LOS ANGELES – Dr. Nick S. Vidalakis, Archon Hartoularios of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, died peacefully surrounded by his family on December 5, in Los Angeles, CA. He was 94.
Dr. Vidalakis was born on September 20, 1928 in the coal and copper mining town of Bingham, UT to immigrant parents Spiro Vidalakis from the village of Moustako, Crete, and Kyriaki Mavrogenis Vidalakis from the village of Lakous, Crete. He was always proud of being 100% Cretan. Dr. Nick lost his mother when his was five years old and was then raised by his aunt. His father worked as a miner, cab driver, and ultimately co-owned the Moonlight Gardens saloon where Dr. Nick showed his work ethic in his first job at age five cleaning spittoons. As a boy, he would look at other children with ice cream cones that his family could not afford. Later that inspired him to purchase $2 bills to give to children to buy ice cream. Eventually he would hand out $2 bills that he gave the “King Midas Touch.” Many people have incredible stories of what happened after receiving a Dr. Nick lucky $2 bill.
His entrepreneurial drive started at age 12 when he and his cousin Mike Leventis opened Mike’s Place to serve burgers to miners. As teenagers they opened the House of Copper which expanded to a second location and sold souvenirs for the Kennecott Copper Mine. He attended Bingham High School where he played basketball with his future brother-in-law George Furgis and excelled in his studies. Later he was given the distinguished alumni award from Bingham High. Nick tamped rail road ties to make money and continued to do so to help pay for college as well as working as a bookkeeper for an ice cream company. But he knew that education was his way out of poverty.
Nick earned his bachelor’s degree from the University of Utah in Economics, graduating first in his class. One of his professors suggested that instead of getting a job he should go to graduate school at Stanford or Harvard. He made the right choice. Nick was accepted to the Stanford Graduate School of business for his MBA on full scholarship. The Korean War interrupted his MBA program. The army drafted Nick and sent him to basic training at Fort Ord. Then he was ordered to Officer’s Candidate School (OCS) at Fort Bliss Texas. He was the honor graduate of his OCS class and was sent to Alaska to teach the operation of new advanced artillery attaining the rank of Second Lieutenant. After the war he returned to Stanford to finish his MBA. Degree in hand, Nick went back to the University of Utah to teach in the business school. After one year he was offered a scholarship in the Stanford Sloan Program as one of two PhD candidates, so he returned to his beloved Stanford. In this program of 17 “Sloaners” he made some of the best friends of his life enjoying their company at Stanford Sloan reunions for many years thereafter.
Nick finished his PhD one Sunday and married the love of his life the next after he was invited by Mary Vasilakis to a dinner at the San Francisco home of Bob and Nonie Giusti. There he spotted the most beautiful young woman he’d ever seen coming down the stairs in a beehive hairdo. What’s more, she was Cretan. On the spot he knew she would be his wife. In a career of incredible deals, he always said the best deal he ever made was for his dear wife Nancy.
They settled in Salt Lake City, UT, in a small apartment downtown. Little did he know that in future decades he would acquire the entire block to help build his commercial real estate company. Prior to marriage Nick had tried a variety of businesses from selling uranium futures to opening a coin operated weight-reducing salon. His first business success was when Nick, his cousin Mike Leventis and his brother-in-law George Furgis developed 170 coin operated laundries and dry cleaners across several states. Wanting to control his own destiny, he left the partnership to found a series of real estate companies from Golden West Management to Vidalakis Investment Company to Hermes Associates. He built his first office building by hand with only the help of a carpenter friend. In his PhD dissertation, he researched and predicted a fundamental change in American retail. He said that the current small stores in each retail category would one day become much larger “category killers”: that the local hardware store would become Home Depot, that the local Radio Shack would become Best Buy, and so on. He tried to convince major chain grocery stores to build a new concept store that was several times the size of current grocers, but they all lacked his vision. He finally convinced a local grocer named Harmon’s to build a grocery superstore that became for a time one of the highest volume grocery stores in the world and a model for future grocery store chains. Nick went on to build one of the largest privately held real estate companies with shopping centers across several western states: The Family Centers.
