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.



Phil Volan said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Gayle said...

I had the unique opportunity over the last 21 years to spend countless family dinners listening to Denys bring history to life in his wonderful and colorful way. His love of music and family were inspirational and he always treated me with kindness and respect. I can only imagine the love of history he inspired in so many students during his years of teaching. He will be missed. Gayle Christensen

Marggy Garron said...

I met Denys and Catherine about 30 years ago through their son, Phil, with whom I played in a musical duo for a short period of time. When my parents were visiting me from San Antonio, TX where my dad was concertmaster of the San Antonio Symphony, Denys, as a great lover of Mozart, invited my parents to his home to talk about music. My dad had the opportunity to play his violin for Denys, Catherine, Phil, my mom and I, and that evening is engraved in my memory as a high point in my life. Denys was an incredible human being and I am privileged to have known him. My condolences, prayers and thoughts go out to the family on his passing.

Barb said...

I remember that, Marggy! I can't remember if I was there or if I heard about it and wished I was there. We were both so lucky to have had such talented and colorful dads. Thanks so much for your lovely comment. -Barb

Rick Wunderli said...

I first met Denys when he hired me as an historian at UCCS. My wife and I then became close friends with Denys and Catherine for the next thirty or so years. I remember vividly the many wonderful dinners and conversations we had their house (and at ours). We all listened to wonderful music -- mostly opera -- and Denys and I often argued about arcane points about history to the annoyance of everybody else. I learned much -- very much -- about history from Denys and he had an enormous influence on my life. And he especially had an enormous influence on the lives of his students, who adored him -- and rightly so. Denys and Catherine's unending kindness and generosity to me and my wife and my son will never be forgotten. And his legacy as a teacher will live on through the generations. Denys was one of those rare individuals who has left a permanent imprint for the better on the lives of others.

Mountain Poet said...

I got to know Denys through his son Phil many years ago, and have the fondest memories of him. One Sunday we spent some time listening to Mozart together, and I recall the strong intensity of his mind and warm engaging heart. I have the greatest respect and admiration for the Volan family, and send my deepest condolences for the loss of this much beloved patriarch. May Denys rest in peace, God Bless You All.

©Hotbutton Press said...

Condolences to Catharine and Phil whom we've met at various art venues... and the rest of the family.

What a long life well-lived!

Dani & Michael Greer

Douglas R McKay said...

Let it not be forgotten that 56 years ago Denys Volan became the first permanent resident administrator for the fledgling CS Extension Center, a town-centered facility which evolved into CU Cragmor and later UCCS. Denys's garage was the first official library for the new campus. A check from CU in l953, amounting to $125, was the first payment ever made from Boulder to a CU satellite teacher/administrator in Colorado Springs. Denys's office was a broom closet on the first floor of what is now Palmer HS. Thanks in large measure to his persuasive skill at recruitment, by 1955 the CS Extension Center had 583 students.
Denys's later contributions to local educational needs included a superb teaching record. Together with two other old-guard luminaries, Jim Busey and Dave Nichols, Denys helped to forge the way toward the establishment of a permanent degree-granting institution for CU in Colorado Springs. Incidentally, Denys, Jim and Dave called themselves "The Heinz 57 Club" when they realized that all three had turned 57 years of age the same year.
Personally, I thank Denys for enhancing my appreciation for Mozart, Verdi, and many exquisite operatic interpretations. He tried but failed to impress me about Jane Austin, but I thank him for the grand energy expended. D McKay

Barb said...

Yesterday I contacted Tom Hutton, Director of University Relations at UCCS, to inquire about notifying the campus community about Dad's death. He went above and beyond the call of duty in assisting me and subsequently forwarded me an excerpt from Doug McKay's book, "UCCS-The First 25 Years." It included the story of Dad's involvement in the early years of UCCS. I was so pleased to get it and even more pleased that Doug has added this post with that great story, plus some more rich details. Thank you, Doug!

Dr. Don Bross said...

