Gus J. Kavalaris

Gus Kavalaris

Age 88, passed away January 21, 2023.  He was born February 24, 1934, in Paleoxari (now, Potidania), Dorida, Greece, to James and Mary (Mitsakis) Kavalaris.  Gus was a man of wisdom and kindness, with enormous love for his family & Church, and is greatly respected by all who knew him.  Gus was a provider, a man of deep convictions, and genuinely caring & concerned for others.  His knowledge was vast and Gus was always supportive and willing to share and enlighten, both professionally and personally.  Smiles arise when Gus would share stories and quotes learned from his grandfather when Gus was a young boy, before escaping Greece with his family at 12-years old to start a new life in the United States he so deeply loved.  First, in Albion and Jackson, before settling in Lansing to be close to a Greek Orthodox Church Community.  These are facts.  But, to truly know Gus, you must know where he came from, how he suffered through the hells of World War II in a remote tiny village (75 families) in mountainous north-central Greece, and how a life lived with joy can start materially poor, if one can stay spiritually rich.  Gus was the first child born after his father returned to Greece to get married, start a family, and take care of the elders after having been in America since 1909;  including, his father’s WWI service in the U.S. Army.  From the single-digit years of youth, Gus had life responsibilities because all had to contribute to survive.  However, this was amplified when WW2 came to Gus’ village when Gus was just six-years young.  Life instantly changed.  He & his family were stuck there.  Gus starved, suffered, and he witnessed horrors of WW2 such as invading forces stealing family food, executions of villagers without trial, and instant deaths of two classmates at desks next to him during a grenade attack that hit his one-room school.  Gus acquired extra understandings about life & death and responsibilities beyond what we think is possible for one so young.  Gus’ grandfather taught him how to survive.  As war years ensued, Gus was tasked to find food in the woods – i.e., acorns and such that could be ground into a flour for his mother to bake bread – and how to get fish, covertly, with his grandfather in the nearby river so family might sometimes better eat.  By ten years old, Gus & his grandfather were the men of the house as Gus’ father had departed to Athens as a translator for the Allies.  1944 brought liberation to his village.  Gus finally had peace: tending to sheep; cultivating crops in the fields; but still walking everywhere without shoes, except for the pair of moccasins his grandfather hand-made for him.  A lasting peace never arrived as a Greek Civil War brewed.  Fortunately, Gus was one of the lucky ones as he and his family were secretly summoned by their father to quietly leave the village overnight, escape over mountains to a waiting small boat, and then to Athens & Piraeus 3-weeks before Civil War exploded.  There, March 6, 1946, Gus and his entire family, except for his dearly loved 88-year-old grandfather who stayed in the village not wanting to travel, boarded a ship, Marine Tiger, for a 12-day voyage to U.S.A.; the freedom of America: his father’s precious gift of a new, better life to live.  In New York City, Gus and his father kissed the ground.  They never looked back.  But, bittersweet it was as Gus knew he would never see his grandfather again.  After arriving, Gus worked, as did his whole family.  Though materially poor, they kept a clean / neat home and all contributed cash to common family goals to survive.  Gus’ family was close and he was taught the blessings of opportunity: America offers no guarantee of success.  You must do the hard work.  Gus did that.  He learned English; graduated from J.W. Sexton H.S., 1953, then to Michigan State University.  Gus, via his family, believed in education.  Years later, Gus would advise youth, as District Advisor to the Sons of Pericles (Jr. Order of AHEPA, of which Gus was a life member) to pursue/finish college by saying, “Four years of hell, for forty years of happiness after graduation!”  And, they knew Gus had practiced what he preached:  Unable to afford the bus, Gus daily walked 9-miles: first, from the family home on Woodlawn (REO town) to downtown Lansing for restaurant jobs (dishwasher, busboy, lunch counter waiter) to earn cash for college; Gus then walked Kalamazoo St. to MSU for classes; walked back downtown; worked more; walked home, then studied & did homework; lastly, sleep to repeat next day.  Work at Lansing Cafe taught consistency and importance of details.  Gus memorized each regular customers’ daily order to cultivate better tips.  One of the trusted regulars later offered Gus a big raise to work for him selling shoes.  Gus leaped at the opportunity to make more money for college; even, using some of his own earnings to buy lollipops to give free to customers with a child; encouraging repeat visits & better future commissions when such buyers asked for Gus.  It all worked.  In 1957, Gus graduated from MSU; earning his Bachelor’s Degree in Civil Engineering; plus, completing ROTC & its Army basic training at Ft. Leonard Wood, MO.  Gus was never active duty, instead joining Michigan Dept. of Transportation’s Design division, which was growing due start of Interstate Highway program. Gus became a Registered Professional Engineer & eventually rose to become Engineer of Local Services, responsible for projects enhancing transportation in local communities.  And, learning continued: Gus was a Toastmasters Club participant (to improve his ability to speak in public).  