FOUNDER: OKANAGAN SPORTS HALL OF FAME
Compiled and written by Ron Candy, Director/Curator, Vernon Museum
Nick Alexis was born in Victoria, B.C. on August 28th 1914. A few years prior, in 1907, Alexis’ father, Theodore Alexis, arrived in Victoria from Kymi, Greece. He worked as a labourer building sidewalks for the city. In 1909, Theodore saved up enough money to bring over his wife, Catherine, from Greece and set up a small confectionery and fruit stand business. The couple had three children: Mary, Nick and John. Mary, born in 1913, was the oldest with Nick and John following in the next two years. When they were old enough, all three children worked in the family business.
Meanwhile, another Greek immigrant, Constantine Elias “Gus” Haros, who came to Victoria and established a business there sometime prior to 1914, decided in 1921 to expand his business holdings and traveled through the interior of the province looking for new opportunities. He settled on Vernon and in that same year established Haros’ Kandy Kitchen on Tronson Street or what is now the 3000 block of 31st Avenue. A short time later, he opened the Palace of Sweets on Barnard Ave. (30th Avenue). The Kandy Kitchen burned down in 1924. Fortunately, Haros was able to continue operating through the shop on Barnard. In 1925, Haros and another business partner, George Mellos, opened the National Café. Over the following years, their business ventures prospered. By 1927, they were able to construct an entirely new building to house the café on Barnard Avenue.
In 1929, Haros was joined by his brother John, who came up from Victoria, and two other investors, Tom “Curly” Pulos and Len Tsintillos. John Haros had been good friends with Theodore Alexis while he was in Victoria and knew all his children well. When John returned to Victoria for a visit in 1931, he offered Nick Alexis, now sixteen years of age, a job at the National Café back in Vernon. Nick accepted and in matter of days was on his way to the Okanagan. His first job at the café was washing dishes.
Despite the Depression, Vernon was a busy transportation hub with passenger and freight trains arriving and departing daily along with the steamers and barges at nearby Okanagan Landing. All this traffic kept the National Café and Ice Cream Parlour open 24-hours a day serving breakfast, lunch and dinner along with a full array of soda fountain treats. Consequently, Nick worked long hours at the café and learned all aspects of the restaurant business. After a year, Haros was so impressed with Nick’s work ethic he moved him down the street a couple of blocks to his other business: the Kandy Kitchen.
The Kandy Kitchen served everything from hand dipped chocolates to a variety of confectionery items. The shop was particularly popular during holiday seasons. It was in this environment that Nick Alexis formed deep friendships with many of the younger members of the community; friendships that gave Nick insight into some of their needs; in particular, organized sports activities. Nick had always been a sports enthusiast and in the need for sports activities in the community, Nick also saw a business opportunity: team sponsorship. About the same time Nick was formulating his plans for supporting local sports groups, he became a business partner with Gus Haros. This was the opening Nick was looking for. In 1934, with the support of his new business associates, Nick put together an amateur softball team known as the National Aces. By 1938 the team adopted the name Nick’s Aces. The undertaking was so well received that the moniker “Nick’s Aces” soon attached itself to basketball as well. In 1975, former Vernon Mayor, Stuart Fleming, later wrote…
“Sponsorship by businesses within the community was essential or sports programs died. With the National Aces, because of Nick; a new dimension was added. Complete participation.”
In 1939, Nick purchased John Haros’ share in the National Café and Kandy Kitchen. By 1941, the Kandy Kitchen was being advertised as Nick’s National Kandy Kitchen. The shop was and continued to be the centre of activity for the community. With the outbreak of World War II, Nick attempted to enlist but was turned down for medical reasons. Meanwhile, Gus Haros sold his shares in the company to Jeff Hurmuses, a recent arrival to Vernon from Kamloops.
The war years brought thousands of men and women to train at the Vernon Army Camp and the Battle Drill School. The National Café and Kandy Kitchen were busier than ever and Nick, along with his business partners, continued to support local sports groups. With work and community activities demanding a lot from him, personal time for Nick was rare. Nevertheless, he got around to getting married.
In 1923, Gus Haros had married a local girl, Bertha Wernicke. They had two daughters, Helen and Irene. When Nick arrived in Vernon in 1931, the Haros family took Nick in and treated him like one of their own. Years later, in July of 1944, Nick and Helen married. Two children, Nick Jr. and Margaret, soon followed.
In 1946, Nick and business partners Fred Gaven, Tom Pulos and Gus Haros started a company called Vernon Homes Ltd. and became involved in a 150 acre housing development in an area known as Mission Hill just south of the city. Right after the war, new housing was piquing in interest as returning veterans and peacetime optimism encouraged people to settle down and raise families. Vernon Homes developed the property on Mission Hill in co-ordination with the city’s plans for new infrastructure and as housing needs emerged. Early in the development, Vernon Homes gave four acres to the local school board which later became the site of Mission Hill Elementary School. An additional eight acres was given to the city for the creation of Mission Hill Park in 1974. That same year, former Vernon Mayor Stuart Fleming wrote…
“Civic employees, responding to Nick’s initiative, made and donated all the equipment necessary to create a children’s playground at this site.”
