Epic is too small a word to describe my grandfather. He was of the greatest generation that is slowly dying out. After 97 brave years fighting poverty, starvation and the Germans, my grandfather, Stamatis (Mike) Ballas, passed on Monday, July 6, 2015. Mr. Mike was born on February 19, 1918 in Pensacola, Florida and was one of eight children. His parents, John and Magdalini Ballas emigrated from Greece to Pensacola, Florida in 1911. His father, John, was proprietor of a grocery store in Pensacola, and was one of the few immigrants to bring his wife to the US with him. While in Pensacola, they had two children: George, born in 1914 and Mike, born in 1918. During the flu epidemic that swept the country in 1920, John Ballas fled the US to go back to Greece fearful that he would die and leave his family behind in a foreign country. Mike grew up on the island of Skopelos, Greece, remaining there until he was 18 years old at which time he left with his older brother to go back to the United States.
When World War II was declared, Mike and his brother enlisted and were sent to Camp Shelby for basic training. After training, they were sent to the beaches of Normandy for the D-Day invasion. George was killed in the first wave. Mike successfully landed in the second wave. After the war, Mike worked in various restaurants in Pensacola, FL, Greenville, MS, and Montgomery, AL.
At the age of 30, he and a friend from Skopelos decided it was time to return to Greece to find their brides. When he arrived in Skopelos, his family had picked out a beautiful girl from the village of Glossa in Skopelos. Her name was Deomi Liollio. They were married in October of 1948 and emigrated to Mississippi in February of 1949. Mike thought his new bride would be happier if she were near family so they went to Clarksdale, MS where he went into partnership with her brother, John Liollio in the City Café. In 1952, he had an opportunity to buy half interest in the Crystal Grill and become partners with Deomi’s other brother, Jim Liollio. He lived in Greenwood and worked at the Crystal until 2012. “Mr. Mike”, as his employees lovingly called him, was a kind and generous husband, father, grandfather, and employer. He and his wife Deomi became symbols of the Crystal.
Their love and devotion to their employees and their customers will be remembered by all who crossed the doors of the Crystal. Mike loved to fish and hunt—hobbies which he passed on to his son, Johnny. In addition, he enjoyed gardening. Mike and Deomi’s roses were often the talk of the town displayed with pride every spring and fall at the Crystal. They also had a wonderful garden with vegetables of all kinds. These were shared with friends and many times served at the Crystal—especially the turnip greens. Mike was an avid reader. He taught himself the English language—speaking, reading and writing—rarely misspelling a word. He loved playing poker with his friends Harry and Dorothy Rumfelt, Snooky Butler, Nutty Moyer, Walter Moses, Doc Richardson, Don Hummel and Terrell Cobb. Mike was also a longtime member of the Greek Orthodox Church in Jackson, MS., the American Legion, the VFW, the Masonic Temple, and the Elks Lodge. He is preceded in death by his wife of 59 years, Deomi Liollio Ballas, his brothers, George Ballas and Jim Ballas, and two sisters Samoula Ballas Panagiotou and Alkmini Karathanasis. He is survived by his son, Johnny Ballas and his wife, Beverly of Greenwood, a daughter, Elaine Ballas Isaak and her husband Yianni of Dallas, TX and Athens,Greece, and three grandchildren, Anastasia Ballas Jenkins and husband Dunbar of Oxford, MS, Leo Isaak, and Alexia Isaak of Dallas, TX , great-granddaughter Isla Jenkins of Oxford, MS. His surviving siblings are Nick Ballas of Volos, Greece, Antigone Polizos of Athens, Greece, and Maria Maroulis of Skopelos, Greece in addition to many nieces and nephews in the US and Greece.