Gus was so good, he eventually, made important speeches to city councils and community leaders, representing MDOT at events statewide.  Gus also assembled a team of top professionals that together were impactful.  So much so that Gus is credited with creating and developing Michigan’s Federal Aid Urban System process, which enables more critical value projects to be built with no delays, saving money so more improvements can be realized than otherwise possible.  In 1997, Gus retired after 40 years of service.  The westbound I-94 rest area near Marshall is named after Gus, in his honor, by MDOT.  Detroit’s Metro Airport expansion South Access Road & tunnel system is a project of key importance that exists because of Gus’ creative approaches in assembling  resources and uniting competing interests towards common goals that benefit the traveling public.  Years later, in retirement, Gus volunteered, no cost, his transportation finance & project planning expertise to his alma mater so MSU Farm Lane railroad bridges project could become real; eliminating a campus bottleneck of decades; improving safety.  Gus traveled much around the state for work.  Still, no matter how much, he was always home before dinner daily even if it meant a drive back somewhere the next day.  Family, until the end of his life, was always at the top of Gus’ priority list.  After his father’s untimely passing, Gus and his sister took care of their mother for the next 40-years.  And, Gus gave much time to his son, Jim; finally enjoying a youth Gus never had in Greece.  Gus gave his son freedom to succeed / fail without judgment as he explored new activities growing-up; provided opportunity to learn / discover special interests such as home computers when they first appeared; Saturday sports activities; and other enrichment.  Still, Gus often stayed in background, because even with opportunity, his son still had to do the work himself to succeed.  It’s said Gus beamed with joy when he spoke of his son and missed his being nearby while Jim lived & worked out-of-state as an engineer before coming home to help take care of Gus & the family as Gus aged, just as Gus and his father each did for their elders.  Gus was a great listener.  Gus and his son have a special relationship that will be more difficult in death, but still unbreakable, even in spirit.  Gus gave Jim a rock solid foundation because he cared to lead by his example.  Gus taught Jim communication skills are very important: “Even if you create an amazing idea, if you cannot communicate it to others, what is it worth?”  And, Gus’ ‘secret’:  “C3 + PPG = Success” – i.e., “Communication & Cooperation gives people more Confidence in each other to better Prepare, Participate and Grow towards whatever is their goal!”  Gus expressed meaning of commitment, by example.  Gus deeply loves his wife, Connie, sharing the joys & challenges of life for 62-years.  During Gus’ work era, a simple shopping trip with his wife to a mall around the state, looking, together, for a particular item or deal was enough to recharge energy.  Gus knew the value of timeless products and avoided trends that were just being showy.  Still, Gus was always sharp and felt comfortable in any environment from casual to formal & when meeting all types of people.  In his spare time, and with family, Gus enjoyed live MSU sports, with season tickets to basketball; Gus played tennis weekly; then, as he aged, mostly golf (even having a hole-in-one).  Gus loved travel to see the fullness of the U.S., eventually, coast-to-coast.  Gus loved Broadway shows at MSU & elsewhere.  And, Gus loved music, including attending many big concerts with his son, such as Earth, Wind, & Fire, Michael Jackson, Bruce Springsteen, and Aretha Franklin.  Gus appreciated the star performer, but would often more watch other artists supporting the star – e.g., a keyboard player, etc. – i.e., everyone mattered to Gus and bands were great teams vs. only the person at the top getting noticed; similar to how Gus loved his team at work.  Gus was a long time parish steward of Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church, where early he sung in the choir, served on Parish Council & several committees including Iconography, Architectural, and countless fundraiser & other volunteer activities like planning the 1970s Greek Festivals.  Gus was a consistent greeter of students who would come to Church looking for a home away from home during their college years  And, for decades, Gus went early to Church to make coffee for social hour.  Gus loved to Greek ethnic dance and loved traditional dance shows at Greek Festivals he attended around the Midwest & Canada, and later watching on video after he was too ill for big travel.  But, Gus always believed in exercise.  And, did a workout routine each day.  Even until the end.  Gus rode a NuStep recumbent bike for 45-minutes daily.  Gus was practical + wise.  In life, Gus did what he had to do, when he had to do it.  He took responsibility seriously.  Gus has gratitude for those who helped him by giving opportunity so he had a place to do the work to bear the true fruit of opportunity.  Gus lived thankful for what he had, never concerned for what he didn’t have; enjoying the journey!  And, Gus did not let past horrors get in the way of his present or future.  Gus was happy, he smiled, was full of energy and loved life and his family fully!  Gus’ family + friends will miss him.  But they know, through faith, they will one day be reunited in the next world of much joy.  Just as Gus had faith getting from war-torn Greece to America – his first new world to love – we believe Gus journeys to his next new world: Paradise.  He died knowing his family’s deep love for him.

