James George Palacas, 90, died peacefully on Thursday, February 11, following a short illness. For over 65 years Jim was the devoted and loving husband of Joanna Nickas Palacas, who passed away from Covid-19 pneumonia just fifteen days earlier. Jim is survived by his four daughters and their husbands, Helen and Richard Westerfield, Maria and Scott Shannon, Christina and Donald Sweeting, and Joy and Trenton Hubbard; fifteen grandchildren and two great-grandchildren; and three younger brothers: Chris, Arthur and Bill. He was affectionately known as Papou.
Papou was the consummate people person. He would make friends with anybody in record time—a visitor at church, a new neighbor, or a stranger on a park bench. People loved being with him and he had an infectious love for others. For that love he will be missed by many.
Jim was born to Greek immigrants George Demetrios and Elleni Ellena Palacas in New York City on November 12, 1930 during the Great Depression. His father, George, came to the US through Ellis Island in 1915. After years of hard work George returned to Greece for an arranged marriage in 1930 and the couple moved back to the US to settle in the Washington Heights area of Manhattan. However, because of the many harsh realities of gangs and crime in New York City at that time, George moved the family to Brighton, MA in 1941. Jim’s extraordinary work ethic and “can do” attitude as a teenager proved to be instrumental in helping his parents build a flourishing restaurant business in Boston. Jim graduated from both Boston Public Latin School and Harvard University, all the while helping to raise his younger brothers and earning his own tuition. He went on to earn an MS from Penn State University and a PhD in organic geochemistry at the University of Minnesota, becoming the first person in the history of his family to graduate from college and to earn a doctorate degree.
Jim was introduced to Joanna Nickas in 1952 by his college friend (and Joanna’s step-brother) Andrew Vance; the two were married in 1955. In 1963 Jim joined the U.S. Geological Survey in Denver and served for over forty years as a leader in many of the Survey’s global geochemical research and petroleum exploration projects. Among the many highlights of his long career was an invitation by the government of Greece to present his research and share his professional expertise with fellow geologists in Athens (later welcoming many of them to the Palacas home in Denver!). As a scientist, Jim was not only internationally respected for his research but was known for his faith in the Creator.
The family home in Lakewood quickly became “grand central station” for a growing family and an ever-widening circle of piano students, professional musicians, international scientists and their families as well as close friends from all walks of life. A passionate gardener all his life, Jim thrived in the Colorado sunshine, spending hours on end tending his one-of-a-kind garden and always sharing from its abundance with neighbors and friends. He loved traditional Greek dancing, waltzing with Joanna in the kitchen, and a spontaneous Polka with his daughters. Above all, though, Jim grew to become a deeply committed Christian and student of the Bible. He and Joanna enthusiastically led Bible study groups in their living room in addition to Sunday school classes at church. His Godly influence on his daughters, sons-in-law and his many grandchildren, who brought him great joy, is perhaps his most treasured legacy.
Jim’s vivacious love for life, his unshakable commitment to his family and his ever-growing faith began with his immigrant parents and flourished in his beautiful marriage. In short, Jim Palacas had an uncanny way of making the seemingly insignificant moments of life come alive in order to bring joy to others, always finding ways to point others toward the love of God in Christ Jesus.
“If you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any fellowship with the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves.” Philippians 2:1-4
A memorial service celebrating the lives and influence of Jim and Joanna Palacas will take place Thursday, March 25th at 10:30 AM at Cherry Creek Presbyterian Church, 10150 E. Belleview Ave, Greenwood Village, CO 80111; all are welcome to attend. In lieu of flowers, the family requests that contributions be made to: The Joanna Palacas Piano Scholarship at Colorado Christian University (CCU) Office of Advancement, 8787 W. Alameda Ave., Lakewood, CO 80226.
The Joanna Palacas Piano Scholarship at Colorado Christian University (CCU) Office of Advancement
8787 W. Alameda Avenue, Lakewood CO 80226