In Memoriam: Demetrios Liappas

It is with great sadness we announce the passing of Demetrios Liappas on Sunday, February 20th, 2022.

The Director of the Basil P. Caloyeras Center for Modern Greek Studies from the inception of the program in 1980 till his retirement in 2015, Demetrios worked tirelessly for the promotion of Hellenism at the University and the Greek-American community of Southern California.

An educator, a mentor, an activist, and a dear friend to many, Demetrios was a true Hellene. His ethos, kindness, generosity of heart, and modesty about his many achievements were unparalleled.

Demetrios was a proud Macedonian. Born in Nestorio, near Kastoria in northern Greece, his childhood was marred by the troubles of the Nazi Occupation and the Civil War. Raised in Thessaloniki, Demetrios was a sea scout and a soccer player who was recruited for the youth team of the professional soccer club, Axios.

His life changed forever when at the age of 18, he and his family immigrated to Cleveland, Ohio. Demetrios’ new life began in the US with his typical industry and intelligence. He studied mathematics, at Case Western Institute of Technology, Western Reserve University, and Ohio State University. As a young professional, Demetrios was in the forefront of the new field of computer science. He was an expert with the Atomic Energy Commission and a computer systems analyst for the most prestigious companies of the day, including Honeywell and General Electric. After a year of working in Athens for a GE subsidiary, his career path brought him to Southern California in 1968.

In 1973, Demetrios heard about a lecture on Modern Greek Poetry at Loyola Marymount University, and he fatefully decided to attend. There he met the charismatic Distinguished Professor of Humanities, Hugh Gray, a brilliant scholar, film aesthetician, screenwriter and lecturer, whose vision was to establish a Center of Modern Greek Studies. With the support of many involved community members and the enthusiasm and generosity of Peter Caloyeras and the Caloyeras family, in 1974 the Basil P. Caloyeras Center for Modern Greek Studies was founded at LMU. Demetrios offered the first language course while teaching computer science courses.

In 1980 Demetrios became the Director of the Caloyeras Center. Under his guidance lecturers of international reputation visited the LMU campus. Kimon Friar, the famous translator of Modern Greek Poetry, Eleni Samiou Kazantzakis, widow of Nikos Kazantzakis, and Nicholas Gage, the well-known journalist, historian and author of Eleni were some of those early guest lecturers. Courses in Greek Orthodoxy, history, and literature enriched the curriculum soon after. Demetrios gradually invited performing artists like the dancer and choreographer Athan Karas to teach at the Center and organized art and photographic exhibits, poetry readings and movies screenings, alongside the ongoing instructional program in the Greek language.

Demetrios’ vision for the Center was realized in partnership with other organizations such as the Greek Heritage Society, the Hellenic University Club of Southern California, and the American Hellenic Council to which all Demetrios was a founding member. The Caloyeras Center for Modern Greek Studies became a focal point for the intellectual and cultural life of the Greek American community in Southern California.

In 1996, Demetrios led the effort to establish a Minor Degree in Modern Greek Studies and make the program part of the Core Curriculum of LMU. Under his direction, the Center grew to offer twelve to eighteen courses annually. With the help of many generous benefactors, Demetrios raised money for many student scholarships and academic awards for study at LMU and at the Odyssey Study Abroad Program in Greece, one of his proudest achievements as Director of the Center. The Odyssey Program has brought hundreds of students to Greece for a month-long intensive academic and cultural experience. In 2009, Demetrios served as the interim director of the Michael Huffington Institute at LMU. Since his retirement in 2015, Demetrios remained a part-time instructor and generous consultant.

Outside his activities at the Caloyeras Center, Demetrios was an ardent supporter and advocate for Greek political causes. In 1974, in the aftermath of the Turkish invasion of Cyprus, together with the Honorable Andreas Kyprianides, Honorary Consul General of Cyprus, Aris Anagnos, Ted Polychronis and Jim Dimitriou, Demetrios became one of the founders of the Save Cyprus Council which has evolved into the dynamic and respected political action group, The American Hellenic Council in 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, Zoyë Fiddler, the founder of the Greek Heritage Society.

Demetrios is survived by his loving wife, LMU Professor Emeritus Katharine B. Free, 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. 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.

Thanks to a leadership gift made by Demetrios’ family in his memory, the Center is delighted to initiate the Demetrios Liappas Legacy Fund; an endowed fund that will honor Demetrios’ many contributions to the Center, the university, and our community.

 The fund will provide support for a much-needed professorship for the Caloyeras Center. This position will allow the Center to support its multidisciplinary programmatic offerings and provide our students the opportunity to expand their knowledge about Greece in a number of new academic perspectives.

 We hope we can count on your support to reach our target goal of raising $1 million to seed this endowment in perpetuity. You can make a contribution here.

May he rest in eternal peace!