George P. Kokalis Eulogized at Phoenix Cathedral

Kokalis with late Archbishop Iakovos

George P. Kokalis, a Founding Member of Leadership 100 and its dynamic Chairman from 1996 to 2000, who died suddenly June 24, was eulogized in Holy Trinity Cathedral in Phoenix, AZ June 29 by Metropolitan Gerasimos of San Francisco, Fr. Nicholas Triantafilou, President of Hellenic College-Holy Cross School of Theology and Paulette Poulos, Executive Director (Interim) of Leadership 100 (Eulogy follows).  Kokalis died within weeks of a planned celebration of his 99th birthday on July 20. Archbishop Demetrios of America upon hearing of the news on June 25 said: “The death of George Kokalis is more than the passing of a pioneer of our Holy Archdioceses; it is the loss of a true faithful servant of the Church.”

George Kokalis’ vision as one of the founders of Leadership 100, and his generosity as a great benefactor of his local parish, Hellenic College and Holy Cross and the Archdiocese as a whole, bear witness to his devotion, love and dedication to God and to His Church and to his fellow Greek Orthodox. All of us who had the privilege to know him will sorely miss him. May God rest George’s soul in His Kingdom. Eternal be his memory!” In extending condolences to George’s son, Peter G. Kokalis and the Kokalis Family, Stephen G. Yeonas, Chairman of Leadership 100, said, “George was a sterling example of an exceptional human being and Christian who truly loved his Church, family and fellow man. Leadership 100 has reached its high level of success because of his untiring efforts and capable leadership. In his capacity as a Founder and past Chairman, George was always there to lead the way. He will be remembered as a Founder who faithfully stood by the side of our Beloved Archbishop Iakovos of Blessed Memory and helped make his dream and vision a reality.”
Paulette Poulos Eulogy

Oftentimes it has been said that a person’s success is measured by the legacy he leaves behind. If this is so, then our beloved George was at the highest level of success in his lifetime. I first met George in 1965 when I joined the Archdiocese staff and we became friends and coworkers from the very start. George always stood by the side of Archbishop Iakovos and after the Archbishop retired in 1996, George made it a point to stay in close contact with His Eminence. 

He would faithfully call the Archbishop at least once a week and if he had a special concern or matter involving the Church, he would call twice a week.  George just wanted to say hello, see how the Archbishop was feeling and let him know that he was not forgotten. He would send California dates and other goodies which he knew would always put a smile on the face of Archbishop Iakovos. Those weekly calls meant so much to the retired Hierarch and after His Eminence’s death in 2005, I remembered George’s outreach in kindness and I decided to reciprocate by calling George at least once a week just to see how he was doing and to let him know he was loved and never forgotten.  Every time he would hear my voice, he would get emotional and at the end of each conversation, his closing words were always the same: “Paulette, I love you.” 

This past Father’s Day, I called to wish him well. He was quite weak and constantly dozing off. We talked a few days before his death and he told me, “ I am getting much weaker. I know my time is coming to an end.” He did not sound frightened, but rather calm and willing to accept God’s Will.  George was not just a friend, he was a mentor and it is because of his encouragement and support that I took the position with Leadership 100.  As a Founder and past Chairman of Leadership 100, George was so committed that he insisted in enrolling his beloved wife, Stephanie, his son Peter and his 2 grandchildren in Leadership 100 and fulfilling all pledges.  He never sought personal recognition but only requested that the new plaques, being prepared for the Leadership 100 office and for the Archbishop Iakovos Library at Hellenic College, show each family name on a different plaque.  He wanted to encourage other families to follow the example of the Kokalis Family so we could secure support for future generations. His dream was to reach 1000 members before God called him home and today we have 760 members – thanks to George’s efforts. I know the day will come when George will be smiling down on us as we fulfill his dream and reach that landmark! George’s legacy will be one of strong faith, commitment, vision and philanthropy and I am confident that through his loving and devoted son, Peter, Matina and all his wonderful family, George will continue to live on in our hearts now and forever more.

A noted philanthropist and business entrepreneur, Kokalis left his native village of Kalavitra in Greece for America at 11 years of age, achieving early success in the produce business in Chicago where he later started his own supermarket chain, Sure Safe, which he sold in 1961. He then devoted his life to philanthropic support of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America, Hellenic College and Holy Cross School of Theology, parishes in Chicago and Phoenix, where he had moved his family, and especially Leadership 100 which he had founded with the late Archbishop Iakovos and other leading members of the Greek Orthodox Church, becoming its Chairman in 1996.

One of George Kokalis’ first gifts upon selling his business was establishing the first library in the Greek Community in America, at St. Demetrios Church in Chicago. When he moved to Phoenix, he donated his own funds but challenged others to acquire prime real estate and build Holy Trinity Church and Community Center, which became Holy Trinity Cathedral in 1988.
He served on the Archdiocesan Council for a record 34 years. When he served as Chairman of Leadership 100, he urged whole families to join and chaired the effort to fulfill pledges, which brought fulfilled memberships to 300. He enlisted five fulfilled members of his own family.
Next to his beloved Church and his unstinting support of Hellenic College-Holy Cross School of Theology was his support of the Banner Good Samaritan Regional Medical Center in Phoenix where he established the Good Samaritan Chapel and endowed the Clinical Pastoral Education Chaplaincy Program for all faiths.
A recipient of the Ellis Island Medal of Honor and a Doctorate of Humanity from Holy Cross School of Theology, he described himself as a simple man who followed the faith and values instilled in him, believing that philanthropy is part of spiritual growth, that giving comes back five-fold, ten-fold in blessings. “You can’t count high enough,” he once said.
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