FRESNO, CA – Alexander “Alex” Vavoulis, a professor of chemistry at Fresno State University and advocate for First Amendment rights and progressive ideals, passed away on June 2 at the age of 95, the Fresno Bee reported.
As a professor for 31 years at Fresno State, Vavoulis will be remembered for his teaching prowess, as well as for his advocacy for student and faculty rights. His passion for free speech and expression was furthered through his co-founding and leading of the Fresno Free College Foundation, the Fresno Bee reported.
Friend and former colleague Paul Bush, economic professor emeritus at Fresno State, remembers Vavoulis, “He was known on the campus as a champion of students and faculty who spoke truth to power. He was absolutely unique in his ability to sense the needs of others and to act on those needs,” the Fresno Bee reported.
“He was a man of everything; his mind was always active,” Vasiliky Vavoulis, his wife of 29 years, told the Fresno Bee “When he slept he looked like a Greek philosophical thinker: with his hand on his cheek.”
Vavoulis was born in Pittsburgh December 28, 1924, and grew up in Brooklyn with his parents and three siblings in a close-knit family. His Greek immigrant parents had met when they came to the United States, and were devoted to their heritage and culture, a devotion Vavoulis held onto throughout his life.
When he graduated high school in 1943, Vavoulis joined the Navy and served in World War II. Following his service, through the GI Bill, Vavoulis was able to attend Brooklyn College where he received a bachelor’s and master’s degree in chemistry. He went on to pursue a doctorate in chemistry from University of the Pacific.
“He was more than a chemistry professor,” Mrs. Vavoulis told the Fresno Bee. “He loved Greek music and Greek culture. He was a man of literature and poetry. He had a passion for everything.”
“Spurred to action by the firing of his fellow Fresno State coworker, poet Robert Mezey who had spoken in support of the legalization and recreational use of marijuana, Vavoulis co-founded the Fresno Free College Foundation in 1968,” the Fresno Bee reported, adding that “initially created to support Mezey and freedom of speech, the foundation expanded to embrace educational and cultural growth with the hopes of spreading free thinking ideals throughout the Central Valley.”
Rychard Withers, executive director of Fresno Free College Foundation and KFCF-FM, told the Fresno Bee, “Without Alex leading things, a lot of the organizations that came out of Fresno Free College Foundation would never have happened. Organizations like the Fresno Folklore Society, Fresno Poet’s Association, Keyboard Concerts and Orpheus Concerts.”
Vavoulis also helped found the radio station KFCF in 1975, which was the first listener-sponsored radio station in the Central Valley, according to Withers. The station brought in programming from Pacifica Radio, rebroadcasting shows from KPFA out of Berkeley.
“I think KFCF being on the air and all the projects Alex worked on contribute a lot to the culture of the Valley,” Withers told the Fresno Bee. “He contributed a lot to our community and he will be missed.”
Vavoulis was also “known for doing broadcasts of music by Greek composers,” the Fresno Bee reported.
The Vavoulis family held a small service June 3 at St. George Greek Orthodox Church. Vavoulis wished to be cremated and have his ashes spread on the beach outside his home in the port town of Samos in the Greek islands, the Fresno Bee reported.
In addition to his wife, Vavoulis is survived by his sons Theodore and David Vavoulis.