John A. Papadimos, a longtime restaurateur who gave up a business in his native Greece to marry a Toledo woman he'd only written to, died Tuesday in Ebeid Hospice Residence, Sylvania, from complications of congestive heart failure and renal failure. He was 93.
Mr. Papadimos, formerly of West Toledo, fulfilled his all-American dream of owning a business when, about 1960, he bought a place on Laskey Road called the Chuck Wagon -- a former street car clad in silver siding, diner-style, with 17 stools and a few booths. A fire in the late 1960s led to a rebuilding, and the diner became the Branding Iron restaurant and lounge. Both featured Greek and American food as well as pizza, a specialty his wife, Helen, was known for.
"He ended up cooking a lot of food and tending bar," his son Tom said. Members of the Greek-American community gathered there -- locals and immigrants, left and right, and discussed and argued politics.
"They all got along marvelously together," his son said. "Because he was an immigrant, he couldn't believe how friendly Americans were. He was from a war-torn country. [In the United States], people were free to say what they wanted and could criticize their government. That was the biggest thing that made him happy. He could speak freely and vote without harassment. He never took that for granted."
He and his wife sold the business and retired in 1987.
He was born June 3, 1917, and named Ioannis, which is Greek for John. He had put together an insurance company when he was called to military service. Over a period of 10 years, he was recalled to active duty four times.
During World War II, he was shot at and dive-bombed by German forces. He was taken prisoner by Italian forces. After World War II, civil war erupted in Greece, and his skills as a communications expert were sought by royalists and communists alike. "He got through that conflict and resolved to come to the United States," his son said.
Through cousins in Detroit and Chicago, he and Helen Boudouris of Toledo began a correspondence that lasted more than a year. He left his insurance company behind to come to Windsor, Ont., where the couple married on Oct. 20, 1950.
The couple settled in Toledo. He had factory jobs at first, but was involved in the community nearly from the start. His wife had signed him up for the International Institute of Toledo, where a decade later he would become a member of the board of directors and later a member of the executive committee. He helped start the Greek booth at the institute's 1958 international festival in the Naval Armory building at Bayview Park and helped when the festival moved to the Toledo Sports Arena. He also supported the start of the annual Greek-American festival at what is now Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Cathedral, where he was a member. He was a past president of the parish council and a past president of the American Hellenic Educational Progressive Association.
"He was very loved and respected in the community," said the Rev. Chris Hadgigeorge, Holy Trinity pastor emeritus.
He emphasized education for his sons. Tom is on the medical faculty of Ohio State University. Peter is vice president and general counsel of the University of Toledo. Steven is chief of the civil division for the Lucas County Prosecutor's Office.
Mr. Papadimos' wife died on March 15, 2003. Surviving are their sons, Dr. Thomas, Peter, and Steven, and five grandchildren.
Visitation will be from 2 to 9 p.m. Thursday in the Walker Funeral Home, with Trisagion services at 7:30 p.m. His funeral will be at 10 a.m. Friday in Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Cathedral. The family suggests tributes to the cathedral's memorial fund.
Contact Mark Zaborney at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6182.
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