Nick was a devoted member of the Greek Orthodox Church. In Salt Lake City he led the effort to develop the new Prophet Elias Greek Orthodox church. He also acquired a great deal of land around the church that enabled future growth. He served on the board of the Denver Diocese, on the Archdiocesan Council, was a trustee for the Hellenic College-Holy Cross School of Theology, a member of Leadership 100, an Archon and was awarded the St. Paul Medal— the highest award for service in the Greek Church. His work for the Salt Lake church included helping to acquire the Covey Apartments for Holy Trinity (which is one of their biggest sources of income to this day), helping to expand the Holy Trinity parking lots (which today are worth millions of dollars) and setting up a fund to help support widowed Presbyteras (wives of priests). He and Nancy also made many of their lifelong friends in Salt Lake City including among Salt Lake’s large and proud Cretan community. Later they moved to Seattle, Washington and eventually Pasadena, California where they made many more great friends.
Nick was a life-time member of the Pan-Cretan Association. Because Nick’s first scholarships came from Pan-Cretan, he established scholarships for students of Cretan heritage and later established a scholarship at Drexel University for students to study in Crete. He also enjoyed many Cretan conventions and parties with his great Cretan brothers and sisters. On his 90th birthday, the Governor of Crete declared a day in Nick’s honor. He said that of everything he was the most proud of being Cretan.
Another tremendous source of pride for Nick was Stanford, and once again giving back was his focus. Nick was part of the building campaign for the Schwab Residential Center and later for the Knight Management Center at the Stanford Graduate School of Business (GSB) resulting in the Vidalakis Sloan Classroom, The Vidalakis Event Courtyard and the Vidalakis Dining Hall at Stanford. For all his support, Stanford awarded Nick the Distinguished Alumni Service Award from the GSB. Though Nick was known for his stylish silk suits earlier in life, in his later years he always wore multiple pieces of attire emblazoned with the Stanford name. Nick is commemorated on the monument that recognizes Stanford’s biggest supporters in its first one hundred years. He was especially proud that all his children also earned degrees from Stanford.
In his very full life, Nick was most devoted to his family and friends. He was predeceased by his three sisters: Ellen Furgis, Vida Riddle and Carrie Fugett and many great family members and friends. He is survived by his dear wife Nancy, four children and eleven grandchildren: Perry and Zoe Vidalakis (Niko, Kyri and Demi), John and Diane Vidalakis (Alexis, Nicolette and Michael), Nicole Vidalakis (Philomena) and George and Laura Vidalakis (Zina, Ariadne, Thalia and Kyreni). He also leaves behind many beloved nieces, nephews and dear friends.
Nick embodied the ideals of the Ellis Island Medal of Freedom Award which he received and which honors those, “who have made it their mission to share with those less fortunate their wealth of knowledge, indomitable courage, boundless compassion, unique talents and selfless generosity while acknowledging their debt to their ethnic heritage as they uphold the ideals and sprit of America.” He was a mentor to many who lived by his words of wisdom: “the most important decision is who you marry”… “always be fair, honest, reasonable and wise”… “the only thing that works is positive energy”… and many others. He lived his life taking responsibility for those around him: the Greek Orthodox Church, the Cretans, Stanford, the communities in which he lived and his many friends and family members he loved. Dr. Nick, your job is done. You have more than earned the right to rest in peace in God’s loving embrace. May his memory be eternal.
The memorial (Trisagion) service will be held on Tuesday, December 13, 7PM at Saint Anthony Greek Orthodox Church, 778 S. Rosemead Blvd, Pasadena, CA 91107. The funeral service will take place on Wednesday, December 14, 10 AM at Saint Anthony Greek Orthodox Church followed by interment at San Gabriel Cemetery, 601 W. Roses Road, San Gabriel, CA. In lieu of flowers, please consider making a donation in Dr. Nick’s memory to the Saint Anthony Greek Orthodox Church building fund.