"As a friend of Greg and Wendy, I have been privileged to learn about Professor Volan's life of contribution to many causes--service in the military, the study of history, education, and appreciation of the musical arts. I would like to thank all who contributed to this thoughtful and caring memorial, giving all of us a chance to celebrate a life of quiet yet very meaningful heroism."

Jackie said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Jackie said...

In the 60's I was a student in Dr. Volan's class at UCCS. I was working from 7:30 to 4:30 and attending classes from 5:30 to 10:30. Dr. Volan's class was at 8:00 and I was exhausted by that time. His classes were so alive and exhilarating that I always left class refreshed. What an extreme talent! I will never forget him.

Barb said...

Thank you so much, Jackie. I was hoping we'd hear from some of Dad's former students. I took his classes, also, and had the same type of experience. But I thought maybe I was biased...:)

Anonymous said...

Your friend and neighbor Bertha Stevenson

Steve Ellis said...

I had the good fortune to spend all my summers growing up in the home of my Uncle Denys, Aunt Catherine, and my couisins Barb, Phil, & Greg. I looked forward anxiously to the loving reception I’d receive upon my arrival at the airport from my uncle…”you filthy urchin”, or “you miserable worm”, or some equivalent term of endearment. It’s hard to convey the warmth with which these greetings were delivered. I really felt like part of the family, as everyone else was addressed similarly. Aunt Catherine and Uncle Denys always treated me like one of their own children, and my couisins treated me like their brother. The unconditional love, warmth, and affection with which I was, and am, treated, warm my heart to this day. I’ll never be able to adequately express my gratitude.

One of the great bonds that I felt with Uncle Denys was the love of music, although his was usually directed at Mozart’s “Don Giovanni” and mine at Iron Butterfly’s “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida”. Different genre, same appreciation. His support of Phil’s musicianship helped nurture a fine musical career, which might have been thwarted by a less supportive parent. I perhaps most enjoyed Uncle Denys’s own fine vocalizations. His high volume, questionably intoned renditions of “Passengers get constipation when the train is in the station” and “Leprosy, my God I’ve got Leprosy, when my eyeball, falls into your highball”, usually delivered into my ear at close range before I was awake, were unlike anything I’ve experienced before or since. I miss his dulcet tones already.

He could also whistle a mean John Philip Sousa.

I never had the pleasure of taking a class with Uncle Denys, and that I regret. He brought his subjects to life, and received great accolades from his students. No mean feat considering that he was teaching such riveting subjects as “History of the Balkans”. He was revered by his students, but spoke of his own abilities with modesty and self deprecating humor (which I won’t repeat here). I envy those that got to study under him.

Uncle Denys, there’ll never be another like you, of that I’m certain. I love you and miss you. I hope you’re communing with Wolfgang Amadeus in that great concert hall in the sky.

Terry Loomis said...

I would like to express my deepest sympathy for the loss of your beloved Denys; husban/father. He was always so dear to me and I respected him very much. I appreciated his help when I needed my Greek degree translated. I am so very proud that such an accomplished educated man was from the same national origin as myself. My love and best wishes to you all. We have all been blessed by his presence and numerous contributions.
Terry Loomis

Jane McBee said...

Denys had an edge! Over the years, my daughter Molly and I spent memorable evenings in the Volan home, accessing his razor sharp intellect and wit. We would call ahead to place our order for the evening’s storytelling. The menu was staggering: Mozart, Winston Churchill, WWII—just about anything we wanted to know about history or music.

I remember one night in particular when the subject was to be opera. We rang the doorbell and Denys opened the door, pelting Molly with chocolate candy, her favorite! Then, an evening of real learning ensued, not the dry stuff we could have read in history books—but rather the kind that beamed us up and set us down in Austria and Italy, or any other place and time we wanted to go.

Catherine, Barb, Greg, and Phil: thanks for sharing Denys with us, it was a greater gift than you will ever know.


Barb said...

