Eftichios “Van” Vlahakis left his native Greece to make a better life for himself in the Chicago suburbs in 1953.
With $22 in his pocket, Vlahakis slept in homeless shelters while working as a busboy and waiter to earn enough money to go to Roosevelt University. After he graduated, he eventually founded the environmentally friendly cleaning products company, Earth Friendly Products, also known as Ecos, from the Greek word for home.
On Friday, Ecos donated $500,000 to Roosevelt University and the grateful alma mater named the organic chemistry lab after the late entrepreneur.
“We rely on the generosity of our alumni,” said Ali R. Malekzadeh, himself an immigrant from Iran who became a U.S. citizen. “About 65 percent of our student body are first‐generation, their parents were immigrants. It is perhaps the most diverse student body in the Midwest.” Roosevelt has about 4,500 students, including 800 at a campus in Schaumburg.
Cypress, California‐based Ecos, which has operations in Addison, marked its 50th anniversary and the check presentation on Friday during a luncheon with about 200 employees, state and local officials, including Addison Mayor Rich Veenstra, Gov. Bruce Rauner, U.S. Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi and State Sen. Tom Cullerton.
The company makes Ecos‐branded green household cleaning products, including liquid hand soap, dish soap, laundry detergent as well as paper towels and toilet paper. Products are sold at Jewel, Whole Foods, Wal‐Mart and elsewhere.
Vlahakis, who died of a heart attack in 2014, was praised as a visionary and pioneer of environmentally friendly products for people and households long before green became trendy. His daughter, Kelly Vlahakis‐Hanks took over as CEO and she has since moved the headquarters from Addison to California and opened offices in Washington, D.C., New Jersey and Greece for global distribution.
“We’ve had tremendous growth and our future is bright,” Vlahakis‐Hanks said. “That’s because we’ve been doing it right for a very long time and consumers want green products and we’re poised to deliver even more to them.”
Rauner said Ecos was built on the same ideals and hard work of immigrants that made Illinois and the country great.
“We’re proud of our immigrant heritage in Illinois,” said Rauner, “and that’s what the American dream is all about.”