WEIRTON, WV – A mother is the most holy, respected, and sacred person on earth. She has the special quality of becoming co-creator with God, because she brings life into the world and thus God’s Creation continues. It is through Mary Ann Psaros, from Weirton, WV, wife of 54 years to George and beloved mother of Michael and Harry, that The National Herald honors all Greek-American mothers this year.
Mary Ann Psaros is a woman of honesty, integrity, ethos, dedication to good works and philanthropy, deep faith in the Orthodox Church and appreciation for Hellenism. She is a mother among mothers, full of wisdom and kindness.
She was born in 1938 in Steubenville, OH, because she said “Weirton, WV did not have a hospital at the time.” The daughter of Greek immigrants, she explained that “both of my parents came from Olympi on the island of Chios. My grandfather, my pappou on my father’s side, was capital Papa Stamatios Loufakis. He was the village priest. On my mother’s side, her father was the village mayor. My mother’s name was Evyenia Gailla. My father’s name was Harilaos (Harry) Loufakis.”
This is how we started our conversation, which ended up a becoming a really fascinating interview of a woman with charisma and above all love for her husband, sons, daughters-in-law, grandchildren, sisters, relatives, her church of All Saints in Weirton WV, for everyone.
The interview follows:
TNH: What brought your parents to Weirton?
AP: My father first came to Weirton like other immigrants who heard work was being offered at Weirton Steel. You did not have to speak the language well, just be a good worker and work hard in the mill.
TNH: What do you remember most about your parents?
AP: We had a strong family structure. Each of us had a role to play. Dad left Weirton Steel and opened a small store, a retail store. He called it the Sun Novelty Shoppe. He worked in the store from 6AM to 7PM each day. When we were old enough, we worked with him. Mom was in charge of the house. She cooked, cleaned, planted her garden, took us to school and to church each Sunday.
TNH: What was it like growing up in a Greek Orthodox home and family?
AP: Our parents expected the best from us, and we in turn produced it. In school, we were excellent students. My older sister, Kathie, even helped my dad with the bookkeeping for the store. I helped dad in the store and when he passed away in 1963. I took a leave of absence from the school to close the store. I was familiar with the Sun Novelty Shoppe more than my sisters were. From an early age, I had an interest in music. My mother and father gave me music lessons on the piano at a very early age. My younger sister eventually took violin lessons. Our understanding of the Greek Orthodox faith was based on a very strong family life.
TNH: You went to college and studied to become a teacher. How easy or how difficult was it at that time for a Greek girl to go to college? And what attracted you to education and to teaching?
AP: First of all, my sister Kathie was the first daughter to attend and graduate from West Virginia University (WVU). She majored in journalism. This was the year, 1953. Most Greek girls didn’t major in this field at the time. I was next in line. I, too, went to WVU. I would major in music education. I enjoyed teaching children and this would be my life’s profession. Our youngest sister, Victoria, would also attend WVU and she, too, majored in journalism.
TNH: Where did you teach, what subjects, for how many years?
AP: I was hired by the Hancock County Board of Education in 1960 to teach music history in the classroom as it had been taught for many years. I took the teaching of music to a new level. I received permission to start a chorus during my lunch hour. My first class included 30 students. During the first year, we met during my lunch hour. We even performed at the end of the year. During the next year, I petitioned to get the course in the curriculum as a credited class. What started as an experimental class, blossomed into classes numbering 75 students at a time. When we marched on the stage at the end of the year, we looked like an army. I directed the course at the middle school. Five of those years were also spent at Weir High School.
TNH: What did teaching mean to you? How did you feel every time you entered the classroom?
AP: I loved directing my chorus. Hearing those young voices in three-part harmony was very rewarding. Each year, we would start out slowly, but by the end of the year, seeing what they had accomplished, the proud look on their face; it was very rewarding to me and to them.
TNH: How are schools and teaching today as compared to when you taught?
AP: We did not have computers and cell phones. Teachers taught penmanship, which is no longer taught. We did math in our heads, not on calculators. We read from books, not computers. We typed on typewriters. We did not have locked doors. You entered the school freely. We never even thought of guns or shootings. But then came the Columbine High School shooting in Colorado and things then changed in many ways. Please note that during my senior year in high school, which was 1956, the Weirton schools integrated. This development went smoothly without any trouble in our area.
TNH: When, where, and how did you meet your husband, George?
AP: George and I grew up in the same community and attended the All Saints Greek Orthodox Church. George went to WVU, enrolled in ROTC. He was sent to Germany in Army intelligence. When he came back to Weirton, he got a job as an electrical engineer at Weirton Steel. At Christmas, George needed a date for the engineer’s ball, and that would become our first date.
