Champion of education, life-long local leader, family man

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CHELMSFORD – When the election season rolled around, Stratos Dukakis piled his young children into his station wagon, handed them brochures and leaflets and sent them running up to people’s doors to deliver political material.

It’s a memory that sticks out to his daughter, Thea Tully.

“He always had us involved and knowing the importance of doing your civic duty,” Tully said.

A Lowell native, US Navy veteran and lifelong education advocate, Dukakis died at 90 years old on June 13, leaving behind a big, loving family and a notable legacy. He was laid to rest at Pine Ridge Cemetery on Monday, June 20.

A former member of the Nashoba Valley Tech School Committee, Chelmsford Democratic Town Committee and the town’s Finance Committee, as well as a loyal parishioner at Lowell’s Transfiguration Greek Orthodox Church and local educator and engineer, Dukakis had a passionate hand in many sectors of the region .

But it was in education specifically where Dukakis showed the most love and dedication, instilling in each of his children its importance, Tully said. He earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in engineering and served in the Navy for two years before teaching at the Wentworth Institute in Boston and Armstrong College in Savannah, Ga.

Dukakis went on to lead the Montachusett Regional Vocational Technical School in Fitchburg as assistant superintendent for business affairs and then superintendent-director for a total of 26 years. There, Dukakis added eight communities to its district, as well as a sports complex, a science wing and a performing arts center now bearing his name. He also founded the Business Education Enrichment Fund for Monty Tech students. He retired in 2001, receiving an honoris causa honorary degree upon departure.

Helen Lepkowski of Gardner served on the Monty Tech School Committee, where she worked with Dukakis closely for about eight years. Lepkowski said she recalls just how much Dukakis cared for his school and students, and how his “compassionate” demeanor always shone through.

“He was special. When some people do a job, they just do a job, but for him, it was a calling, ”Lepkowski said. “He really, really loved Monty Tech and he did all he could to make it a better place.”

In a house of five women, Dukakis was “the king,” his youngest daughter, Mary Piper, said. Despite only having daughters, Dukakis still shared his love of Boston sports with them and enjoyed watching the Red Sox, the Patriots and the Celtics – notably the Larry Bird-era Celtics – as a family, Piper said.

The Dukakis family took many trips to Cape Cod – his favorite place – and traveled to Georgia to visit relatives.

Dukakis was also a “big gadget guy” and, as an engineer, liked to “tinker” with things, Piper said. Her dad had an early VCR and would tape her school performances with it.

“He would sit right in the front row, the only parent that I knew of that had a sound movie camera, and there he was taking movies of the orchestra and the chorus concerts all over the Byam School in Chelmsford,” Piper said. “I remember as a kid (being) like, ‘Oh my gosh, there’s my dad with a giant microphone.’”

Piper said her dad would sometimes pick her kids up for school and buy them ice cream from Sully’s. When she asked him why he would spoil their dinner, Dukakis said, “They’re my grandchildren, I’m gonna give them whatever they want.”

But life wasn’t always so easy for Dukakis when he was growing up in Lowell. He was the son of Greek immigrants during a tumultuous moment in American history, but still went on to graduate from Lowell High School, attend UMass Amherst and become an engineer. Throughout his childhood, Dukakis stayed true to his Greek roots – when his mother told him other boys named Stratos go by Charlie, Dukakis refused to change his name.

“He was really proud of being Greek and being a Greek from Lowell, Massachusetts,” Tully said. “He was born during the Great Depression and his parents were able to make it and do well. And to think that they went to college, that’s a big thing. ”

Michael Dukakis, former Massachusetts governor and US presidential candidate, was the first cousins ​​with Stratos Dukakis and remembers biking to Lowell to visit his family and playing touch football together, remarking that they were “very close as cousins.” As he became more involved with politics, Michael Dukakis said his cousin’s work in education inspired his agenda.

“We’ve got one of the best networks of high school-level vocational training in the country, and he was one of the leaders in that and had a lot to do with my getting interested in it,” he said. “All of us, kids of immigrants, and all of us went on to college and graduate school. It’s a great American story, it really is. ”

Sam Poulten worked with Stratos Dukakis on the Nashoba Tech School Committee and the Chelmsford Democratic Town Committee, the latter where Dukakis convinced him and other volunteers to campaign for his cousin running for president. Poulten said Dukakis was his mentor and was “a very opinionated man in the best kind of way.”

“They very often say, ‘They don’t make them like that anymore,’” Poulten said. “There are not too many Strat Dukakises that come your way, and now there’s one fewer.”

To honor his legacy, Dukakis’s family is establishing a scholarship in his name. Those seeking to memorialize his life can donate to the Monty Tech Foundation, c / o Katy Whitaker, 1050 Westminster St., Fitchburg, MA 01420.


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