Local saved Orlando's star
Wherever Jack Kazanzas went, he made friends.
“He has never met a stranger in his life,” said Kazanzas’ longtime friend Marnay Coleman.
Whether it was stopping in for a coffee at a 7-Eleven store, or browsing in an antique shop, Kazanzas was out, 15 minutes later, with someone’s life story, she said.
His life was about building friendships, and although he’s gone, his memory has a strong hold of hundreds of people he’s made connections with all over the world.
Kazanzas died Aug. 27 of a blood condition in his Winter Park home. He was 80.
“His friends were his family,” said Jim Barrett, Kazanzas’ friend, and caregiver at the end. “He really became like another dad to me.”
Kazanzas, who most recently worked at Golfweek magazine, was somewhat of a social professional. He seemed to know everyone in Orlando, where he grew up and attended Orlando High School. And he didn’t just know one person in a family, he knew their parents, grandparents and children, too.
“He was a mine of information about people,” Coleman said. “He made a connection with every person he saw.”
The connections didn’t stop with in-person meetings. His friends all remember the letters. Some call it a hobby. Coleman called it a gift. Every person he met, he sent a letter in the mail. Barrett got one every day for 16 years.
Not only did he send them to friends, but every head of state. He was thoughtful, but also spoke his mind, even to the Queen of England. The letter she sent back had a misspelling. He promptly replied, asking for a new letter with the word fixed. He got it.
And Kazanzas could find humor in anything. He was a presence wherever he went, his friends said.
“He always brought laughter to the room, and when he laughed, he laughed from the bottom of his gut,” Barrett said.
He could even make meetings for Orlando Remembered, an organization that preserves local history, a riot. He once showed up wearing a toga.
“You could always depend on Jack to say something that would bring the house down,” said Charlie Gray, an Orlando Remembered member and friend all the way back from Orlando High School.
Fighting for the star
And while his humor and famous letters are what his friends remember him for, what he’s best known for in the community is the Orlando Christmas star.
When he noticed the giant golden star he’d see raised each year at Orange Avenue and Central Boulevard as a child was gone, he led a campaign and fundraising effort to bring it back.
It worked, and every year, he would watch the Orlando Utilities Commission crew work in full-on holiday mode. He donned an elf’s cap, brought coffee and bagels and played Christmas music.
“OUC would be raising the star, and he’d be having a party,” Gray said.
His memory lives on in that star. The city has named it the Jack Kazanzas Christmas Star, and the day it’s raised is now Jack Kazanzas Day. His memory also lives on in his many friends, namely Barrett, who will be there every year when the star goes up.
Barrett has also taken on the task of sending out the 400-plus Christmas cards Kazanzas had already prepared and addressed. A hefty task, but one he said he doesn’t mind doing one bit.
“He will be missed,” Gray said. “There’s not another one like him, and there probably never will be.”