Denys Volan

June 19, 1916 - July 15, 2008

Denys Volan passed away on Tuesday, July 15th, 2008. He was 92 years old. First and foremost, he was a dedicated husband, father and family leader – a person who’s strength, integrity and commitment lives on in each member of his family. He is survived by his wife of 65 years, Catherine Volan; his son Gregory Volan; his daughter, Barbara Christensen; his son, Philip Volan and his sister Dorothy Diamond.

Legions of students at the University of Colorado Colorado Springs and The Colorado College will fondly remember him as a talented teacher who made the study of history come alive for them. Denys was also a dedicated civil servant with over 26 years of service for the United States Air Force as Chief, Command History, Air Defense Command.


Denys Volanopulo was born in New York City on June 19th, 1916 to Dimitri and Sophia Volanopulo, who had recently emigrated to the U.S. from Koroni, Greece, a small town on the southwestern tip of the Peloponnesus. Along with his sister Dorothy, he grew up in the Washington Heights district of Manhattan where he attended PS189 and George Washington High School.

Denys Volanopulo married Catherine Janetis on June 10th, 1943. Catherine is a well-known local artist, a founder and long-time member of the Arati Artist’s Gallery. After returning from the Second World War, Denys and Catherine welcomed their first child, Gregory, to the family in January of 1947. By that time, Denys and Catherine had shortened the family name to Volan. Their daughter Barbara was born in March, 1952 and their son Philip in August, 1955.

Each of the children has enjoyed success in their lives. All three graduated from Wasson High School in Colorado Springs. Greg is a Licensed Architect and Industrial Designer who has operated his own practice with his wife, Wendy, for 30 years. Barbara is an RN and works with the National Cancer Institute. She is married to Gayle Christensen who is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker. Gayle and Barbara’s family includes three children and four grandchildren. Phil is a well-known, award-winning local favorite musician-entertainer.

Other immediate family members in Colorado include Catherine’s younger sister Julia Halevy, her son Stephen Ellis, his wife Suzanne and their two children, Elias and Julia of Boulder.

Education and Teaching

Denys graduated from the City College of New York with a Bachelor of Science in Social Science in 1938 with a history major. After the War, he received his M.A. in History from Columbia University in 1950 where he was voted the outstanding history student. Graduate education also included one year of postgraduate study in history at Indiana University and 2 years at the Columbia University Law School. In 1969, Denys received his Doctorate in History from the University of Colorado at Boulder. His academic awards include: the Mead Prize in History at CCNY, 1938; Faculty Research Grant in History at CCNY, 1939; Teaching Fellow at CCNY 1939-40; Fellow in History at Indiana University, 1940-41.

As a professor of history, Denys taught first at the City College of New York. In 1952, he became a cofounder and first Administrator of the University of Colorado Extension in Colorado Springs (later the University of Colorado Colorado Springs). He also taught history at the Colorado College. In addition, he served as a President of the Colorado Springs Adult Education Council. In later years he was Assistant Professor and Lecturer in history at UCCS.

Excerpt from a letter of recommendation to the University of Colorado:

“ I commend him to you enthusiastically and with full confidence that he will prove to not only be an able but a superior teacher. As supervisor of the School of General Studies History Department of the City College for many years, I have had an opportunity of observing Mr. Volan carefully. He has been one of our very best teachers. He has a most attractive manner and personality. He is conscientious and able -- one of the very best young men we have here. He has had excellent training and is familiar with teaching problems. We were, in fact, most sorry to lose him.” Louis L. Snyder, City College of New York

World War II

A college professor of European History may seem an unlikely match for the military, but so were countless others who served our country during World War II. Denys Volanopulo served in the United States Army Air Corps from October, 1942 through April, 1946. He graduated the Officers Candidate School of Applied Tactics and was commissioned as a First Lieutenant - Intelligence Officer assigned to the 440th Bomb Squadron 319th Bomb Group and later with the 317th Troop Carrier Group at Mobutu AFB, Okinawa Island at the end of the war in the Pacific. Campaigns included the Air Offensive Japan, Ryukyus and the China Offensive. Decorations and citations include the American Campaign Medal, Asiatic Pacific Campaign Medal, World War II Victory Medal and the Distinguished Unit Badge. Denys was discharged in the Spring of 1946 and returned to his wife Catherine in New York to begin a long life of professional success and raising a family.

A side note: the draft induction notice for Denys Volanopulo is enshrined in the National Air and Space Museum of the Smithsonian Institution in an exhibit entitled “AAF Memories of World War II”, which recalls the experiences of Army Air Corps men from induction to discharge.

Civil Service Career

In 1946, after his discharge from the Army Air Corps, Denys began his civil service career as an Historian for the First Air Force at Fort Slocum, NY. He advanced to Historian with the Continental Air Defense Command at Mitchell Field the next year and, in 1951, took a position as Historian for the Air Defense Command. The new job required packing up the family and moving to a small town in the Wild West called Colorado Springs, where the Air Defense Command was to be headquartered. By 1955, Denys was appointed Command Historian. He retired from the Civil Service in 1972 as Chief, Command History, Office of the Chief of Staff.

Denys’ personal papers are filled with letters of commendation, outstanding and superior job ratings and congratulations from his superiors.

From 1972 through 1985 he was able to pursue his love of history as Lecturer and Professor of History at UCCS.

Denys will be missed by his family and friends, but his presence has not diminished and his legacy is a powerful part of who we are.


Memories of a lifetime

What a joy it has been to have this wonderful man as a favorite uncle! His joyful greeting over the phone these many years as we cross the miles with greetings on holidays and when we have good news to share. Such an infectious laugh and wit that still makes me smile.

Dear Aunt Catherine....we love your dearly! We hope you enjoy the memories brought to mind with these photos found in my father's files.



Great Teachers

This was one of Dad's (and the family's) prized possessions. This Time Magazine cover was given to Dad by some students who included Dad's picture as one of the country's great teachers. We're not exactly sure who the individuals are who gave Dad this precious gift, but if you're out there or know more about this story, we'd love to hear from you.