice a year on Christmas and on Easter?” To the question if retirement is in his vocabulary, or in his plans, he said with a smile, “no, I am away from these words, I do not use them.”