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Demetrios Liappas, Pillar of California Greek-American Community, Dies

Demetrios Liappas
Demetrios Liappas, a pillar of the Greek-American community in Southern California, at Loyola Marymount University, passed away on Sunday. Credit: Loyola Marymount University

Demetrios Liappas, a pillar of the Greek-American community in Southern California, passed away on Sunday.

Liappas was the Director of the Basil P. Caloyeras Center for Modern Greek Studies from the inception of the program in 1980 until his retirement in 2015. He worked tirelessly for the promotion of Hellenism at Loyola Marymount University and within the Greek-American community of southern California.

In a statement, Director of the Basil P. Caloyeras Center, Christina Bogdanou, described Liappas as an “educator, a mentor, an activist, and a dear friend to many.” He was a true Hellene, Bogdanou said. “His ethos, kindness, generosity of heart, and modesty about his many achievements were unparalleled.”

Born in Nestorio, near Kastoria in northern Greece, Liappas was a proud Macedonian, with his childhood marred by the Nazi Occupation and the Civil War. He was raised in Thessaloniki, and acted as a sea scout and a soccer player who was recruited for the youth team of the professional soccer club Axios, in his earlier life. 

Demetrios Liappas’ move to the US

Liappas’ life changed when he and his family immigrated to Cleveland, Ohio, at the age of 18. He studied mathematics at Case Western Institute of Technology, Western Reserve University, and Ohio State University.

In 1973, Liappas heard about a lecture on modern Greek poetry at Loyola Marymount University, and he fatefully decided to attend. With the support of many involved community members and the generosity of Peter Caloyeras and the Caloyeras family, in 1974, the Basil P. Caloyeras Center for Modern Greek Studies was founded at Loyola Marymount University.

In 1980 Liappas became the Director of the Caloyeras Center. His vision for the Center was realized in partnership with other organizations, such as the Greek Heritage Society and the American Hellenic Council which also included Liappas as a founding member.

In 1996, Liappas led the effort to establish a minor degree in Modern Greek Studies and make the program part of the core curriculum of Loyola Marymount University.

Support for Greek political causes

Outside his activities at the Caloyeras Center, Liappas was an ardent supporter and advocate for Greek political causes. 

In 1974, in the aftermath of the Turkish invasion of Cyprus, Liappas became one of the founders of the Save Cyprus Council, which evolved into the American Hellenic Council, on which he served as a board member until his death.

In 2010, in recognition of his achievements in education, the Hellenic American Council gave Demetrios the Saloutos Award, shared at that time with his long-time friend, Zoye Fiddler, the founder of the Greek Heritage Society.

Remembering Demetrios Liappas

Demetrios is survived by his wife, Loyola Marymount University Professor Emeritus Katharine B. Free, as well as his two sisters, five nieces and nephews, and ten great-nieces and nephews.

“The Caloyeras family extends their deepest condolences to his wife Katharine and his family,” Bogdanou said. “He will be missed not only as the Basil P. Caloyeras Center’s longtime director and a dedicated pillar of the community but as a dear family friend as well.”

A memorial honoring his life and many contributions to the Caloyeras Center, Loyola Marymount University, and the community will take place in April. And in lieu of flowers, the family asks that you consider a donation to the Caloyeras Center.

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