After the war, Nick’s involvement with organized sports in the community continued to expand along with the number of outdoor teams. It was soon becoming apparent that there wasn’t enough playground space to accommodate everyone. Thus, in 1954, Nick negotiated to purchase four acres of land just off Old Kamloops Road on the edge of the city with the intention of creating a ballpark. Support for the plan quickly came from ball players, the local fire department and other community members who rallied and built viewing stands and fences with materials from lumber donated by a mill in Lumby. In 1965, Nick sold the property to the City of Vernon for a nominal fee with the condition that the land would only be used for recreational purposes and the name Alexis would be used for the park in perpetuity. City officials agreed and the land was quickly dubbed Alexis Park and the portion of Old Kamloops Road that ran alongside was re-named Alexis Park Drive.
In 1972, Nick and Helen attended the official opening of a new elementary school just around the corner from Alexis Park. The new school had been aptly named, Alexis Park Elementary School, in honour of Nick.
By the early 1960’s Helen joined Nick in the operation of the Kandy Kitchen and the shop continued to be a popular meeting place in town. In a 1999 newspaper interview, Nick and Helen’s daughter, Margaret, relayed her memories of the Kandy Kitchen when she worked there as a 12-year old and said…
“The store was long and narrow, and dad was at the front. Dad ran the cash register and talked. People would stand at the counter with their foot on the rail. Mom and Gran would go to the farms and get fresh eggs and cream and you could not get in there at lunch time. All the action was on the main street. This was before the malls.”
“We made our own creams and dipped them in chocolate,” said Helen Alexis. “Nick did not make the candy, but he was our best customer.”
In 1975, Nick and Helen decided to retire and the Kandy Kitchen shut its doors a few years later. But, Nick’s involvement in the community wasn’t to end with retirement. On June 26th 1975, the City of Vernon conferred upon Nick the Freedom of the City in recognition for his outstanding role in the life of the community. Soon after this honour, Nick became an active member on the Vernon Jubilee Hospital Board, a director of the O’Keefe ranch and Interior Heritage Society and he began formulating his plans for a future Okanagan Sports Hall of Fame.
Nick’s dream for a Hall of Fame in Vernon had been percolating in his mind for a number of years. He got the ball rolling in 1979 when he approached Vernon City Council for space in Cenotaph Park for the installation of an outdoor Sports Hall of Fame. At the same time, Nick sent inquiries to the Western Canada Lottery Foundation investigating funding possibilities for constructing outdoor display cases for the project. After an exchange of letters between Nick and city officials, Vernon City Council, at a regular council meeting on October 2nd 1979, approved a motion for Nick to make application to the Lottery Foundation for “sufficient funds to construct an Okanagan Sports Hall of Fame on lands owned by the Corporation of the City of Vernon and commonly referred to as Cenotaph Park.” The city also agreed to maintain the facility once it was built and to cover electrical usage costs associated with any lighting on an ongoing basis.
After considerable letter writing to the Lottery Foundation and mustering continued support from the City of Vernon, individuals and businesses, the Lottery Foundation came through with a grant of $45,000.00 for the project. Additional funds were raised by local sports clubs and Nick, himself, put in $25,000.00. The Okanagan Sports Hall of Fame officially opened on Sunday, August 1st, 1982 with much fanfare.
The Directors of the Hall of Fame at the time it opened were Earl Quesnel, Bob Hall, Don Kendall, Clare Irish, Art Horsley, Jim Yount, Nick Alexis and Chris Nelson as Chairman. Guest speaker at the event was National Hockey League Hall of Fame inductee, Babe Pratt. About 200 guests attended a reception following the ceremony at the Vernon Lodge Hotel.
Nick went on to actively promote the Funtastic Mixed Slow Pitch Tournament. The first tournament took place in 1985 with 55 teams participating. Now an annual event, the Vernon and District Funtastic Sports Society has over 500 volunteers and 120 local business partners. Since its inception, the society has directly contributed over $1.3 million to the community in support of numerous sport related projects and improvements.
Nick Alexis died on February 6th, 1990 at the age of 75. On January 29th, 1991 Helen and Nick Alexis were named the Vernon and District Chamber of Commerce’s Citizens of the Year for 1990. Helen received the award from a contingent of chamber, city and Vernon Winter Carnival representatives at a surprise luncheon. Chamber president, Dave Hodge, said at the ceremony…
“When it comes to defining a good corporate citizen, Nick and Helen Alexis are to Vernon what many businesses, small or large, can only strive to be. But it was their behind-the-scenes, unselfish contribution to the well being of this community that made Nick and Helen both so deserving of this unique award.”