Gus is survived by his wife, Connie Kavalaris and his son, Jim Kavalaris.  He was preceded in death by his sister Athanasia Goutis. The funeral service is at 11:30 a.m. Friday, January 27, 2023, at Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church, 1701 E. Saginaw St., Lansing, MI.  Interment follows in Deepdale Memorial Gardens.  His family will receive friends at Estes-Leadley Greater Lansing Chapel from 5:00 to 7:30 p.m. Thursday, with a Trisagion service at 7:30 p.m.  In lieu of flowers, memorial contributions can be made to Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church in memory of Gus Kavalaris. Online condolences to family may be left at  From the traditional Greek: May his memory be eternal!

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18 Messages to “Gus J. Kavalaris

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Electra Nicolaou
January 24, 2023 at 10:33 am

My deepest sympathies goes out to the family. We all loved Gus very much.
May his memory be eternal.
Nicolas Georgiou and Peter and Electra Nicolaou.

Patricia Willard
January 24, 2023 at 2:51 pm

Dear Connie and Jim,

We are so very sorry for your loss and the loss to our church. I can’t ever recall having a conversation with Gus where I didn’t learn something new. His knowledge was vast and he was always supportive and willing to share and enlighten during our chats. I loved when he addressed me as “my buddy Patricia”. Several weeks before his stroke he called me to discuss ideas to improve services at our church – he was constantly thinking of others. I will always remember Gus as a man of wisdom, kindness, enormous love for his family & church and greatly respected by all that knew him. I smile when I recall the stories and quotes that he shared from his grandfather when Gus was a young boy – it is obvious that his wisdom was genetic!

Our love and prayers will be with you all on Friday for his funeral and in the days to follow. May his memory be eternal.

Love, Pat and Steve Willard

Patricia McKouen
January 24, 2023 at 5:59 pm

Connie and Jim,
I am so sorry for your loss. My parents were so fortunate to have your family as neighbors for so many years. My father always enjoyed the chats he had with Gus. I, too, found Gus kind and very caring. You both are in my thoughts and prayers.
Patricia McKouen

