Goodbye Melet


I’ve done plenty of tough things in my life and being a Dad is definitely the hardest; the job description changes almost daily.  As both parents and children grow and evolve so do the challenges of parenting.   Yet I’ve known folks that have made it look easy and Melet Antonakos was one of those guys.  Melet was easy going, always smiling and whenever one talked to him he treated you like you were the most important person in his life.  He gave you his attention, gripped your hand mightily, patted you on the back, and never missed an opportunity to smile.  I never caught Melet disciplining, correcting or counseling his children yet he and his wife Kim raised three great kids.  Olivia, Mills and Ana were kind, diligent, athletic, smart, polite and reverent.  They weren’t coerced into good behavior, they just lived it.  I often looked at Melet’s kids and wondered what he was feeding them; what was he doing that I wasn’t because he made it look so easy.  Some kids behave a certain way out of fear while others are constantly testing their limits.  I’ve heard kids say something to the effect of “if I don’t do this then Mom and Dad will hear about it and I’ll get in trouble.”  Well that may be accurate but if I’ve been an effective father, my kids will do what’s right because they want to and not out of fear.

My son said it best.  “I never heard Olivia say one mean thing, ever.”  In this day and age of a 24/7 media bombarding our children with repugnant stereotypes and glorifying the concept of foolish, bumbling parents how is it possible to raise kids that were as grounded as Melet and Kim’s?  Amy and I have two great teenagers yet we’ve done this by the skin of our teeth; we’ve lost sleep, prayed, struggled, worried, fretted and coerced them into responsible teenagers while Melet and Kim made it look so easy.  And now they’re all gone.

Many of my friends have struggled with “why?”  It’s in our nature to look for an answer, a sense of understanding as we come to terms with such a monumental tragedy and as Christians there’s always that element of “God’s plan.”  Well forgive me but I can’t buy that.  I can’t see our creator planning so much heartbreak as this. And I’m struggling with images of a faltering engine, the unmistakable shudder of a wing as it loses lift, Melet reaching out for his kids and the ground rushing up to meet them.  And I see not the hand of God but rather a technical issue with a turbine engine at the worst possible moment, on takeoff.  When airplanes encounter problems; altitude and airspeed can give a pilot options.  Airplanes are most vulnerable at takeoff and landing, when airspeed is just above the minimum needed to fly and even a small problem can leave a pilot with little recourse. Was it contaminated fuel, a broken fuel line or a failed bearing?  In time the NTSB will find out and issue a directive which may prevent a future crash.

Yet that will be little comfort for the friends and family left hurting by the loss of these two families and the wife and children of the pilot, Walter Rediske.  Our community is in shock yet in death Melet has once again set an example for parents everywhere.  We’re hurting because Melet and Kim as well as the McManus’s, were such good people.  They were actively involved in many aspects of our community; made friends easily and led by example.  Yes, Melet was successful but you wouldn’t have been able to tell when you met him.  They didn’t live extravagantly and he never bragged about anything.  I occasionally kidded Melet (who was just a few years older than me) by telling him that “I want to be just like you when I grow up.”

Not that long ago I had a brush with death that earned me four days in ICU.  When I left, I made amends with God and have tried my best to be a better person, better father and a better husband yet I haven’t even come close to the example that Melet Antonakos set and to make matters worse, he never divulged his secrets of being a great father.  He claimed it was a daily struggle that kept him up at night, that he and Kim worried, struggled and fretted and that the stress of parenting was so great that he’d pulled all his hair out.  Yet he made it all look so easy.

There are no guarantees in this life.  Tomorrow is a whispered promise as fragile as a dandelion blossom in a summer’s breeze.  When our time comes, we will be measured not by our conquests, bank accounts or possessions but rather by our friends, our relationships and our children.  And when we depart this earth, whether in a timely fashion or through an unexpected tragedy, it would be the greatest testament to our lives that an entire community would be in anguish.

Melet, I still want to be like you when I grow up.


Melet and Kim with Mills, Olivia (in purple) and Ana

  • Kat Hardaway
    Posted at 11:04h, 11 July Reply

    That was the most eloquently written post. A painted masterpiece. I’m so sorry for your loss and for Greenville’s loss. The impact that the these wonderful two families made is unbelievable and while I did not know either personally, I have grown this week reading testimonies of those who did know them. Godspeed, blessings and peace to you, the friends & the families of the McManus family & Antonakos family.

    • ChefJohn
      Posted at 22:43h, 12 July Reply

      thank you Kat

  • Karen Sweet
    Posted at 11:31h, 11 July Reply

    John, thank you for using your gift of words to share what is on so many of our hearts. You shared Melet perfectly! I pray that I might live life a little closer to my call as a Christian as a testament to the life of this precious family. I will so miss Kim’s easy smile and laugh.

