Longtime business leader and philanthropist dies at 86

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Christos and Joan Panopoulos. Courtesy Grand Valley State University

The founder of Salon Enterprises and local philanthropist Christos Panopoulos died last week at age 86.

Panopoulos — founder of Salon Enterprises, which included Panopoulos Salons, Haircuts Plus and CHIC Cosmetology Schools — died on April 5 after a long battle with cancer.

In addition to his business leadership, Panopoulos was a longtime philanthropist and was involved in many community organizations, including serving as a director for the Grand Valley University Foundation for over two decades and as a director for the Metro Health Foundation.

He and his wife of 57 years, Joan, donated to fund scholarships at Grand Valley that made a difference for countless students over the years, GVSU said.

“Foundation directors like Chris have been instrumental in our ability to help engage students with our community and fill the ever-changing need for talent. Chris was particularly mindful of his role as a connector between the university and West Michigan and was always there to help when we needed him,” said Philomena Mantella, president of GVSU.

According to his obituary, Panopoulos was the first of five children born on Jan. 1, 1936 to Theodoros and Athanasia Panopoulos in Dara, Arcadia, Greece. Before emigrating to the U.S. at age 19, he survived two wars.

After working various jobs while learning English, he earned his U.S. citizenship and a cosmetology degree, eventually taking over a small salon in The Pantlind Hotel in Grand Rapids.

He married Joan Vallas in 1964 and together with their partners, they built Salon Enterprises.

Panopoulos was inducted into the West Michigan Business Hall of Fame in 2004 and was an archon of the Greek Orthodox Church and a member of the church’s Leadership 100.

The Panopoulos couple initiated the Joan A. Panopoulos Scholarship, which is awarded to Grand Rapids Public Schools students who have participated in the TRIO Upward Bound program. Additionally, they founded the Christos T. and Joan A. Panopoulos Physician Assistant Studies Scholarship, which supports Grand Valley students studying in that field.

They also helped fund many capital projects, including Raleigh J. Finkelstein Hall, Mary Idema Pew Library Learning and Information Commons, and Cook-DeVos Center for Health Sciences. In recognition of their gifts, several spaces inside the buildings are named in their honor, GVSU said.

In 2016, GVSU recognized Panopoulos with an honorary doctorate of business degree.

Panopoulos is survived by his wife, four daughters, seven grandchildren, brother, brother-in-law, sister-in-law and many nieces and nephews. He was preceded in death by his parents, a sister and a brother.

His funeral service was held at 11 a.m. Monday, April 11, at Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church at 330 Lakeside Drive NE in Grand Rapids, with a private burial service to follow for the family.

Those who wish to make a gift in his honor can do so to Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church care of the Chris Panopoulos Memorial or to the Grand Valley University Foundation, 301 W. Fulton, P.O. Box 1945, Grand Rapids, MI 49501.

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