DAY TWO: BILL AND ELENI DAMAS
‘Rags to riches’ does not necessarily describe the upward trajectory of Bill Damas’ life, from birth in a 12 X 12 stone house—today used to raise rabbits—to the owner of DS Properties, which operates and manages in excess of 1.5 million square feet of commercial properties in Southeast Michigan. Damas did not own a pair of shoes until he was twelve years old: he comes from an income level too poor even to buy rags.
It was the economic reality of post-war Crete. Born in 1948, in the height of the ‘reconstruction’ following the devastating Nazi invasion of 1941 (and subsequent occupation), Damas existed in a Crete struggling back to its feet. His father desperately sought work, but merely joined the tens of thousands of Cretans under similar duress, and found piecemeal jobs, some paying less than a dollar per day, only several times a month.
Damas grew in a loving family, with seven brothers and sisters and devoted parents (Kyriakos and Maria, whose grtavesite we would visit later in the day), but soon realized that his destiny—a better economic future—was outside of Crete, and by seventeen, he had left for America. A full accounting of that amazing journey is recounted elsewhere on this web site.
Among what he has given back to Veni is the church of St. Theodori, which he not only bankrolled, but physically helped built. The original was destroyed in the War… not by the Nazis, but by the Turks in World War I.
The amazing home that Damas has built in Veni—five thousand square feet, custom through and through with an Olympic-depth swimming pool, rare Cretan onyx floors, and fitted with as much American accessories as he could ship over (in respect for his adopted country, which he credits for having made this all possible), is a landmark. It is visible from the thick-walled house, consisting of a single room equipped with a fireplace that was unusable throughout much of the Cretan year due to the heat, in which he was born and raised. He points out the brown tamarind pods which often fed his family in the leanest times, a legume that was otherwise fed to pigs. The tamarind tree which provided this desperate bounty still shades his ancestral home, which his father sold for three dollars.
Between this and the home he now occupies in Veni lies a contrast is so striking that the accompanying photographs (rather than words) should be your reference.
Beyond the workmanship, however, lies the gardens—the true soul of a Cretan. Damas and Eleni, along with their nephew Miro, tend an all-inclusive agricultural project; pears, apples, grapes, olives and the myriad of fresh produce that make up the legendary Cretan diet, reputed to be the healthiest in the world. It is here, among the vines and suckers, the roots and leaves, that Bill Damas—who spends a scant month and a half a year here due to business concerns—seems most content. Likewise, family, not possessions, is the motivation that makes Eleni smile. As a result, beyond the small levels of petty jealousy his estate may inspire in a few of his less motivated neighbors, the town of Veni welcomes and embraces the return of their favorite ‘local boy made good’. It’s impossible to move through Veni or other nearby towns without a dozen stops to meet and greet friends and relatives who are delighted to be associated with the magnanimous developer… the prodigal son returned.