Michael Karagoulis
January 25, 2023 at 8:30 am

Gus was a fantastic older “brother” and mentor to me. I was initially drawn to him decades ago because of my involvement with church maintenance. As fellow project engineers we always clicked on any technical issue. He often realigned my thinking based on his vast experience, and I quickly grew to trust his word. In roughly forty years he never steered me in the wrong direction. Thus, his input continued to influence projects at church well after his direct involvement was less visible to most people. He was even coaching me last year about do’s and don’ts relative to concrete work for our big circle drive makeover.
He was also the go-to guy for anything related to our building architecture and original construction; he was there, calling balls and strikes. He explained to me the back story about our wood beam roof structure and even where the wood came from (Oregon) and how the very long beams were transported to Lansing (by rail). He also informed me about the function and location of each of the buried tension bars that keep our roof standing.
I cannot say enough good things about Gus my older brother in the Lord. I hope there is a special place in Heaven for those who tend to His House here on earth.
May he rest in peace.

Julie Carmichael
January 25, 2023 at 9:09 am

Dear Connie and Jim,

My sincere condolences to you both! All 3 of you were treasured as dental patients! Many stories and loving memories. Dawn , Carol and I remember the old days when we worked there, Gus will be remembered and honored well.

Diana M TAIT
January 25, 2023 at 9:42 am

Gus was one of the GOOD GUYS…worked with him at MDOT. Helped him down size a few items years ago when we sent them to be auctioned off. Sorry for your loss. Goodbyes are always the hardest thing to say…..

Sally Burke
January 25, 2023 at 10:14 am

We used to be next door neighbors. He spent lots of time retrieving our boys’ frisbees from his roof. Always did it with a smile.

Karen Tindall
January 25, 2023 at 3:09 pm

Dear Connie and Jim,
I’m so sorry to hear about Gus. I so enjoyed our chats at the MSU basketball games years ago. I have not had better seat partners since. My thoughts and prayers are with you.

Mike & Noha Tarazi
January 25, 2023 at 9:48 pm

Dear Connie $ Jim,
Our hearts and thoughts are with you during this time of Grieving . I Still remember Gus wisdom and sound engineering decisions when we worked together at Highway Department. He was always very gentle and kind. God Bless His Soul and God be with You.
With Deep Sympathy

Yvonne Evanoff-Joseph
January 26, 2023 at 12:41 pm

My deepest condolences. I will always remember Gus, with the fondest of thoughts. I always enjoyed our chats. He will be missed.

Jon Bauer
January 26, 2023 at 2:02 pm

What a great guy. I worked w/him on the river trail linking downtown Lansing w/MSU. I was w/the City and he w/the State of Michigan. The State developed the section of the trail that passed under 496 and 127 as this was State ROW. Quite a commitment on their part. Great guy to work with.

Jan Munk
January 26, 2023 at 8:20 pm

Dear Connie and Jim – Gus was an absolute joy. Conversations with him always brought a smile and the opportunity of learning a new bit of history (state, city, national, international, church – everything was of interest to Gus). You are in our prayers for comfort – may Gus’ memory be eternal.
Jan Munk

Jim Andros
January 27, 2023 at 9:48 am

Connie: Kathy and I want to share our condolences on the passing of Gus. His story made me reflect on my grandfather who walked daily from his house on Chestnut to downtown Lansing. In addition, our meetings with you and Gus would take me back to my experiences at “The Laundry”. God Bless Him.

Jim and Kathy.

Mena and Sostine Castriciano
January 27, 2023 at 9:52 am

Dear Connie and Jim,
Connie and Gus would always come into my bakery, he was always a sharp and intelligent man. He was always kind with a bright smile, and our thoughts and prayers are with you.

John Mitsios
January 27, 2023 at 11:45 am

Dear Connie and Jim,
My deepest condolences. May his memory be eternal.
John Mitsios

Aliki Kougios
January 27, 2023 at 12:53 pm

Jim I am so very sorry that you lost your dad. He’ll forever live on in your heart. God bless you and your family.

Charlie Semerly
January 27, 2023 at 7:56 pm

Mr. K was as good as a man can be.

Rodney Collins
January 30, 2023 at 3:53 pm

I worked for Gus at MDOT Local Services Division for several years. Gus was a great leader and was a pleasure to work for. He made me a better person. So very sorry he has passed.


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