NEW YORK – When talented people are born in the world’s great cities, their personal dreams are intertwined with visions of their city’s future. Joakim Laguros was born in 1924 in Constantinople. He loved his city and the land of his ancestors, but conditions were worsening. One year before the pogroms of 1955 that darkened the future of the Greek community, he won a Fulbright scholarship and left for the University of Iowa to begin a new life.
Laguros, a distinguished professor and practitioner of civil engineering, built a new life in America that provided him with the opportunity to assist and inspire students and his fellow Greek Orthodox Christians.
His father, George, who belonged to a prominent Greek family, was left a widower by the 1918 flu epidemic and in 1921 he married Joakim’s mother.
Realizing his dream of studying at prestigious Robert College despite the expense by earning scholarships, Laguros rewarded his family by graduating top of his class.
His brothers were also gifted. The eldest became a classics professor in Johannesburg and the other became a theologian and a Greek Orthodox bishop.
After earning his BA in Civil Engineers in 1946, Laguros then undertook his military service. The gifted young man was the first Greek officer in the Turkish navy.
When he arrived in Ames for his graduate research assistanceship as a Fullbright Scholar in August 1954, his first dinner was at the Rainbow cafe, which was owned by the Constantine Brothers, who eventually become his koumbaroi.
He chose to return to Constantinople, where he married his wife Vivian and served as an in instructor in civil engineering at Robert College – his second tenure in that position.
In 1959 Laguros went back to Ames and earned a PhD. He was then hired by Ohio State University and his success gave him hopes for a promotion by 1963. When he was told he still was too young he decided it was time to leave. It was a painful decision.
Laguros loved the students at Athens, OH. He even taught them to chant hymns and Christmas carols in Greek, but he realized it was best to take his family, which now included his son George, to Norman, OK, where he taught and developed research proposals at the University of Oklahoma (UO).
His professional standing rose steadily – Laguros’ university activity was complemented by substantial engineering consulting work – and his superior teaching ability was gaining recognition. He was eventually honored with the title Halliburton Distinguished Lecturer and won the Superior Teaching Award. In 1984 he was named David Ross Boyd Professor.
His first of many important research projects developed testing for concrete and he became a prolific scientific writer, with 130 papers to date.
Laguros’ leadership was manifested through various commitments and appointments.
He served at national secretary and treasurer of the American Society of Civil Engineers from 1974 to 1988 and twice served as acting Dean at UO, but he chose not remain in that position permanently. When he retired in 1994, President Boren asked him to stay on and continue teaching and doing research, which he did as long as his Parkinson’s disease permitted.
Life is not about accumulating honors for Laguros. Being a great teacher flowed from his love and apprecation for his students.
When his family came to Norman, they opened their house to the Greek Orthodox students, many of whom went on to distinguished careers. When he left Oklahoma, a declaration was written “You will always be the soul of the Greeks of Oklahoma.”
He helped students of all backgrounds, however. One of them, Mark Brady, wrote appreciatively “I could not have done it without you.”
The Greek Orthodox church is an important part of the fabric of Laguros’ life and he was very active with the Church of St. George in Oklahoma City. The Byzantine choir, which he organized, chanted at the church’s consecration in 2003 and at Denver choir federation meetings.
The National Forum of Greek Orthodox Church Musicians presented Laguros with the Archbishop Iakovos Distinguished Service Award by, and is a recipient of the prestigious St. Paul’s Medal.
His love for Orthodoxy is rivalled only by his passion for Hellenism.
In Oklahoma City Laguros enjoyed giving church tours and working with people who wanted to become Orthodox, sponsoring 10 converts.
One year, when March 25 fell on a Sunday, at his own expense he organized a dinner that featured a short play depicting the Tragedy at Psara.
“The stage was completely dark and there were four young boys standing there looking at the sky , and a young girl representing DOXA – Glory – started walking into the black stage among the boys while Laguros recited the Psara poem. At the end, Dr. Laguros invited everyone to sing the Greek National Anthem and everyone was in tears,” Vassilios Dimas, Laguros’ former student and friend, told TNH.