September 27, 2016

Utah Immigration Success Stories: The Greek Who Always Gives More

George Nicolatus’ work improving business in Utah

George Nicolatus

George Nicolatus

At age 23, in 1946 a young George S. Nicolatus walked into the Salt Lake City Chamber of Commerce and announced,“I want to make this city better than what it is now. What can I do for you?” That was the beginning of Nocolatus’ 46-year crusade to do just that.

The surprised silence that followed was broken by Executive Secretary Gus Backman, who walked up to the young man and took him out for lunch.

“I had no idea who he was,” recalls George. “He took me to the Hotel Utah, Seated me at a table where there were hundreds of people waiting there to start lunch. This man walks up to the head table, says a prayer, and introduces me to the crowd as the young man who was there to make Utah a better state.”

That was how George Nicolatus made his presence felt for the first time in Utah. Starting that day, George has served on every committee of Salt Lake County and has contributed in its every major development.

Born to very poor Greek immigrants, he has been a shoe-shine boy on the streets of Stamford, Connecticut who stole coal from the rail road to feed his family’s stove. From that abject poverty, through dedicated hard work and strength of character, George Nicolatus grew up to hold some high positions including the Senior Vice President of First Security Bank which later became Wells Fargo. George became Project Manager for the construction of the original Salt Palace, which is now Energy Solutions Arena. He was appointed co-chairman on the construction committee for Abravanel Hall.

Upon returning from India after serving in the Second World War, he decided to marry and settle down in Salt Lake City. The rest is history.

Serving the society has always been his top priority. His philosophy was clear, “A person has an obligation to society. You got to leave the community making it better than what it was when you were born in it. That’s the true worth of life.” Living by that standard, George always had people seeking him out and asking him to take on different responsibilities: Salt Lake County Sheriff merit commission officer, State President and National Vice President of Prevention of Blind, Trustee and officer of Salt Lake Holy Cross Hospital that’s now the Salt Lake Regional Hospital, Assistant Chairman of the United fund, Salvation Army, University of Utah Museum board, Catholic charity fund, Salt Lake County board of appeals, Salt Lake County planning, Downtown planning and zoning, the Ballet committee, the Symphony committee, Chambers of Commerce and many others most of which George has lost count.

Having seen and contributed to the growth of the city, George also keeps track of the changes the city has seen. “Salt Lake City has changed in so many great ways. When I first came here I could sense the domination of the LDS Church. It was strange for me to see in the papers apartments for LDS, jobs for LDS. That has definitely changed now.”

Did that affect the Greek Orthodox George? “Never,” he says. “I worked for many LDS organizations. They were very hospitable to me. I was always allowed to perform well. When Willard Eccles offered me a job to work with him at First Security Bank I remember telling him that I would give him so much that he wouldn’t be able to afford me. I always believed and lived by that model of giving more of me than I ever received. We later became dear friends with the whole Eccles family.”

While serving on the Chamber of Commerce, George was instrumental in getting women-owned businesses take an active role in the Chambers. Now, the women’s entrepreneurship committee is a strong network of enterprising women. Every one of them should be grateful to George for making that possible. Being an immigrant himself, George took a strong position for minorities and women. “The Tribune and Desert News supported me,” he says. “No one was given Carte Blanche because of color or race.”

Now, George lives the good life of a satisfied retiree. At 90 years old, George is socially active and intends to play more golf. In his beautiful house looking up at the Emigration Canyon, the 90 year old works out regularly, visits his friends and meets a lot of younger people inspiring them to live well by doing good to others. At every given chance, in helping institutions by raising funds or helping out strangers with directions, he leaves an indelible impression on every one with whom he comes in contact. Here is a role model you wouldn’t go wrong following. Keep inspiring Mr. Nicolatus. Yours is a story we would like to see continue forever.