As a mother of two young girls I am reminded daily of how precious life is and also how much of an impact "one" person could make on their precious lives. Yesterday was no different after my 8 year old daughter, Aria asked me sweetly, "Mommy, will you still be able to come to school and teach us things that Mr. Van taught you about the environment even though he passed away?"
Immediately my eyes filled with tears and just as I softly said "yes" she said, "Mommy, I miss him. I bet you miss him, too." And I quickly replied, "Yes, baby. I miss him, too. We all miss him."
On April 6, 2014, just four months ago, we lost a great friend of every child in our community when Dr. Eftichios "Van" Vlahakis, founder, owner and CEO of Earth Friendly Products passed away. He was a man of very humble beginnings having moved to the United States from war-torn Greece in the 1950's with only $23 in his pocket and a huge dream in his eye. A dream that would eventually cause him to be a pioneer in the green cleaning product manufacturing movement and one that would spark a keen interest in young children throughout the country to care for the environment.
Van was an amazing leader, father and grandfather. As an employee at the company's Garden Grove manufacturing facility, I worked with him daily and grew to understand that this man absolutely loved to make a difference in children's lives! When we decided to take lessons to children in their schools about water conservation and recycling he was thrilled. When we wanted to support education efforts at the Discovery Science Center in Santa Ana, California or organizations like Grades of Green he was all for it because he believed that our children are our future, passionate environmentalists and it was up to us to equip them with curiosity and wisdom to take things further for the benefit of all mankind.
Van was the epitome of the American Dream. He paid his way through college while at times living with the homeless to make ends meet and eventually earned his degree in Chemistry from Chicago's Roosevelt University. He worked as a chemist and then was inspired to do things differently and started his own company, Venus Laboratories after reading an article in the Chicago Sun-Times about the link between toxins in the air we breathe and various forms of cancer. By the late 1980's Earth Friendly Products was born and a new wave of young environmentalists were at his side to help bring to the marketplace ECOS what would soon become and still remain the world's top-selling green laundry detergent in the world.
But success only brought him closer to children of all ages and their needs. He wanted to make a difference in their lives so his company partnered with local institutions like Environmental Charter Schools and MUSE School as well as UCLA and his alma mater in Chicago, Roosevelt University. Van's legacy will live on with the work that will continue through his employees who shared his vision and his family who will lead the company for generations to come with his daughter, Kelly Vlahakis-Hanks at the helm as Chief Executive Officer.
"Mommy, was Mr. Van your boss or your friend?" Aria asked.
"My love, Mr. Van was like my dad at work that I had coffee with each morning and learned a thing or two before getting on with my day. But Mr. Van was also my bestest of friends as he was too all young kids." I said with a kiss.