BERWYN – "Hey, Tony!"
If Tony Tselepis of Berwyn had a dollar for every time someone shouted a greeting at him he could afford to build a mansion next door to his hero, Elvis, in Graceland.
Ask just about anyone who works in Cermak Plaza and they will tell you that the 54-year-old outdoor maintenance man who was born with Down syndrome is being sorely missed for his winning smile, his dedication to the job and his infectious laugh, since he retired in January after 33 years.
Michael Flight, manager of Cermak Plaza and president of Concordia Realty, said he can't take any credit for hiring Tselepis, because he was there before Flight took the Plaza's helm. But, he said, he has reaped the benefits of having Tselepis as an employee, and as Flight puts it, "The Ambassador of Cermak Plaza."
"Rain, shine, heat and snow, Tony would show up," Flight said. "I can't say enough good things about him. Regular shoppers, employees all ask about him. They all know him; he made his rounds."
Tselepis attended grade school at Seguin Services then enrolled at the West Suburban Education Center, from which, after graduation in 1981, found him the job at Cermak Plaza, his mother, Anna Marie Tselepis said.
Since his retirement, the phone keeps ringing for the "Mayor of Cermak Plaza."
"We're getting phone calls here from everybody," Anna Marie said. "It was hard [to retire]. People were so good to him. Even the kids from Morton West. He had so many friends."
Tselepis' day started at 7 a.m. He worked till noon, then came back from 2 to 4 p.m. He kept the grounds around the plaza clean When he wasn't visiting or helping ladies with their groceries, Anna Marie said.
Tony has a way of bringing out the best in people, she added.
"People are good. I found that out through him," she said. "You don't want to walk through Berwyn with Tony. It will take you so long, especially at the plaza."
These days, Tony fills his day sorting through his collection of everything and anything Elvis Presley related in his finished basement-turned-Elvis museum at his home in Berwyn. Never mind that it was once a gallery of his father's big game trophies from Alaska. Now, life-sized cardboard Elvis cutouts pose dramatically under moose and elk racks and mountain sheep heads.
He watches a lot of wrestling and points with pride to an autographed photo of wrestling star, The Undertaker. There's also an autographed photo of Johnny Cash on the wall, a hockey stick signed by Bobby Hull and Eric Nesterenko, and plenty of poster and photo memorabilia of his favorite hobbies.
Tselepis was born at a time when the now derogatory term "mongoloid" was in common use. People with Down syndrome were to be hidden, not seen in the mainstream with "normal" people, Tselepis' father, Tony Sr., recalled.
"I remember when he was born the doctor said "Put him away; don't get used to him," Tony Sr. said.
When Tony got the job at the Plaza, Tony Sr. took him out and bought him a bicycle so he could ride to work. Anna Marie was frantic at first, she said, but his father wanted his son to be independent and make his own way.
The independence was good for Tselepis; he soared at his new job.
"I tell everybody Tony is the happiest guy I ever met in my life," Flight said. "Every time I was over there, there would be this giant wave and big smile and he'd shout, 'Hey Boss!' He was really an ambassador for Cermak Plaza, and he did a great job."
The Tselepis' will tell you they are beyond proud of their son and they consider themselves so lucky to have him.
"Everybody spoils me," Tselepis said with a sly grin.
On his 50th birthday, with the help of Elvis sunglasses and sideburns, he dressed as the King of Rock n' Roll.
"I had a big cape and everything," Tselepis said. "My cousin Joe laughed so much. He said: 'Look at Tony!' I always make everybody laugh. That's what family is about."
Tselepis has some strong words of advice for those about to embark on a life of their own.
"You have to work and you have to listen to what your family says and what your boss says," Tselepis said.