Born on July 8, 1917 as the eldest son of Zaharias and Efimia Kapsiotis (Asanaki) in Constantinople (today’s Istanbul), Turkey, Matthew Kapsiotis was the oldest of three children. He was forced to drop out of school at the age of 16 to support his mother and his two siblings, Foti and Zinovia, who were 2 and 9 years younger, respectively. Matthew took over his father’s business (shoe repair), but this was short-lived with the start of World War II. As required under Turkish law, Matthew served in the Turkish army from 1939 to 1942, which represented some of the most physically challenging years of his life, living off of limited and oftentimes inedible food, while also contracting malaria and encountering lung problems, which was a condition he would deal with for the remainder of his life. He served in the depths of Anatolia in units full of Armenians, Jews and Greeks, and never had any weapons training, nor was he given a weapon. It was the turn of the war in favor of the Allies in 1942 that spared the lives of these minority soldiers.
After completing his service in the Turkish army, he had to face the punishing taxation of the Varlik. This was the Turkish government’s first attempt at the destruction of the Greek community living in Constantinople by taxing properties at amounts that were many times their market values. Since Matthew had no possessions of any value, this taxation was irrelevant. Nevertheless, he was threatened to be sent back into the armed forces for “non-payment.” By God’s grace, he was discharged and began working as a shoemaker in Constantinople.
In the late 1940s/early 1950s, Matthew met his future wife Despina Kortesi, whom he married on February 17, 1952. On numerous occasions, Matthew credited Despina with finding the right doctor to help him with weak lung function he developed in the harsh conditions of his army years, which continued to haunt him until the very end. On April 27, 1953, Matthew and Despina gave birth to their only child, Zachary. After saving enough money to open his own business, Matthew opened his own store on September 5, 1955 specializing in custom women and orthopedic shoes. Sadly, as a result of Turkish government-sponsored riots targeting Greek-owned businesses in Istanbul, Matthew’s store was completely destroyed on its first business day. Although he rebuilt his store, Matthew knew he and his family would not be able to live peacefully in Istanbul. He applied for immigration to the U.S., however, the then quota system limited the number of immigrants permitted to enter the U.S. Despite waiting many years for acceptance, his turn for immigration never came. Deeply disappointed and anxious to emigrate from Turkey, with the help of a friend who was living in Australia, he applied for immigration to Australia. As fate would have it, the U.S. immigration law changed in 1965 and in 1966, he received his acceptance for immigration both to the U.S. and Australia 3 days apart with limited time to make a decision. He and his family left Istanbul for the U.S. on August 22, 1966 with a brief stopover in Thessaloniki and Athens, Greece. This is where the vast majority of friends and relatives had immigrated during the mass exodus from Istanbul from 1955 to 1966.
Matthew and his family lived at the house of Despina’s sister, Smaro, her husband Thanasi, and their two children George and Dora in Brooklyn, NY for four months. After renting a small apartment for seven years, in 1974 he was able to buy his own home in Brooklyn. In 1977, Matthew’s wife was diagnosed with lung cancer and passed away at the age of 61. Matthew and his extended family endured their great loss together and Matthew continued on with his work as an orthopedic shoemaker until he retired in 1982 at the age of 65.
In 1982, Matthew married his second wife, Myriam Manas in Athens, Greece. Due to lifestyle advantages for retirees, Matthew decided to retire in Athens and moved there in 1984. In Athens, the two would spend their days socializing with friends, playing cards, going on long weekend trips, among many other things to occupy their time. However, these years were not without their challenges. Matthew had successful triple bypass surgery in 2000, recovered from a broken knee after hitting the edge of a sidewalk during his normal everyday walk, and recovered from a separated shoulder after accidentally being hit by a student driver on a quiet side street in Athens. Despite all this, Matthew was able to endure and moved forward with his life, never complaining or dwelling on his misfortunes.
After 20+ years of marriage, Matthew and Myriam mutually agreed to separate in 2003. Wanting to be closer to his immediate family, whom he traveled to visit every other year while living in Greece, Matthew, now 86, returned to the U.S. to live the remainder of his life with his son Zachary and his family, Mariana (wife) and their children Ellen and Matthew in Mount Kisco, NY. Matthew spent his days reading Greek newspapers, watching sports on TV, and took long walks every day. He also enjoyed playing backgammon with his grandchildren and ensured each of their (few) victories was earned. As the years passed, Matthew’s eyesight and hearing began to deteriorate rapidly. Shortly after turning 97 in July of 2014, Matthew contracted pneumonia, but miraculously recovered from his illness after spending two weeks in the hospital. Needing closer care during the daytime because of his condition, Matthew spent his remaining years at Sky View Rehabilitation & Health Care center where his family would visit him regularly. Matthew was loved and cherished by all who knew him. He is survived by his son Zachary, daughter-in-law, Mariana, and his grandchildren, Ellen and her husband Dr. George Boutis, and Matthew.