Jim Adelis spent much of his life giving back to the community, and never sought praise. His actions were so far-reaching that they even surprised his wife, Lucy.
“Pay it forward will be his legacy,” she said. “A lot of things I’m finding out, I never even knew. Every Christmas, he would take gifts to kids in the hospital, and he never told me.”
Adelis died on April 4 of kidney failure brought on by Covid-19. He was 67. He leaves behind a legacy of altruism, which includes helping to found the Trees for Troops event at Dees’ Nursery in Oceanside each holiday season, in which Christmas trees are shipped to military personnel across the country and overseas.
Adelis was born on May 28, 1952, and grew up in Brooklyn. He went on to run Ogden Security at John F. Kennedy International Airport in Queens for decades, which was where he met Lucy, who worked for him as a security guard. Lucy said she was drawn to him by his eyes and his kindness, noting that even before they dated, he sent her flowers when she was ill and couldn’t work.
On their first date, she recalled, he told her he would marry her, and she thought he was crazy. His words proved prophetic, however, and they wed at City Hall in Manhattan on Oct. 14, 1983, and had a ceremony in Lucy’s native Ecuador on Nov. 26 that year. The couple had two sons, Jimmy Jr. and Tommy, and moved to East Rockaway in 1989.
Lucy said the little gestures defined her husband as much as the big ones. She once told him that she enjoyed the wine they had during a dinner out, and he came home with two-dozen bottles the next day, she said. On one occasion when Adelis took his employees out to lunch, Lucy told a friend that she liked a unicorn decoration at the restaurant. Jim overheard her talking, purchased it for her and surprised her with it as a gift. When her own father was on his deathbed, she said, Jim sold his stocks and paid $45,000 for a medical aircraft to fly to South America and transport him to New York so Lucy could be with him.
His generosity was widespread, Jimmy Jr. said. “He made an impact on anybody that he came in touch with,” he said. “There are so many things that my father has done, and he never took recognition for it. His nickname was the Lone Ranger because he would come and do stuff without anyone knowing he was doing it.”
Jimmy Jr.’s wife, Angela, said her father-in-law’s greatness was measured by his integrity and ability to help those around him. “People will forever remember him,” she said, “and that is his legacy.”
Jimmy Jr. said his father was patriotic and proud of him when he joined the U.S. Army and was deployed to Iraq in 2003. While his son was stationed there, the elder Adelis was at Dees’ Nursery and overheard a woman ask owner Joe DiDominica if it was possible to send her son in Iraq a Christmas tree. From there, an idea was born.
Adelis used his connections at Kennedy Airport, working with Cathy O’Reilly, the manager of commercial air aviation for DHL, to coordinate with DiDominica to ship trees overseas to the troops. Last December marked the 16th year of the event, and in all, 13,000 trees have been sent to military personnel.
Dan Carbonaro, a retired Port Authority Police Department detective, met Adelis while working at JFK in 1995, and also helped coordinate the Trees for Troops event. Carbonaro said Adelis was willing to help anyone at any time, and paid for catered food for police officers who had to work at the airport each Christmas. He added that Adelis had many connections, and used them to help individual police officers in need.
“He was just looking to help people,” Carbonaro said, “and when he would do it, I would see his face light up. He wasn’t looking for accolades, and to me, that meant a lot.”
In addition to the Trees for Troops outing, Adelis also organized an Operation Cookie partnership with the Girl Scouts of Nassau County and a fundraiser with the Veterans of Foreign Wars of New York State; worked with Building Homes for Heroes; led a collection of female toiletries for women serving in the Armed Forces; and facilitated shoe drives for the children of Iraq. He also created an organization, the Daniel Alvarez Foundation, named in honor of his nephew, who was born with cerebral palsy and died on June 17, 2001.
Through the Trees for Troops event, Adelis met Marvin Scott, a senior correspondent for WPIX, who brought Christmas to the troops in Iraq in a series of telecasts in the mid-2000s. Adelis used his connections to have DHL ship food from H&H Bagels, Junior’s Cheesecake and Nathan’s for the troops to enjoy during Scott’s trip.
Scott met Adelis as he was preparing for a trip to Iraq in 2004, and when he and his WPIX crew returned to the U.S., Adelis arranged for customs to meet them as they got off the flight and arranged a police escort for them outside the airport.
In 2004, Jimmy Jr. was stationed at Camp Anaconda in Iraq.
“I said, ‘Jim, when I get there, I promise I will deliver a hug to your son,’” Scott recounted. “I walked over to him, I gave him a hug, and I said, ‘I bring you this hug 8,000 miles from your father,’ and it was such a good moment.”
Jimmy Jr. said he still remembers it. “I didn’t know who this guy was, so I kind of shoved him away before realizing,” he said with a laugh. “Then they started bombing in the area, and we had to take cover.”
Scott said Adelis showed his appreciation by giving him a plaque with an American flag, inscribed with a message in which he called Scott a humanitarian and an American treasure.
In addition to giving back to the community, Adelis was passionate about golf and enjoyed collecting guns and antique train sets.
Because mass gatherings are banned during the coronavirus, the Adelis family is planning a large memorial ceremony at a later date. Adelis fell ill on March 28 and was taken to Mount Sinai South Nassau hospital in Oceanside on April 1, where he was diagnosed with Covid-19 and died on April 4. Jimmy Jr. said he hoped to carry on his father’s legacy by giving back to the community and keeping traditions alive. He added that he and Angela hoped to have a son and name him in his father’s honor.
Carbonaro said Adelis and his impact will not be forgotten, especially at each Trees for Troops event. “When I see a Christmas tree now in December, I’ll always think of him,” he said. “And that’s great, because he’ll be alive forever. As long as you remember somebody, they’re not gone.”