Sandor Istvan Elek , founder of Sandor’s Clothing Ltd, was considered a bit of an outsider when he arrived in Whitehorse, but very quickly gained the respect of local businessmen and the community at large
In fact, his son, also named Sandor, says people still come into the legendary clothing shop with fond memories of Elek Sr. Primarily they reflect on his friendly encouragement of all Yukoners, particularly First Nation communities and immigrants.
A familiar conversation might begin: “I remember when your dad helped me with ….”Elek employed many Yukoners over the years and helped other entrepreneurs find their niche. He took business “on the road” to Faro, selling jeans and cowboy boots. Elek and his wife Glenys were a team for over 20 years, owning and operating more than half a dozen businesses.
I met with Sandor Elek Jr. in the busy Sandor’s store on Chilkoot Way. He remembered the early days, when Qwanlin Mall was a fun place to grow up in. Sandor Jr. would go to the mall after school, where he found a real sense of community; everyone knew each other.
Glenys did all the sewing alterations “on the fly”. She was vital in the running of the family’s other businesses too – Qwanlin Shoes, Workwear North, and Kelly’s Electronic World. She also began, and ran, Chelsea Girl, Busy Bee Drycleaners, and The Main Man. The family worked hard but holidays and family times were also treasured.
Sandor Istvan Elek was born December 20, 1944 in Hungary. He trained as an airplane mechanic and was also a pretty good boxer! The Soviet authorities were interested in his mechanical skills, but wanted him to become a pilot. He was a young boy in 1956 during the Hungarian Revolution. In the early 60’s, Elek decided to leave his native country.
He hid in the cockpit of an airplane for 13 hours and ended up in Cairo, Egypt. When discovered by authorities he had to convince them he was not a spy. In the mid 1960’s he spent a year in a displaced persons camp in Athens, Greece. His friend who had also hidden in the cockpit was there too. They had to decide where to go next.
Elek thought about going to the United States and fighting in Vietnam. However, his friend had only one eye and was not eligible for the army. Elek was not going to abandon his friend, so they emigrated to Montreal instead.
Elek had a natural ear for languages. He could speak Hungarian, Polish, Russian, Greek, French, and English. He easily blended with the 1960’s wave of immigrants coming to Canada. And also caught the fancy of his future-wife Glenys, who was visiting Montreal from Liverpool, England.
Elek drove a cab in Montreal while he retrained as a heavy duty mechanic. Then Elek and Glenys moved west. Sandor Jr. was born in Vancouver in 1970, shortly before the clan moved to Cassiar.
In 1971, Cassiar was a rough and tumble camp town. While Elek enjoyed the life, he became tired of the knuckle busting work – particularly working on machinery outside at minus 48. So the family moved to Whitehorse and Elek’s business career took off.
Everyone he met immediately admired his love of life and his belief in family.
Stroll down the Millennium Trail and visit his Memorial Bench and remember:
Sandor Istvan Elek
December 20, 1944 – October 13, 1993
A great husband, father, friend and a true Yukon entrepreneur.