Greek Orthodox heritage in Spokane: Father Nicholas J. Velis was instrumental in fostering its growth and longevity. He was also the one who pushed for an eternal resting ground for the community of believers - the Holy Trinity Lawn at Riverside Memorial Park.
The Greek community in Spokane dates back to at least 1889. Like immigrants from China and Japan, many of the early immigrants from Greece labored for the railroads before they were able to settle down and open their own businesses, namely coffee houses. As the Greek community grew in Spokane, some immigrants, such as John Kakakes and James Papantone, helped plan for a church and the arrival of a priest. The Greek Orthodox Church began in 1932 as an outgrowth of the coffee houses, and served as a social gathering place to bolster Greek heritage.
When Father Velis arrived in 1959, he continued to foster the religious and cultural traditions of the local church, but also worked tirelessly to draw converts to Orthodoxy through his philosophy of unity, love, and understanding. In fact, Velis is quoted as saying, "all citizens are part of my parish." During his 25-year tenure at Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church, the congregation grew to include converts to Orthodoxy, along with Orthodox Christians from Russia, Ukraine, Lebanon, and other Eastern European nations.
But the Church wasn't the only place where Velis served. He was a member of the American Hellenic Educational Progressive Association, which serves to "promote Hellenism, education, philanthropy, civic responsibility, and family and individual excellence." He was also a member of the Spokane Rotary, the Masonic Lodge, and the Children's Home Society. Additionally, Velis served on several charitable committees such as United Way and the sheltered workshop for disabled persons and, upon retirement in 1984, worked with troubled youth.
Before his passing in 1992, Father Velis was instrumental in securing a place for his parishioners to rest eternally. Near the Riverside Mausoleum there is a section called the "Holy Trinity Lawn" where several Greek-Americans are buried, and a memorial to the Reverend Velis stands. Ironically, Velis and his wife, Frances, are interred at Mt. Olivet Cemetery in Salt Lake City, where he grew up and went to college.