    • ChefJohn
      Posted at 22:43h, 12 July Reply

      thank you Karen

  • Joe
    Posted at 13:07h, 11 July Reply

    I believe in the forces of good and evil and sometimes the devil does his best to try and disrupt God’s plan. Only an evil force would cause or allow this to happen. God has responded in many ways. Reading your blog has given me a spiritual boost as my wife and I also struggle with raising teenagers in a world so different from the one we grew up in. The final paragraph says it all. It is difficult to realize and easy to be caught up in the “pile of stuff and activities” that seem to define our existence. I will read this post over and over again and pray for the strength to change my life for the better. It still does not make this loss any easier. Nothing can.

    • ChefJohn
      Posted at 22:44h, 12 July Reply

      thank you so much Joe

  • Marc Bailey
    Posted at 13:10h, 11 July Reply

    Thank you, John. I didn’t know Melet and Kim or their kids but I feel like I know them a little now.

    • ChefJohn
      Posted at 22:44h, 12 July Reply

      Thank you Marc, all my best to you and your family

  • Wayne Fritz
    Posted at 14:29h, 11 July Reply

    Like Mr. Bailey above, I did not know Melet or his family; however, I do know people that share the same core values that you describe. I too wish that I could just pluck those values and attach them easily to myself and be a better person. My freinds, who knew both families involved all hurt, therefore, I do too. Thank you for your memorial.

    • ChefJohn
      Posted at 22:45h, 12 July Reply

      Thank you very much Wayne

  • Jonathan Godwin
    Posted at 14:47h, 11 July Reply

    I didn’t have the pleasure of knowing any of the families or individuals who perished in this tragedy, but your beautiful blog post made me wish I had known them. Everyone I have talked with who knew them spoke very highly of them, and one need not know the victims to grieve with the community that did know them. My heart goes out to all of the friends and family members who are dealing with the death of these fine individuals.

    • ChefJohn
      Posted at 22:45h, 12 July Reply

      Thank you Jonathan

  • Julia Rachel Barrett
    Posted at 16:35h, 11 July Reply

    Beautiful tribute. My condolences.

    • ChefJohn
      Posted at 22:46h, 12 July Reply

      thank you my darling, hug your husband for me

  • Michele Hassold
    Posted at 16:52h, 11 July Reply

    So incredibly written and so true!! Thanks for sharing John!

  • Dolly
    Posted at 19:36h, 11 July Reply

    Your words are beautiful and so very true. They did make it look easy.
    Our daughter was on a soccer team with Ana.
    Ana was kind, lovely and genuine…..a daughter anyone would be proud to have.
    I often thought that she had no idea how beautiful she was.
    Her parents were just the same.
    Olivia was a very close friend of my niece.
    These days are hard for those left behind, but I like to think that all of the people on the plane were excited about their adventure, maybe holding hands on take-off, and whatever happened was quick and they were lifted up, felt no pain or fear, and went on a different adventure than they had planned. A bigger and better adventure than we can know from where we are.

  • Peter Hawes
    Posted at 19:47h, 11 July Reply

    Thank you, sir. Pure, eloquent grace…

    • ChefJohn
      Posted at 22:46h, 12 July Reply

      thank you so much Reverand

  • Mario de Carvalho
    Posted at 19:52h, 11 July Reply

    John … thank you for this letter. The hurt in our hearts will NEVER go away. We will never understand the “WHY”, but we will forever remember the Antonakos as some of the sweetest people we have ever met.
    RIP my friends.

    • ChefJohn
      Posted at 22:46h, 12 July Reply

      I agree Mario, and thank you

  • Frances
    Posted at 21:01h, 11 July Reply

    Thank you for your tribute to Melet and Kim. Beautifully written and inspiring in this time of sadness.

    • ChefJohn
      Posted at 22:47h, 12 July Reply

      thank you frances

  • Kimberly Morgan
    Posted at 21:09h, 11 July Reply

    Well written. Thank you for your tribute to a wonderful man and his precious family. The Youth Service we just left is a testament to not only both families and the lives they touched, but the wonderful community that reaches beyond the schools or churches we attend or even the teams we root for. Greenville is indeed a very special place and we are all blessed to live, work and play here.

    • ChefJohn
      Posted at 22:47h, 12 July Reply

      I agree Kimberly, I will miss them terribly

  • Cammie Churdar
    Posted at 21:12h, 11 July Reply

    thank you for your reflections and encouragement to me as a mother. what an incredible thought that these two families were in alaska one moment, in heaven the next. my heart goes out to the families and friends at Christ church.

    • ChefJohn
      Posted at 22:47h, 12 July Reply

      thank you so much Cammie

  • Meghan
    Posted at 21:48h, 11 July Reply

    That is beautiful. I did not know either family but as I live in Greenville, we all feel the lose. Thank you for sharing your thoughts on a great family.

