NEW YORK CITY — Marinos Vourderis came to New York from Greece with little money and no education in the early 1940s, but in the years that followed, he founded a company whose name became synonymous with New York City summers: Marinos Italian Ices.
Vourderis died of natural causes last Tuesday in his Jamaica Estates home, surrounded by his large family. He was 97.
“He was able to come here and live the American Dream,” Margaret Hackford, Vourderis’s 57-year-old daughter, said of her father. “He was just amazing.”
Vourderis’s first venture in America was as a middle man for ice cream trucks — buying ice cream and ices in bulk from suppliers, and selling them to Good Humor and Mr. Softee trucks that sold cones and pops all over Queens.
According to Hackford, her father started having trouble receiving deliveries from his Italian ice suppliers, so he decided to start making the ices himself.
Originally, the business was only intended for the ice cream truck drivers who came to him, but he saw an opportunity to sell directly to the public when the 1964 World’s Fair came to Queens.
“They were so successful that he eventually leased out the checkout and took over with the ices,” Hackford said. “Before we knew it, my father owned half the block.”
Originally called Olympic Italian Ices, the company — whose factory still churns out the sweet treats in Richmond Hill — grew to become so successful that Vourderis was able to start additional companies, including a commercial real estate business, and to help the many members of his large family.
Vourderis was one of the first members of his family — which had 24 siblings — to immigrate to the country.
“He took care of all his brothers and sisters,” Elias Rambros, Vourderis’s nephew, said. “He never left no one without nothing—helped them buy houses, helped them start businesses, the list goes on.”
Among the jobs he gave his siblings, cousins, and nieces and nephews were running the refrigeration company that kept his ices cold and supplying the paper cups to serve the ices in.
But Vourderis did not only look out for his family; he helped fellow immigrants he barely knew get their feet on the ground, too, relatives said.
“There were guys who came over from Europe, had nowhere to live. My uncle put them up in hotels, fed them, tell them to come work in the factory for a couple weeks,” Rambros said.
“The next thing you know they were out on the road, had their licenses, and they would go out and sell ice cream on the ice cream trucks. He would help everybody.”
Vourderis’s defining qualities were his generosity and his surprise at his own success, Hackford said.
“My father’s greatest saying was that, ‘look at how much I’ve accomplished with frozen sugar and water,’” Hackford said.
“He would give you the shirt off his back if you needed it,” she added. “They don’t make them like him anymore.”