LOS ANGELES – At an event jointly held by the Hellenic University Club of Southern California and the UCLA Stavros Niarchos Foundation Center for the Study of Hellenic Culture on October 21, UCLA Dean of Humanities David Schaberg presented Peter and Vivi Demopoulos with a crystal Bruin in recognition of the establishment of the Peter and Vivi Demopoulos Endowed Graduate Research Fellowship.
The Demopoulos Fellowship will be awarded to graduate students to travel to Greece for research.
Peter and Vivi Demopoulos, who were both born in Greece, came via different routes to Los Angeles, where they eventually met in the late 1970’s. Peter’s family roots in LA go back to 1905 when his paternal grandfather, Andreas, left Greece and arrived after a short stay in Ogden, Utah, where he had worked on the railroads with many others from his village.
Planning to save money and then return to his family in Greece, Andreas had left behind his pregnant wife and his 2-year son, Peter’s father. He liked Los Angeles, however, and convinced his three younger brothers to join him.
He worked as an independent produce retailer and was successful enough to buy several acres of land near what is now Imperial and Vermont. Peter’s maternal grandfather returned to Greece to find a wife and possibly return to the United States. Unfortunately, the Balkan Wars and World War I spoiled these plans since travel from Greece between 1912 and 1919 was impossible.
Peter’s mother was born in Greece and was orphaned at a young age when her mother died in 1917 during the Great Flu epidemic. At the end of World War I, the army in Greece drafted Peter’s father. By the time he was released from service, the United States had passed a new immigration law barring practically all new immigrants.
The only one from the family who successfully immigrated to the US was Andreas’ young daughter, Peter’s aunt, who had married an American sent to Greece by her father. During the Great Depression, Peter’s grandfather got a job at the LA Harbor shipyards. Unfortunately, he was badly injured in a job accident and died without ever seeing his wife and son again.
Meanwhile, Peter’s father married in Greece and had four children. Peter was born when German and Italian forces invaded Greece in the summer of 1941, and his early memories are about the war. His mountainous birthplace in Greece, Kalavryta, was a hotbed of resistance and in December 1943 the Nazis committed one of the worst atrocities in Greece by indiscriminately killing all males over the age of 14 and destroyed all dwellings. Fortunately, Peter’s family survived by hiding in the nearby mountains.
During the civil war, Peter’s older brother and sister, in their mid-teens came to the United States as “displaced persons” and lived with their aunt. The family was reunited in 1956 when Peter, then 14, his younger brother, and his parents successfully joined their two older siblings. The family settled in Pasadena and Peter quickly learned English.
He graduated from Pasadena High School, and then entered UCLA where he received a BS in Engineering in 1964, followed by an MS in Electrical Engineering from Caltech in 1965. After graduation, he joined Hughes Aircraft Company and worked on exciting aerospace programs. His first job was to participate in testing the communication system of the Surveyor Spacecraft, the first man-made object to land on the Moon.
After his retirement, he consulted on advanced engineering projects and in parallel invested in real estate and the stock market. He says, “Aside from science classes, I enjoyed classes in Classics and History at UCLA, and a very useful Business Economics class at Caltech. The best time of my life was when I was at UCLA. At that time the UCLA Engineering Dean, Llewellyn Boelter, was very enlightened and required that students take 30% of their classes in the Humanities. Looking back, I believe this exposure to the humanities enriched the rest of my life.”
Vivi Demopoulos grew up in Athens and, after graduating from high school, worked for a short time before marrying her first husband, Aristides Alexopoulos, who was a student in Michigan. She joined him at Ann Arbor, Michigan, and they had one child, Yorgo.
After her husband graduated, they moved to Southern California where Aristides found a job and Vivi worked at UCLA as a Grants Administrator. Unfortunately, her husband died of cancer a few years later. Peter and Vivi met in Westchester, where they both lived, and were married in 1980. They have five children, Maria, Nicholas, Katherine, Yorgo and Stephen, and four grandchildren, Aris, the twins Penelope and Henry, and Aristides.
(Biographical information reprinted with permission from the UCLA Stavros Niarchos Foundation Center for the Study of Hellenic Culture and Peter and Vivi Demopoulos.)