From a student who posted on the obituary tribute page in the Gazette:

I took a course from Professor Volan my first semester at UCCS (1978). Before this, I had always suffered through my history classes. In his lectures I discovered for the first time that history was a vibrant and exciting subject. This lead me to go on and take many more history classes. He was a gifted lecturer, had a good sense of humor, and was a kind person. He enriched my life and the lives of countless other students. I am thankful that I had a chance to have known him.
Pam Carter (Colorado Springs, CO)

Barb said...

Another message from the tribute book on the Gazette site.

I took only one History Class from Dr. Volan, but I will always remember him. I was in awe of his knowledge and capability to make history so incredibly facinating. I could listen to his lectures for hours! My sincere condolences.
Antoinette Massengale (Colorado Springs, CO)

Summer Taylor said...

When I think of Denys, I think of a smile. Every time I was around him it was as if he had a permanent smile on. It seemed to give off this aura that he was content with the life that he had led. He seemed to shine of the pride he had in his three very accomplished kids. Everytime I went to the Volan's it was great, I can't think of a bad memory. There was alway such happiness in their house. We would play as kids in the backyard while the adults were on the pourch. He is a man that will be missed, but even more his life will be celebrated. They say your parents make you, well Barb they sure did. I see your dad in you in many ways and what a great success they made. My thoughts are with you:)

George Billias said...

I write to celebrate the life of Denys Volan who exercised such a profound influence on my life when we worked together as historians at the Air Defense Command in Colorado Springs in the 1950s. Denys was a great teacher who belonged at a great university, but I had him all to myself in the conversations we had at work. What Denys taught was not a subject but skepticism--that truth lay not in some great white right nor a black wrong but somewhere in between, and that you had to think your way to it. As a teacher, he believed that teaching was the art of communicating love, and that to convey an idea to someone was to love the individual in a special way.
Besides being a teacher, Denys was a lover of life--and he loved beauty as much as truth. His love of classical music was learned and deep, and the greatest discussions we had were over who the best composers, performers, and orchestras were. In literature, he and Catherine read many of the masterpieces of English to one another. His grasp of Greek history and literature was amazing, and he could have taught courses on such subjects had he been so inclined.
As a friend, there was no end to his giving, which was unrestrained and boundless, and brought great happiness to those who had the good fortune to share that relationship with him. Even when he was blind and suffered illness, his response was heroic and an inspiration to us. The last time we visited Denys and Catherine, my wife and I were in the guest room downstairs, and we heard someone tap-dancing on the floor above. When we came up, Catherine told us, "He's dancing with joy because you are here."
So dance on, Denys, old firend, for we feel your presence above and love you still.
George Athan Billias
Worcester, Massachusetts

Anonymous said...

I didn't know Denys well, we only met in person once, but his son Phil was a client of mine. Phil is a wonderful person and I was lucky to know him. It sounds like his dad was exceptional as well. My heart goes out to Catherine and the rest of the family!

Debbe Artz-Tobin

Kiri said...

Good for people to know.

MIchael Cavanaugh said...

I am the historian of Ft Slocum NY (where Denys Volan was historian during the time of the 1st AF occupation in the late '40's). I wonder if there are any documents from or photos of the base from his days there?; my website on Ft Slocum is
Thank you.

Sue said...

Volan Family,
I just learned of Dr. Volan's death that occurred a year ago. I was an undergraduate student of his 1975-1978 (History major)and he made History come alive! I remember we walked and talked between classes about different events and he took a keen interest in my future goals to attend graduate school and continue my History ambitions. He wrote a wonderful letter of recommendation for me to attend Texas A&M where I was accepted and received a graduate assistantship. Over the subsequent years while he was still teaching at UCCS, I always stopped in to see him and show off pictures of my young family. He was always interested in my life. I credit Dr. Volan with teaching me to think and write critically and during all my past 22 years in government, I have used those skills on a daily basis. I am finishing up my doctoral degree finally and I know he would have been happy for me.

Susan Olsen

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