In 1991, in the middle of my freshman year of high school, I moved from Karns, Tennessee to Wellington, Florida. Although I didn’t fully realize it at the time, it most certainly was a culture shock coming from a moderately rural community to a growing suburb of West Palm Beach. When I was growing up we only had one African American kid that I can remember in the entire middle school. I only remember him not really because he was black but because he could do this neat trick of folding up his ear and stuffing it into his ear canal….kids…. Anyhow, when I hit Wellington all that changed. Not only did the high school have several thousand more people in it than my previous school, there were many many different cultures and backgrounds being represented. Not only was I being exposed to different cultures in school but I also got to learn about different cultures from the Greek folks right next door.
Our next door neighbors, Mike and Dena Michael, served as quasi grandparents during the long stretches between seeing my actual grandparents. I was extremely fortunate to have both sets of grandparents around into my early 20s… Mike was an avid photographer and even had his own darkroom in the house. As I was studying photography in high school and would eventually earn a BFA in photography, I wound up spending many days over at their house working on my photography printing skills and eating Greek cookies (if it was festival time).
As the years passed, I found myself living back in South Florida with all of my immediate family having moved back to the south in the TN/AL area (and yes, I wrote that correctly). With no “official” family nearby, the Michael’s residence was a regular stop if for nothing more than to check up on them and socialize for a few hours. During these visits, and especially in the later years of his life, Mike would share stories about his travels from overseas to New York and then working around the United States with Dena providing supportive narratives.
To me, Mike and Dena’s story is a classical immigrant success story. They came to this country, built a life for themselves, raised a family and contributed heavily to the overall success of the United States in significant and meaningful ways. To their dying days, Mike and Dena never lost sight of how fortunate they were to be living in this country. Many of the last conversations I had with Mike followed the pattern of me asking how he was and him raising his hands to say “how could he not be good living in this country”.
Mike passed away Monday after waiting around several years to follow his wife Dena who had gone before him. I’m glad he’s finally free of the terrible loneliness he was feeling and thankful I was provided the opportunity to know him and Dena and their story. I’ll miss those reminders of how good I really have it.
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Constantine Z. (Mike) Michael, of Wellington, FL and Syosset, NY passed away after a long illness on February 23rd, 2015. Born in Ismailia, Egypt, he was 95 years old. He is survived by his son Nicholas Michael of Bedford, MA and his daughter Maria Michael of Pleasant Hill, CA. He is also survived by his daughter-in-law, Jane Turner Michael and his grandchildren Elyssa, Adam, and Christopher Michael and Ephthalia and Florian Schwarzinger Michael. Mike was the first-born son of Eleni (Helen) Thomas Michael of Kephalonia, Greece and her husband, Zinon Michael a British subject and citizen of Cyprus. Constantine immigrated to the United States on the Isle de France with his mother in 1930, coming through Ellis Island, to join his father, who had previously attained his US citizenship. They subsequently settled in Hell’s Kitchen, New York City, NY.
In 1939, after graduating from Harren High School in 1938, where he studied avionics, Constantine worked for Grumman Aircraft (1939 – 1942) where he was involved with the designs of the F4F Hellcat, the F6F Wildcat and the TBF Avenger, all of which saw action for the Navy in World War II. He also worked at the US Naval Air Station at Roosevelt Field on Long Island, NY, (1943) before trying to enlist in the US Army Air Force (eye sight issues).
Mr. Michael subsequently went on to serve in the U.S. Army during World War II in the Signal Corps between December 4th 1943 and May 9th, 1946. Following the war, he resumed his education at New York University (at night) earning a Bachelor of Science degree in Aeronautical Engineering in June of 1954, while simultaneously beginning a career as an aeronautical engineer with Republic Aviation Corp., a defense manufacturer in Farmingdale, NY which spanned nearly four decades. During his tenure at Republic he served in a variety of engineering and management positions on the following aircraft for the US Air Force: F-84 Thunderjet, the F-105 Thunderchief and the A-10 Thunderbolt (Warthog). He was also involved with Republic’s sub contract work on the Boeing 747 and with Grumman’s Apollo Lunar Landing Vehicles. He retired from Fairchild/Republic on January 1st, 1982.
Constantine Michael was a long-time and devoted member of St. Catherine’s Greek Orthodox Church in West Palm Beach, FL and of St. Paul’s Greek Orthodox Cathedral in Hempstead, NY. He served enthusiastically as President of the Parish Council at both churches. He also served on the boards of several church and community related organizations such as the Festival Committee, the Greek (Youth) School Committee and the Boy Scout Troop 568 in Hempstead, NY.
Age 92, of Wellington, FL and Syosset, NY passed away after a long illness on November 5, 2012. She is survived by her loving husband of 68 years, Constantine Z. “Mike” Michael; her son, Nicholas Michael of Bedford, MA and her daughter, Maria Michael of Dix Hills, NY. She is also survived by her daughter-in-law, Jane Turner Michael and her grandchildren, Elyssa, Adam, and Christopher Michael and Ephthalia and Florian Schwarzinger Michael. Dena was the first-born daughter of Ephthalia (Danatos) Zepatos and Gerassimos “Jerry” Zepatos of Kefalonia, Greece. Dena Michael was a long-time and devoted member of St. Catherine’s Greek Orthodox Church in West Palm Beach, FL and of St. Paul’s Greek Orthodox Cathedral in Hempstead, NY. She served enthusiastically as President of the Choir at both churches, was as an active member of the Philoptochos of St. Catherine’s and served as Secretary of St. Anna’s Philoptochos at St. Paul’s for several terms. A fellow choir member said “It is difficult to find words to describe how much she was loved by everyone who knew her.” In her youth, Dena Michael sang with the famed Greek music instructor and choral leader, Nikos Roubanis, composer and arranger of the Middle Eastern song Misirlou. She also danced with a Greek folk group for Mrs. Eleanor Roosevelt and at the 1939 World’s Fair in New York City.