Marill and Tom Demakes.
By PAUL HALLORAN
The list of organizations that benefit from the generosity of Tom Demakes is long, yet the focus is fairly narrow. And that’s just the way he wants it.
Youth. Education. Lynn. That about sums it up.
“My wife (Marill) and I don’t give money to big hospitals and universities,” Demakes said. “We support educational and after-school programs — everything to do with youth. We stick to Lynn. I’m a Lynn kid. Lynn needs my help.”
Demakes may live in Swampscott but he is a “Lynn kid” through and through, a third-generation owner of Old Neighborhood Foods, the company founded by his grandparents in 1914. His sons, Elias, Tim and Andrew, all work for the company as well.
The organizations who have been the beneficiary of Demakes’ unbridled philanthropy include: Agganis Foundation, Boys & Girls Club, Girls Inc., KIPP Academy, LynnArts, Lynn Community Health Center, Lynn Museum, Raw Art Works and St. Mary’s High School.
In 2009, Girls Inc. named its new headquarters for Demakes and his wife, and in 2015 it presented him the Strong, Smart and Bold Award — the first male to receive the honor. Gov. Charlie Baker was honored this year.
In November, St. Mary’s presented Tom and Marill Demakes with the Cardinal Cushing Award, in recognition of their ongoing support of the school and Catholic education. He said he was excited to learn the school is raising $14 million, in part to build a new STEM wing. Demakes has also donated money to help fund school nurses in Lynn Public Schools. In Swampscott, he made a critical donation for the high school’s new football field.
“Public, parochial, charter school — it doesn’t matter,” he said. “There shouldn’t be an us vs. them mentality. I’m trying to be part of the solution.”
He is willing to do that even when it competes with the best interests of his company. Case in point: Demakes lobbied Market Basket — and his friend Arthur T. Demoulas — for a decade to come to Lynn.The store will be located on vacant GE property right across the street from old Neighborhood, which could easily have put it to good use, just not the best use, according to Demakes.
“It’s the right thing for Market Basket to develop that site,” he said. “They will bring more than 400 jobs here and create significant economic activity.”
A grandson of Greek immigrants, Demakes said he understands how critical is to ensure that the children of the immigrants who are coming to the U.S. receive a good education.
“We have to educate them,” he said. “We have to teach them English and how to be an American citizen. Just like the Greeks and Italians who came. All children are our children. We don’t want to have tens of thousands of uneducated children.”
That explains Demakes’ almost singular focus when it comes to philanthropy. If your organization is not somehow working with or educating youth, you may want to look elsewhere for help.
“We have an obligation,” he said. “Aren’t we all children or grandchildren of immigrants? Didn’t someone help our people? I feel like immigrants are the lifeblood of America and I believe most are grateful for the opportunity to come to this country.”
As an ultra successful businessman — Old Neighborhood is poised for $150 million in sales this year — Demakes is also anxious to pass along that business acumen, and he believes he has found the best way to do it.
He is working with fellow 01907 resident and philanthropist Bill Mosakowski to bring Entrepreneurship for All (EforAll) to Lynn.The program helps people start their own business, providing grant money and invaluable mentorship.
“A lot of people fail because they don’t have anybody to help their with their business plan,” Demakes said. “We want to encourage businesses to come to Lynn.”
Demakes is also involved with creating workforce and market-rate housing in the city. “We can do anything we want,” he said. “We just have to be smart.”
Proud of his heritage, Demakes is a strong supporter of St. George Church and is a trustee of the Leadership 100, an endowment fund supporting the Greek Orthodox Church nationwide.
Back on the home front, Demakes is helping the Lynn YMCA raise $26 million for a new building.
“That’s the next big project,” he said.
But likely not the last.
“I feel obligated to pay it forward,” he said, “and help others achieve success. Unless we have a lot of people doing well, none of us is going to be doing well.”
Photos: Paula Muller