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Dick’s Hot Dog Stand owner Lee Gliarmis died unexpectedly early Thursday morning, just five weeks after burying his beloved wife of 62 years, Janie Gliarmis.
Lee Gliarmis, 91, was known near and far for his 98-year-old hot dog stand on Nash Street and for his love of Wilson and local sports.
“Lee Gliarmis was one of those individuals who help make a town better in so many ways,” said Keith Barnes, a longtime friend of Gliarmis and a fellow member of the Wilson Hot Stove League and North Carolina Baseball Museum.
“He has always been a friend to everyone and has probably known more people personally than anyone who has ever lived in the city of Wilson.
“Things just won’t be the same around here without Lee, although his mark and influence will be with us for a long time into the future,” Barnes said.
There weren’t many days that you wouldn’t find Gliarmis at Dick’s Hot Dog stand, opened by his father, Socrates “Dick” Gliarmis, in 1921. People from the community and beyond go daily to get a bite to eat and catch up on the news in Wilson.
The hot dog stand draws people from all over the region and beyond who have read about Dick’s famous hot dogs and chili as well as the photographs of celebrities, politicians and sports fans who have eaten there.
Over the decades, Gliarmis made many friends who shared a meal at the counter and stayed around to watch a game on TV.
Russell Rawlings was one of those friends, who knew Gliarmis from the time he was a little boy living in the neighborhood near the restaurant. Rawlings said it was hard to put into words just how much Gliarmis meant to him and to the community.
“I’m just so sad to see him go so quickly and yet so grateful to have known him as long as I got to know him and to receive and benefit from his friendship and love like so many other people — family, friends and community people in Wilson and beyond,” Rawlings said.
He added that Gliarmis was still active until the end of his life.
“There was no such thing as retiring or stepping away or not helping anymore. That wasn’t in his DNA.”
LIFE OF SERVICE
Lee Gliarmis, a Wilson native, graduated from Charles L. Coon High School and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where he played three sports and studied physical education. He planned to coach in Connecticut after graduation but changed his plans after his brother, Richard, died at the Battle of the Bulge in 1944. Instead, he went to work at Dick’s with his father, who died in 1950. Then it was up to Lee to run the family restaurant and take care of his mother.
Although he didn’t make athletics his career, it was his passion. Gliarmis was a huge champion for youth sports in Wilson and coached in the Midget League football program for 38 years. He helped found the Wilson Hot Stove League, which supports youth and interscholastic baseball programs, and stayed active in its events.
He also co-chaired the Fleming Stadium renovation project and led the push to open the N.C. Baseball Museum in Wilson. Rawlings said the stories of the Hot Stove League and N.C. Baseball Museum can’t be told without Gliarmis’ name.
“That is his legacy, and that will live on for a long, long time,” he said.
Gliarmis was also a driving force outside of Wilson as well. He held leadership positions with the American Hellenic Education Progressive Association and the Greek-American Sports Hall of Fame.
He was also president and a longtime board member of the N.C. Sports Hall of Fame and was inducted into the hall in 2014.
Gliarmis received a number of awards including the Order of the Long Leaf Pine from Gov. Jim Hunt in 1996. He was honored by the Frederick E. Turnage Chapter of the American Red Cross in its Heroes Campaign in 2013. That same year, the playground at Wells Elementary School was named in his honor; he had coached many children at the school. He was also a member of the Wilson Moose Lodge and Wilson Shrine Club.
Gliarmis was a big supporter of Fike High School, where his children and grandchildren played sports, and was an advocate for Barton College as well.
In 2007, Gliarmis was named an honorary alumnus of Barton.
Doug Searcy, Barton president, said it was nice to have him in the Barton family. “You couldn’t have found someone who is more supportive and loyal of Barton College with his actions, his time and commitment to the college and its people.”
Searcy said Gliarmis had a gentle spirit and kind smile. “He was just such a wonderful man.”
The two connected on the sidelines of the Fike football field, where they watched Searcy’s son, Carter, and Gliarmis’ grandsons, John and Walker, play.
They talked about football, the hot dog stand and the college.
“And he was always positive; he was always encouraging,” Searcy said. “When I walked away from a conversation, I always felt better than when I started.”
In 2016, Gliarmis was lauded at the annual Wilson-Barton Business Leadership Award banquet, where more than 300 people gathered to honor his legacy.
Former Barton students and Dick’s employees shared at the time how their jobs at the hot dog stand helped them get through school. That was a continuing practice of the Gliarmis family: hiring local student-athletes to work in the restaurant. Lee and Janie Gliarmis’ own children and grandchildren worked at the restaurant as well and continue to operate it.
Rawlings pointed out that family always came first to his good friend, who spent much of his last years caring for his wife.
Rawlings said Gliarmis’ greatest legacy will be the lives that he influenced: “the kids that he nurtured on the football field, and the restaurant and the community and through the Hot Stove League. “That would be the thing he would be most proud of, not buildings or awards, but lives that were influenced and made better by crossing his path.”
Lee Gliarmis’ funeral is 4 p.m. Saturday at St. Timothy’s Episcopal Church, 202 Goldsboro St. Visitation will follow at the Elks Lodge, 2814 Fieldstream Drive.
He is survived by his children and their spouses, Ricki and Ray Barger, Socrates and Karen Gliarmis, Chrisanne Gliarmis and Lee J. and Ginger Gliarmis; and his grandchildren, Frankie Barger and wife Brittany and Christopher Barger; Nicholas and Zachary Gliarmis; and John, Walker and Sallie Gliarmis.
The family is requesting memorials be made to the N.C. Baseball Museum, P.O. Box 8142, Wilson, NC 27893 and Barton College Athletics, Attn. Todd Wilkinson, P.O. Box 5000, Wilson, NC 27893.