Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Remembering Pete Chalos

Hear it now:

Mitch Chalos talked about his uncle, Pete Chalos, in an interview with Frank Phillips recorded Monday.
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When 14-year-old John Chalos lost his train ticket in Terre Haute, he was scared. He was bound for his uncle’s house in the State of Washington, far west of Indiana.
He had already traveled a long way from his native home in Vayia, Greece.
Instead of continuing his journey westward, the train left without John and he was stranded in Terre Haute.
A friendly sheriff’s deputy noticed the lanky teen and took him to an Italian family.
“Is this one of yours?” he asked.
He found a Greek family who owned a candy store.
“Is this one of yours?”
After a few minutes of conversation with the boy, the family nodded. Pete Chalos’ father, John Chalos, had found a new home.
That story was told by Pete’s nephew, Mitch Chalos, on Monday, a day after Pete Chalos’ death in Terre Haute’s Union Hospital. Pete was one of five children born to John and his wife, Katherine, many years after John was stranded in Terre Haute.
Today, Pete’s family and friends are laying him to rest at a funeral service in Cross Tabernacle Church.
If John hadn’t lost his train ticket, Pete might not have been born in Terre Haute 78 years ago — or taught at Van Buren High School — or became mayor of Terre Haute and that would have been a shame by all accounts.
Pete was also a writer. In his book, “Growing Up in Terre Haute,” he told about selling Sunday newspapers at a little stand and shining shoes the rest of the week at the corner of Seventh and Wabash in Terre Haute. But life was not all work.
Young Pete also learned to appreciate the joys of reading about the family’s native Greek culture and mythology in a nearby public library. The library also had a stereoscope. Better than today’s DVDs, the stereoscope allowed the viewer to see photos in 3-D! The stereoscope was a favorite among children.
Pete’s father, John, was proud to be an American, but he maintained close ties with the old country, too.
In the late 1930s, Pete, his mother, Katherine, and siblings were visiting Greece.
“Our visit to Greece ended rather suddenly,” Pete wrote in “Growing Up in Terre Haute. “We arrived in Greece the summer of 1937 and we were going to come back in late 1939.
“In early August, our family told us, ‘Leave as fast as you can.’ Dad had left earlier to get housing ready for us. We were on the Italian ship, the Saturnia, and arrived in Terre Haute on Aug. 28. My brothers and I were selling newspapers on the street a week later.
“I’ll always remember Sept. 2, 1939, because the events of that day changed me forever.”
Pete was 12 years old.
It is ironic that Pete was almost the same age when the family fled Greece as John was when he became stranded in Terre Haute; difficult, though different circumstances for the Chaloses.
When the 1930s brought war to Europe, Pete decided he wanted to serve his country. Soon after America entered World War II, he joined the Navy.
Mitch Chalos remembers “Uncle Pete” as a mentor. Pete married later in life, so when Mitch was a child, Pete would take him to basketball games and practices at Van Buren High School. Sometimes, he let Mitch play baseball with the high school team, though Mitch was only in the sixth grade.
“It doesn’t get any better than that,” Mitch said.
When Mitch was 16, Pete planned a trip to Greece.
“Go with me, Mitch,” he invited.
“No, Uncle Pete, I’m 16 and I’m getting my driver’s license!” was the boy’s response.
Mitch, now 54, laughed as he thought about turning down a six-week trip to Greece with his favorite uncle just because he would have to postpone getting his driver’s license.
What did Pete’s life mean to the community? Mitch summed it up in three words: statesmanship, ministry and service.
It was these ideals that prompted Pete to run for public office.
While campaigning, a voter asked Pete, “Why should I vote for you?”
“I’m a hard worker,” Pete replied.
“So is my janitor. Now give me a good reason.”
That conversation made Pete re-evaluate why he was seeking public office. It helped hone his decision to serve and look at his service as a ministry.
By all accounts, Terre Haute became a better place to live and work under Pete’s administration.
In 1961, the Saturday Evening Post declared Terre Haute, “Indiana’s Delinquent City.”
The Associated Press national wire carried Pete Chalos’ obituary Tuesday.
“Terre Haute not only was one of the last cities in America to have a red-light district, it was also home to an international gambling syndicate. Terre Haute began to shake off its old reputation under Chalos’ administration,” the AP reported.
Looking back on 16 years as mayor of Terre Haute, Pete published his book, “Mayor” in 2004.
Not only does that volume point out the derogatory way the Saturday Evening Post described Terre Haute in 1961, but Chalos reported improvements noted by other national publications.
“In 1989 ‘INC.’ magazine called Terre Haute a ‘hot spot for development,’” he wrote. “Their March 1990 issue listed Terre Haute as the 190th most entrepreneurial city in the United States. In 1991 they listed Terre Haute as ‘the 5th best city in the nation relative to rapidly growing industry. The September 1991 issue of ‘Money’ magazine ranked Terre Haute as the 70th best place to live in America.”
Pete’s book, “Mayor,” received a glowing review from the United States Conference of Mayors.
“The literature and guides for newly elected local officials in the United States can be considered woefully inadequate. ... The book is must reading for aspiring mayors” were among the comments made in the review. But it was not Pete’s travels or honors that made him happy, it was his family, as he told Mitch in one of their last visits.
“And, at the end, Uncle Pete wasn’t surrounded by mementos. It was his family who were with him,” Mitch remembers.
Pete Chalos was not loved unconditionally by everyone; he had political opponents. But history is already remembering him as a man who made a positive difference in Indiana and the world.

On the Web:
United States Conference of Mayors’ book review: