MANKATO — At 26, Basil Janavaras was the youngest faculty member at the new MSU business college in 1969.
At 70, Janavaras is the oldest professor and about to retire from the college where he was instrumental in building an international business program.
A Greek immigrant who was only allowed to stay in the U.S. through special legislation in Congress, Janavaras established the International Business program and the International Business Institute, started successful businesses, lectured around the world, and taught many students who went on to take top roles in international business.
Later this month, many of those former students will honor Janavaras and speak at an international business conference in Mankato.
“I’m proud the university gave me the opportunity to teach and I’m proud of my students. I always took my students out to get hands-on learning, to world trade conferences in Chicago, to monthly seminars in Minneapolis, to conferences at 3M. I took them to Canada to Greece.”
Brenda Flannery, dean of the business college, said that when Janavaras started the international program in the 1970s, it was one of the first in the nation.
“He was really ahead of his time doing that. And Dr. (Margaret) Preska was instrumental in that, too,” said Flannery of the former MSU president.
“He’s a wonderful person. When I’m out and talking to alumni, he’s one of those faculty whose name keeps coming up, saying how much they admire him. He keeps in touch with people. He helped a lot of them get their first job.”
The international institute has helped mid-size businesses do business globally.
On April 25 former students will honor Janavaras at a dinner roast — “Roasted Basil” — and the Janavaras International Business Conference will take place April 26. Several former students who serve as executives of international companies will speak.
During his teaching career, Janavaras took a leave from MSU for two years to get his doctorate and for five years to found consulting firm Janavaras & Associates in St. Paul.
Janavaras returned to Mankato and teaching from St. Paul after his 15-year-old son, John Janavaras, died of bacterial meningitis in 1995. He died during an outbreak that deeply shook the Mankato area and brought community vaccinations and national media attention.
When Janavaras was 19, he left Greece to live with his uncle and brother who were in business in North Dakota.
When his passport expired, Janavaras tried to get it renewed because the Greek military had taken over the government, suspended the Constitution and were torturing people.
“They refused to renew my passport and immigration told me to go back.”
Enter North Dakota Sen. Milton Young, senior Republican in Congress.
“My uncle Gus never finished college but was very intelligent and very well known. Sen. Young was a friend of my uncle and intervened. He said the only way to do it was a ‘private bill.’ ”
The bill, changing Janavaras’ status from student to immigrant, allowed him to remain in the country and seek citizenship.“I was very honored. I have a copy of the bill yet.”
Janavaras said that while teaching business theory is good, he believed he needed to see the practical side of running businesses as well.
He and his wife, Linda, owned the Odyssey gift stores downtown and at River Hills Mall, closing the last one in 2009. He continues to work in his consulting business. And he and Linda recently started a business importing “premium, competitively priced” wine from Greece.
The three brands of wine come from three regions of Greece and sell for $10 to $27 a bottle. (JanavarasEnterprises.com). They are distributed at some local liquor stores and restaurants.