By Anthe Mitrakos
CHICAGO, IL – The PanHellenic Scholarship Foundation (PHSF) awarded a total of 44 scholars during its annual gala held this year at the Ritz Carlton June 18, raising over $500,000 for the non-profit.
Attended by some 500 supporters, the sold out event paid tribute to the PHSF’s late founder, Chris P. Tomaras, who passed away last October just shy of his 78th birthday.
An impressive total of $267,500 merit and need-based scholarships were awarded that night to some of the most exceptional Greek-American undergraduates in the nation.
Hosted by the energetic Mistress of Ceremonies and on-air personality Kiki Vale, the theme of the evening was “Preserving the Legacy” in memory of Tomaras and his continuous commitment to helping deserving students continue their studies, as well as backing numerous Hellenism-related activities and projects.
After PHSF Trustee and Secretary Athan Tom Sotos introduced a memorial film about the founder and his life, Executive Director Yanni Valsamas took the stage to reflect on the foundation’s future.
“The Foundation is alive and well and we will continue the success our founder achieved and excel in our mission to promote education and Hellenism in America,” he said.
Vaslsamas’ speech was then followed by remarks from Chairman of the Academic Committee Dr. Constantine Georgakis, who presented scholarship awards to each recipient in the company of Chairman of the Board of Directors Robert A. Buhler.
The 2016 Paradigm Award went to Calamos Investments Chief Executive Officer John S. Koudounis, who delivered an inspiring speech touching on his life, education and career as a Greek-American.
Following Koudounis was PHSF Chairman Buhler, who delivered a moving speech reflecting Tomaras’ wishes for the continuation of the foundation’s efforts. Even while in the hospital battling illness, Tomaras kept his focus on the future of the PHSF, Buhler noted.
“His hair was perfectly combed, his eyebrows perfectly combed, he was working on a legal tablet making some notes…after insisting on asking about my family, he began a very formal business meeting and got into great detail about his love and dreams for the foundation,” Buhler said. “I was amazed watching a man with very limited time and severe medical conditions brilliantly conduct this important meeting. He then leaned forward and with a look of seriousness and care he said ‘I have no children of my own. The PanHellenic is my only child. You must take good care of her.’ Trying to compose myself, and in an attempt to lighten the mood I said ‘Chris, we will make sure she gets into a good college, and maybe she’ll even qualify for a scholarship,’” he said. “We then both laughed, and cried,” he added.
With mixed feelings, the crowd listened attentively to Tomaras’ aspirations and final words for the foundation and all involved.
“We are all here tonight helping to maintain Chris’ dream,” Buhler said, and briefly outlined how the organization plans to grow through alumni relations and co-branding partnerships.
“It’s a big statement to Chris that everyone is here tonight,” he said. “They knew it was a legacy event and they’re really honoring it.”
Dinner for the night was accompanied by entertainment from the Chris Sarlas Orchestra, a special presentation by 2016 Georgia S. Mitchell Music & Arts Scholarship recipient Thomas Dean Bravos, followed by very lively Greek dance music by guest performer John Panopoulos, which got the crowd off their seats.
A raffle that night awarded cash prizes of $1,000, $5,000 and $10,000 to lucky recipients Ernest Stavropoulos, Soterios Frentzas and Georgia Litsos.
Esteemed gala attendees included His Eminence Metropolitan Iakovos of Chicago, Consul General of Greece Polixeni Petropoulos, Cook County Treasurer Maria Pappas, President of the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Chicago Mariyana T. Spyropoulos, Dean of the School of Humanities and Sciences at Stanford University Dr. Richard Saller, and former Executive Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of C. Dean Metropoulos & Co, Dean Metropoulos.
“This is a great event for young Greek-Americans and one of the best events because it promotes education, our culture and our community,” said Joseph Adams, a medical student at Midwestern University.
Dedicated to promoting education and leadership, the PanHellenic Scholarship Foundation is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that recognizes and honors exceptional undergraduate students of Hellenic descent, supporting their efforts with significant monetary awards based on academic merit and financial need.
More information is available at panhellenicscholarships.org.