    • ChefJohn
      Posted at 22:48h, 12 July Reply

      thank you Meghan

  • Jane Fleming
    Posted at 10:14h, 12 July Reply

    Such a wonderful tribute and testament. Praying for God’s grace and strength for you and all those who grieve the loss of these families.

    • ChefJohn
      Posted at 22:48h, 12 July Reply

      thank you very much Jane

  • Day Lowery
    Posted at 12:29h, 12 July Reply

    I met Milton in 1988 when working in a doctor’s office. You described him perfectly. His smile was infectious and you did feel like you were the most important person to him.
    I did not know his family but knowing him I would have expected them to be like you described. Thank you for your eloquent words.

    • ChefJohn
      Posted at 22:49h, 12 July Reply

      thank you very much Dan

  • Robert
    Posted at 12:30h, 12 July Reply

    John, thanks for your tribute to Melet and the Antonakos family. Melet was my roommate at Clemson and your description of him, holds true of him in college, as well. He was always an encourager, in a positive frame of mind and always moving at light speed. He was a great friend and will be missed. All the brothers of Sigma Nu are better people for having known Melet. We wish peace and comfort for his family and friends who are struggling to make sense out of this tragedy. RIP Brother Melet.

    • ChefJohn
      Posted at 22:49h, 12 July Reply

      thank you very much Robert, we are both better men for having Melet in our lives

  • Steve Hart
    Posted at 15:08h, 12 July Reply

    Melet was a fraternity brother of mine at Clemson. Frankly it’s been a long time since I’ve seen him, as life has pushed us in different geographical directions. Yet despite the fact that I really didn’t know the adult and family version of Melet, this blog and other comments about him, his wife Kim and their beautiful children makes me feel sorry I didn’t know the family better. See life has a way of racing by, putting obstacles in our way and forgetting what really matters on this planet we call Earth…It’s simple, family, friends and the important things in life are put on the back burner in the name of prosperity and pursuit of fame and fortune, none of which we can take with us when it’s our time to depart this world. Frankly If we all pushed the important things for the fore front and lived our lives they way Melet and Kim did the world would be a better place because we would all leave a beautiful memory and legacy behind for all to enjoy. Thanks again for taking the time to write these kind and lovely words for all to read and enjoy.

    • ChefJohn
      Posted at 22:50h, 12 July Reply

      thank you Steve, you were lucky to have known him in his earlier years and I knew him later, yet we both knew the same man

  • Kelly
    Posted at 16:22h, 12 July Reply

    Thank you John for your kind words and insight of Melet and his family. I too knew Melet and he was just as you described now back in the early 80’s. Kind hearted , genuine, and always smiling. My description would have included that you could tell he had Jesus in his heart and a easiness about him because he knew God was in control. I do believe nothing is random in His Kingdom . We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to His purpose. ( Romans 8:28) . We just have to trust God and walk closely with Him. Take nothing for granted , not even the next day. Making sure you and your children know and accept God’s grace and salvation is of utmost importance.
    I lost my 18 yr. daughter 7 months ago . Knowing she was God’s child and lived her life with that her priority has given me the peace past all understanding. God has her in heaven and has used that tragedy to do mighty things here on earth by bringing many closer to Him. I pray for peace and comfort for all those friends and families and may their heavy hearts be lightened.

    • ChefJohn
      Posted at 22:51h, 12 July Reply

      thank you very much Kelly

  • Beth Whitten Gibbs
    Posted at 20:33h, 12 July Reply

    I had the good fortune of knowing Melet at Clemson. As so often happens, we lost touch after college. I was saddened to hear of his passing. Thank you for your beautiful post. You captured the Melet I remember from college! Heaven definitely gained some new angels!!

    • ChefJohn
      Posted at 22:51h, 12 July Reply

      thank you Beth

  • Tom Stronach
    Posted at 11:15h, 13 July Reply

    So sad and Uplifting John Well said my friend xxxx

  • Buffy Brown
    Posted at 17:57h, 13 July Reply

    Beautiful! Thanks, JM:)

  • Jeff Potter
    Posted at 09:36h, 14 July Reply

    Well done Coach Malik. The Potters will miss the Antonakos family’s smiling faces but we are blessed to have such great memories. Your reflections are much appreciated and ring so true.

  • Robert Hoffman
    Posted at 01:37h, 16 July Reply

    You have made a great assessment of a wonderful guy and his family. This sad event has caused me to look at the more important and meaningful aspects of life.

  • Joe Alderman
    Posted at 10:41h, 09 November Reply

    We are all given gifts, often in times that are so stressful, we fail to recognize them. In the midst of constant mass shootings and opposing political parties who hate rather than debate, your words celebrating your friends are a welcome call for all of us to seek love and grace every time we interact with each other. Hope all is well down on the farm
    God bless you for your thoughtful and kind words,

    Joe Alderman

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