Alexander Gus Spanos, Chargers owner and Spanos family patriarch, passed away peacefully surrounded by his loved ones on Tuesday morning. He was 95.
The embodiment of the American dream, Alex’s legacy is one of perseverance, compassion, philanthropy and, most of all, a passion for his family – a family that will carry on his spirit for generations to come.
Alex was, quite simply, a force of nature who inspired everyone he encountered, rising from humble beginnings to become an American business icon. He was a devoted husband, loving father, doting grandfather and great-grandfather, celebrated businessman, loyal friend, generous philanthropist and a compassionate man who cared deeply for his community.
Born in South Stockton to Greek immigrants Constantinos “Gus” Spanos and Evanthia Tsopelas Koumentakou in 1923, Alex’s tireless work ethic and fearlessness was instilled in him at an early age. When he was eight years old he began working at his father’s bakery, waking up at 4 a.m. to bake bread and pastries before school. He worked 15-hour days for seven days a week through his early adulthood.
While pursuing an engineering degree at Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo, his studies were put on hold following the attack on Pearl Harbor. In 1942, Alex left college to enlist in the U.S. Air Force and was stationed at Tarpon Springs, Florida. It was there that he met the love of his life, Faye Papafaklis, who remained by his side for the next 77 years.
Once Alex’s military service ended in 1946, he came home to Stockton and enrolled in the University of the Pacific. After going back to work at his father’s restaurant making $40 a week, he married Faye in 1948 and the happy couple welcomed their first son, Dean, in 1950.
With another baby on the way and his family struggling to make ends meet, Alex left his father’s restaurant and set out to create a catering business of his own. Alex and Faye began making bologna sandwiches at their house and, after taking out an $800 loan to purchase a truck, launched A.G. Spanos Agricultural Catering. Selling sandwiches to local farmers in the San Juan Valley, a mere six months later, he was able to buy a house for his family and pay off his father’s debts. By 1951, the 27-year old Spanos had $35,000 to his name.
Alex made more money in the four months after leaving his father’s bakery than in the 20 years he worked at the store. This proved to be the first of many daring business ventures Spanos would pursue. By 1956, he had earned enough to comfortably provide for his family, which now also consisted of two daughters, Dea and Alexis, and another son, Michael.
At the suggestion of his accountant, Alex began investing in real estate even though he knew little about the field. Relying on his work ethic and fearless attitude, he earned his first million within a year and come 1960, had established A.G. Spanos Construction. By the mid-seventies the company had grown to become the number one builder of apartments across the nation.
Now firmly established in the business world, Alex began his pursuit of a childhood dream – owning a professional sports team. With football his top passion, on August 1, 1984, dreams became reality when Alex purchased the San Diego Chargers.
Although Alex had a renowned reputation in the real estate and development industry, he had to prove himself all over again in the NFL. He described this part of his life as one that, at times, was filled with heartbreak but ultimately brought him the highlight of his career when the Chargers beat the Steelers to play in Super Bowl XXIX.
Equally passionate about the franchise’s impact off the field as much as between the white lines, Alex implemented many Chargers community outreach programs that exist to this day. The Chargers Community Foundation alone – which he created and funded – has donated more than $13 million over the years to support critical causes, individuals in need and organizations supporting the community. In 1994, Alex handed control of the team to his son, Dean. His passion for the Chargers, however, remained fierce as ever, traveling to every game with wife Faye – home or away – until health issues in 2008 made travel too difficult.
Philanthropy was of the utmost importance to Spanos, which is why he made significant contributions to educational institutions, the arts, relief assistance programs, veterans groups and hospitals. Devoutly Greek Orthodox, Alex was deeply proud of his heritage, instilling many of his traditions in the growing Spanos family. From raising funds to rebuild a 140-year-old church to providing relief after a natural disaster, Alex gave back to the Greek community as well. In 2008, he was awarded the Medal of the Commander of the Order of Honor for his humanitarian efforts in Greece by the President of the Hellenic Republic.
While Alex accomplished much over his 95 years, nothing compared to the pride he felt for his family – a major reason he surrounded himself with them at every turn. He involved them in his company at an early age, often crediting them for helping build A.G. Spanos Companies into the country’s largest family-owned construction company.
Alex is survived by four children, Dean, Dea Spanos Berberian, Alexis Spanos Ruhl and Michael; 15 grandchildren; and 12 great-grandchildren.