Archived Story

Kairis’s commitment commendable

Published 10:45am Thursday, March 1, 2012

When I think of Jan Kairis, I’m going to remember the Aug. 22, 2010, rededication of  Southwestern Michigan College’s building named for her family.
At the time of the $3.2 million renovation and expansion of the 1968 A.C. Kairis Building, she had served 25 years on the SMC board, including secretary since 1991.
Not bad considering she was appointed to her husband Al’s seat in 1985.
Someone figured out she had attended some 850 meetings without pay.
That really put her commitment into perspective.
“It has been a privilege to have been part of the growth of SMC,” she said.
Jan, who died Feb. 23 at 91, met Al while teaching meteorology, navigation, aerodynamics and aircraft identification for the U.S. Air Force.
“Fortunately, we live in a community that values education and supports it,” she also said that sunny Sunday. “This rededication means a great deal to the Kairis family.”
Before SMC came along in 1964, 41 percent of the adult population in the college district had an eighth grade education.
I always enjoyed running into her.
She always asked after my mom.
I remember going to their house on Eagle Lake as a boy, when Al was still alive.
On Aug. 8, 1984, SMC dedicated the A.C. Kairis Aviation Complex.
He had been named to the Board of Trustees in 1967 following the death of founding trustee Fred Hayden of Cassopolis, another fellow I remember.
Not only was he my grandparents’ neighbor, but one of my dad’s best stories was about the time he flipped a car over in their yard.
Mention of Fred also reminds me of son Bob, whom I hear quite frequently in radio car commercials.
Al was born in Chicago in 1918 and moved to Edwardsburg with his family at 7 “during the early, dark days of the Depression,” according to SMC Board of Trustees Chairman Dr. Fred L. Mathews. “As a child, he saw his family’s home repossessed.”
Al graduated from Edwardsburg High School in 1937 and completed a two-year program at South Bend, Ind., Business College.
He then enrolled at the University of Notre Dame and studied aeronautical engineering.
When World War II broke out, Kairis joined the Army Air Corps and became the command pilot on a B-25 bomber in the Pacific Theater, flying numerous combat missions.
During his training, he met Jan, an instructor at the Mississippi Institute of Aeronautics.
They married on Sept. 18, 1943, in Columbus, Miss.
After the war, the Kairises moved back to Al’s hometown.
Al enrolled at Notre Dame law school and sold real estate nights and weekends to feed his family.
He had a natural knack for salesmanship, walked away from his last year of law school and entered real estate full-time.
Jan joined her husband as a real estate broker in 1974.
“Al told me there were houses on Eagle Lake he and Jan sold five times,” Mathews said. “Talk about customer loyalty.”
Credit Dick Weinman, vice president of Dowagiac Savings and Loan, for the fortuitous meeting which introduced the optometrist to the dynamic duo of real estate.
The Kairises headed up the successful November 1964 campaign in the Edwardsburg area that established SMC.
“Al had no peers as a salesman,” Mathews said. “Jan was the organizer.
In 1967, the year Al Kairis joined the board, two Van Buren County townships, Hamilton and Keeler, voted to attach themselves to SMC’s Cass County district.
Al Kairis, board treasurer 10 of his 17 years, died Nov. 21, 1984, at 66.

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