Dino Neferis, the “Mayor of Collegetown,” died Friday at the age of 71 from a heart attack.
Neferis is remembered for smiling and greeting passers-by from his Collegetown stomping grounds. A makeshift shrine has been erected next to Collegetown Candy and Nuts on Dryden Road, where he long sat in his chair and struck up conversation with his many friends.
Known lovingly as the, “Mayor of Collegetown,” Neferis spent most of his life in Collegetown. Growing up, his family operated a Red and White Grocery store at 205 Dryden Road, the building now occupied by Kraftee’s Bookstore. In recent years, Neferis has lived in an apartment that he rented above the Royal Palms.
Neferis reportedly worked as a bartender at Joe’s Restaurant and the Royal Palms for many years and also did odd jobs such as wash windows.
He was often seen riding around Ithaca on a moped. As Neferis was a large man, this was quite a sight.
Neferis was known, loved and recognized for many of his idiosyncrasies. He was usually seen wearing a white t-shirt and often showed off his freshly painted shoes. They were usually blue, but many remarked that recently he had painted them maroon. Neferis could often be found in his chair on Dryden Road, in the Collegetown Convenience Store on the corner of College and Dryden or in Stella’s coffee shop.
Barbara Smith ’68 stood by a makeshift shrine to Neferis on Dryden Road yesterday.
“This is where he sat in his chair, greeting people,” Smith said.
Smith prepared a chalkboard with descriptions of Neferis and some of his favorite sayings. “He loved to say, ‘Hi champ’ or ‘Hi honey.’ He considered everybody a friend.”
“The best mayor Collegetown ever had,” read Smith’s sign.
Although not actually an elected official, Neferis was thought by students to be the actual mayor of Collegetown. Collegetown does not in fact have a mayor as it is under the jurisdiction of the mayor of Ithaca.
Rob Cohen, the owner of Stella’s, was not sure how Neferis had received the title, but knew that he had held it for many years.
Many paying homage at the makeshift memorial surmised that he was named as the “mayor” because he knew everyone and greeted everyone, like a politician.
“He just really loved it [at Stella’s]. He usually sat right by the window,” Jefferson Selleck ’05 said. “He was just totally happy to hang out around here all the time.”
Many Stella’s employees shared their love of Neferis and his quirky habit of eating their soups. “Every day he took a ‘To-Go’ cup and combined each of our three soups in it,” Selleck said. “I always offered him separate bowls, but he liked it that way.”
Ian Papendick ’01 also remarked about Neferis’ particular way of eating soup. “He just liked to mix them all together. [Neferis] was in here every day and he always mixed all of the soups together.”
Papendick also commented on Neferis’ other contributions to the Stella’s couture. “He used to wash the windows for us. I think he did that for a lot of businesses that he was friendly with.”
Cohen added commentary about Neferis’ legendary Halloween performances. “Every Halloween for about five years in a row, Dino did a live performance.”
“He would sing Sinatra,” said Papendick, “and often follow that with stand-up comedy. He just loved entertaining.”
-Stories and Memories-
Cohen commented that Neferis had a great knack for telling stories. “He once told me about a time in the ’60s when he drove to Vernon Downs racetrack and his headlights died out on the way. He told me that he drove home the whole way in reverse, and, knowing [Neferis], I believe him.”
Laurie DeFlaun and John Grady, who stood at the shrine at dusk yesterday, reminisced about their 30 years of friendship with Neferis.
“He had a lot of class and he had a lot of fun,” DeFlaun commented.
Grady added, “He made the greatest contribution to Cornell University in his years here in Collegetown: he taught about simplicity and friendship.”
Also, according to Grady, “He was the best bartender in Ithaca. He always had a song and a smile.”
Grady shared one of his favorite stories about Neferis.
“Once we were in Hep’s Hardware, and someone asked if we were together. [Neferis] responded, ‘We’re engaged, and I’m expecting,’ and pointed to his belly.”
Grady also explained that Neferis was an artist and photographer and stood strongly in opposition to the Iraq war. “[Neferis] only believed in friendliness, not war.”
DeFlaun says she will always remember Neferis riding his scooter.
Grady laughed. “His knees were practically on the ground, he was so big on it.”
Services will be held at Bangs Funeral Home, 209 W. Green Street. Calling hours are today from seven to nine in the evening.
Funeral services will be held Tuesday at 11 a.m. at St. Catherine’s Greek Orthodox Church at 120 W. Seneca Street.
Archived article by Chris Mitchell