Jim Lagos has committed his career to local business and community development. And this year, that dedication earned him the Richard L. Kuss Lifetime Community Achievement Award from The Greater Springfield Partnership
Lagos says the award was not only meaningful because of the honor it bestowed, but also because of his personal relationship with the late Dick Kuss, who he says he saw as a role model.
“He was just what everybody should be, what we should all strive to be,” Lagos says. “He was a role model of what a business person should be, in terms of helping the community.”
Lagos says that while Kuss’s legacy includes giving money in support of local ventures, that his community involvement was about far more than finances.
“It’s not just giving money,” Lagos says. “It’s giving time, talent and treasure. That’s what he gave, and the time and talent were just as valuable as the treasure he gave.”
Another strength Lagos says he admired about Kuss was his demeaner.
“He was the friendliest guy ever,” Lagos says. “He treasured everybody and valued everybody, and he’d talk to you and he’d never put on airs. Neither he nor his wife Barbara – they never put on airs, and I really respected that.”
To those who know Lagos, much the same could be said of him: A passionate businessman. A community-minded team player. A dedicated, loving husband and father. Someone who’s never met a stranger.
Lagos is from a family of Greek immigrants who came to the U.S. to build new lives for their families. Both of his grandfathers worked building railroads.
“The idea was, wherever you were when you had made enough money, you stopped there and started your own business. And when you had enough business, you went back to Greece and brought your wife back with you,” he says.
Lagos called his father – Harry T. Lagos – a “pioneer Downtown businessman,” for starting a restaurant in the city back in 1931. The shop stayed open until 1978 when it burned down.
Lagos says his work ethic came from seeing the dedication his father had to his businesses. He remembers his father getting up at 4 a.m. to work a 12-plus hour day at his restaurant, followed by coming home to work until dark on their family farm.
“He did that six days a week and would close the restaurant on Monday so we could work on the farm on Mondays,” Lagos says. “He was a role model for me and my brother and sister, in terms of what you should do in life, the kind of hard work you should do.”
Harry Lagos was an inspiration to both Lagos and his brother, Tom, which led them both to get involved in local real estate.
Of those real estate endeavors, Lagos owns both the New-Sun building
, at 202 N. Limestone St., and the historic Bushnell Building
, at 14 E. Main St., in which he invested millions toward the renovations to bring it to life in its current capacity.
The investment in the Bushnell Building is clearly a point of both pride and passion for Lagos, who touts the rebirth of the original 1893 building into the multiuse, fully functional space it is today. The building houses a variety of small and large businesses, local organizations, multiple restaurants and an event center – all while staying true to its historic roots and breathing life into its green, energy-efficient future.
“Springfield is where I was born and reared. There might be better places to invest, but this is my home, and I think preserving things and bringing things back to life is important,” Lagos says. "Take a historic building, like the Bushnell Building – the building was not built to be quaint. It was built to be functional and house businesses.
“We tried to make it a building that is authentically and historically restored and that every square inch is functional. … What was built in 1893 made sense, and the Bushnell Building today makes sense.”
The building’s revival was a labor of love Lagos and his wife Nike were happy to invest in and even more pleased to be able to hire local companies to make the vision become a reality.
“Basically, the idea of what we did with the Bushnell Building and the News-Sun – both buildings were sitting totally empty, and now we have two dozen plus businesses in the buldings,” Lagos says. “It created a lot of jobs, and the idea is that the best social work you can do is to give somebody a job, to provide employment and to provide a platform for employment. We put millions of dollars into these buildings – from the architecture to the engineering and so on – and that created a vast number of jobs by people hired to do these things and recreate these spaces.”
In addition to his real estate investments, Lagos is an attorney and partner in his family law firm Lagos & Lagos
“I’ve been practicing law for 49 years now, with zero intention of retiring,” he says. “I’m practicing real law for real people.”
And while Lagos has had many successes in his life, he says American business culture isn’t built on successes alone.
“When going into business for the first time, that’s scary. It is a chance, but you have to be willing to try and fail and try again,” he says. “That’s the wonderful thing about the U.S. … in America, failure is acceptable as long as you worked hard at it and tried again. It’s the idea that you can have a failure, but you have to get back up and try again.
“If you’re going into business, you’re going to make a whole lot of mistakes, but the idea is to learn from the mistakes. … That’s what America is all about – we accept failure, but we do not accept failure to try.”
In addition to his recent local recognition by the Partnership, Lagos was first recognized with an award presented to him in Washington, D.C., in 1991 by former president George Bush in the White House Rose Garden. Lagos received the first-ever national Small Business Advocate of the Year Award from the U.S. Small Business Administration
Lagos' parents were able to see him receive that award, and while they were no longer here to see him receive his recent Richard L. Kuss Lifetime Achievement Award, he says he knows his father, as well as his mentor Kuss himself, would be just as proud.
And while Lagos' name is on these and many other plaques and awards celebrating his accomplishments through the years, he is quick to insist that his achievements are not his alone.
“My wife, Nike – any success or anything I’ve been able to do in the community or for the community is certainly a result of her backing 100 percent,” Lagos says, adding how important the support from his daughters, Evyenia and Thalia, has also been. “That family support is the most important thing to carry forward.”