MONROE – Known as “The Greek,” to the ones who knew him, a man with much local influence gave so much of his life for others.
Using his talent of building and landscape, The Greek – whose name is Spiro Drake but who only wanted to be known as The Greek – had a vision to provide for children in need. And provide he did when he acquired the vast acreage – just under 100 acres – in 1970 for what is known as The Stone Museum, The Greek’s Playland, and Garden Falls at 608 Spotswood Englishtown Road.
The Greek, who only wanted to be known as The Greek, passed away peacefully on March 1, friends said. He was 82.
A memorial will be held in honor of him at noon, May 4 at the Stone Museum and the public is welcome to attend.
Longtime volunteers and friends Deborah Lynne and Christie Diotis said just like he opened his place to anyone for free, it was fitting to hold a memorial for anyone who would want to visit.
“He would give anything to anybody,” Lynne said.
In the middle of the Great Depression, The Greek was abandoned in a coal bin and brought up in a state-sponsored foster home by Elizabeth Van Fleet in New Jersey. She managed to raise the Greek along with 59 other children, three of whom had special needs.
He was nicknamed “The Greek” by the kids in the home and he kept the name as a reminder of the place where he was raised. He made a promise to Fleet he would devote half the money he made in life to charity and specifically to causes involved with physically and mentally disabled.
The Greek leaves behind his visionary landscape designs, which caught the eye of singers and songwriters Jon Bon Jovi and Bruce Springsteen, giving back to the community and his many long-time employees, volunteers, and longtime companion Bea Mittman.
“He was at work seven days a week except for Christmas,” Lynne said.
Lynne said she started volunteering for The Greek two years ago; however, has known him since she was 10 years old.
Diotis said The Greek had a body of a 60 year old and his mind was so sharp.
She said she began working with The Greek when her daughter was 16 years old.
“My daughter now is 30,” she said. “My daughter liked painting and he asked her to come and paint a beach tropical mural for him.”
The Stone Museum is a museum of minerals and fossils with a host of indoor and outdoor hands-on displays. The Greek’s Playland located at The Stone Museum was a place for special needs kids to come and explore a myriad of sculptures and playgrounds from Monroe the Dino, a 25 foot tall dinosaur replica in a stone-like enclosure and the world’s largest clown sculpture.
The Greek built Garden Falls, a reception facility, to generate revenue for The Greek’s Playland and The Stone Museum.
For more information call 732-521-2232.