Growing up on the East Side, the Michelakis family would make their weekly Sunday walk to their church downtown past the then-Youngstown College.
On those walks, the dad, Evangelos, would make comments about the college to his kids — espousing the value and the permanency of education.
“It’s the best companion you could ever have,” he would say, recalls his youngest son, Harry.
Education was one of the pillars of success — key to the American dream that lured Angelo from his homeland of Greece.
So committed to making it in America, he even ensured the family name was more American than Greek so as to achieve, accomplish and succeed.
And he was Angelo Meshel.
Arriving in America in 1916 with his bride, Rubini, they found Youngstown and the East Side. Six children would follow — three boys and three girls.
George, Florence, Phillip, Mamie, Despina ... and Harry.
Harry Meshel has worn many hats at Youngstown State University. He was Angelo’s only child to attend college in the 1940s, becoming student council president. With a degree in business administration, he also was named “Best All Around Student for Four Years Award.”
In the 1960s, Harry was an adjunct professor. In the 1970s and 1980s, he was a fierce funder of the school through his power in state government. And in the 2000s, he became a member of the board of trustees.
But his most personal role may have been completed just this past fall. The eighth Meshel family member scholarship was created. Every member of Angelo and Rubini’s family has a role at YSU helping future students achieve the American dream. In all, it’s $210,000 in scholarships from Harry to the community in memory of his family.
“I always wanted to honor my father and mother. They came here, survived The Depression. With eight people in the family, we never missed a meal.”
Here’s how the list of scholarships reads, and with some of them, a tale:
Evangelos Michelakis Meshel Scholarship in Philosophy.
Evangelos Michelakis Meshel Scholarship in Greek or Ancient History: “My dad was like a philosopher to me, always sharing what life meant and what was most important.”
Rubini Michelakis Meshel Scholarship in Social Work: “My mom was a social worker without a degree. She helped everyone, including the poor who needed food. The poor must have had a marking system on our curb or something because they always found our house.”
George Meshel Scholarship in Studio Art: “He was a fabulous artist.”
Florence Meshel Zirounis Scholarship in Music Performance: “Flo just loved music and singing all the time.”
Despina Meshel Thomas Scholarship in Fashion Merchandising: “Dee always dressed so well. She was the fashion plate of the family.”
Phillip Meshel Scholarship in Computer Science: “He memorized the Social Security numbers of 200 employees for his work.”
Mamie Meshel Coutris Scholarship in Psychology: “She had a restaurant and nurtured a lot of the ladies there. She was like a mom to many.”
And the Senator Harry Meshel Scholarship in Jazz.
Of all the roles Harry has had at YSU, he values none more vital than the one he earned the most grief for.
“My most important role was when I was in the Legislature. I directed all sorts of funds to YSU. I got all kinds of hell for it. But I didn’t care,” said Meshel.
He hasn’t won every YSU victory. In the 1990s, he aspired to be president when the board eventually hired Les Cochran.
“I didn’t even get an interview,” Meshel said, saying the reason he was given was he did not have a doctorate. He cites the incident in a tone and with recall like he’s kept score all these years later. It might be on a list in his mind, but don’t doubt if he keeps a YSU list with him.
In his wallet is a list of every president YSU has ever had.
His chapters at YSU are as feisty as they are celebratory — just what you would expect from a family where all three sons saw combat action.
“I’m just not afraid to raise hell whenever I think it’s needed. I’ve been critical of the board, the presidents, whoever. I kicked the hell out of lots of governors. But they’re all my friends. Some accuse me of micromanaging. But my sincere role is just to make sure every one does their job.”
Doing what is required stems from his family.
He’s the only one who went to college because for the others, the family was broke and needed income. Harry, one of the youngest, also worked after returning from the war, and gave his dad the check. But they managed to have money for him to attend school while he worked in the mills.
Meshel turns 90 in June. While his parents are buried in Belmont Park Cemetery, he would gladly have had them buried on campus if there were such a patch there — so deep is his loyalty to campus.
And when his days are done?
“I would love to be one of them, too ... but I don’t think they’ll ever do that.”
Todd Franko is editor of The Vindicator. He likes emails about stories and our newspaper. Email him at email@example.com. He blogs, too, on Vindy.com. Tweet him, too, at @tfranko.