TNH: When did you get married, where what do you remember most about your wedding day?
AP: George and I were married at All Saints on July 11th, 1965. It was a beautiful, warm, dry day. Our church had no air conditioning. My brother-in-law Alexander Dematatis escorted me down the aisle and gave me away. My father had passed away in 1963 from uremia. His absence from my wedding brought tears to my eyes. The two families were present as well as my friends and teachers who were important in my life.I feel we were meant to be together. Our union started in 1965 and is still going strong 53 years later. We were both very happy to start a new life together.
TNH: How was life in Weirton back then financially, socially?
AP: The steel mill in Weirton was at its peak with full employment. Steel workers were making a good salary. Socially, Weirton had a diverse cultural population, but everyone got along and we respected one another.
TNH: What was the Greek community like?
AP: From what I remember, in the 60s, 70s, and 80s we still had a major Greek immigrant population. As I attended church each Sunday, you knew who was sitting in each designated pew. What we had then but don’t have now in Weirton is a Greek school. My two sisters and I, and George’s brother and sister, attended American school during the day and Greek school three times a week after American school. We were taught the history of Greece. We were taught to read and write the Greek language. We celebrated all Greek holidays by reciting poetry by memory. My boys wore the Greek Evzones uniform. It was called the fustanella, something that they don’t do today. Today they wear long black pants.
TNH: Did your life change with the births of your children?
AP: Becoming a mother totally changed my life. Our first born, Michael, named after George’s father, was a blessing. A child brings joy, happiness to a family. It brings families together. The grandparents on both sides were overjoyed. My mother, who was a widow, would become a great part in our family as our chief babysitter. It gave her a new purpose in life. She became Mike’s teacher, Mike’s mentor. Their bond until she passed away was indescribable. The only time Yiayia Evygenia flew on a plane, was to fly to Michael and Robin’s wedding. This was one event she wasn’t going to miss.
I remember how lovely she looked that day admiring the young couple. My son Harry and my sister Kathie’s son, Harry, walked my mother down the aisle. It made for an incredible photo and memory.
Is it possible to describe, how does it feel to become a mother?
AP: As a mother, you bring new life into the world. You feel blessed that God enabled you to have two sons. A child is a gift, each day as you look at each child, their development, their desires. The love and attention you give them will help them in their development. I feel as a mother I should be there for them, support them, and encourage them. But what I won’t do is to tell them what to do.
TNH: Did it cross your mind that becoming a mother and bringing children, or better yet, good children, into the world, you actually have become a co-creator with God?
AP: From the moment each of my sons were born, I felt a deeper connection with my church and with my Orthodox religion because of the blessings that had been bestowed upon me. As they grew up, I was ever mindful to teach them their heritage and the Greek Orthodox religion. The boys attended church on Sunday and went to Greek school three times a week.
TNH: Please talk a little about your children growing up. What was some of the advice you used to give them? Were they good children?
AP: Michael and Harry were six years apart, but they were close growing up. Their goals were the same: to be the best that they could be. They were class leaders, class presidents, honor students. They were members of GOYA. They were involved in church activities. In high school, Mike became a member of the Key Club, a service organization sponsored by Kiwanis. He would run to be elected as Key Club Governor of the State of West Virginia. When he won this position, he met with the middle school principal. He was instrumental in starting the junior high Builders Club, the middle school version of the Key Club. I would become the only sponsor for 18 years, working with the middle school students doing community service, which was even an education for me in that before the Builders Club, I had never experienced a joy of doing for others. Harry would serve as my Builders Club president. In his sophomore year, he would win the statewide position of Governor for the State of West Virginia. Both Mike and Harry would serve as international trustees of Key Club International, representing multiple states. I bring this to your attention because the foundation for community service had its roots with the community service project completed while members of this organization.
TNH: How do you feel seeing our sons now grown up and successful in their fields?
AP: I feel both boys have been successful in their fields.
Michael received a BS/BA degree in finance, minoring in Japanese, at Georgetown University. He also attended Sofia University in Tokyo, Japan. His philanthropic endeavors are well known nationally and globally. Mike’s generosity to his family, friends, church, and community has no bounds. He continues to make me proud with his neverending list of accomplishments. We are especially proud that he is the Treasurer of the Archdiocesan Council of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America.
Harry is a graduate of the University of Pittsburgh in the field of industrial engineering. He is presently the acute care business manager for Mallinckrodt Pharmaceuticals. Although his contributions to his community and church aren’t as well publicized, he isvery active and respected. He is a part of the following activities and organizations: Vice President of All Saints Parish Council; Leadership 100 member; AHEPA member;
Founder and board member of the North Fayette PALS, an organization for the betterment of special needs children; Board of Directors VP of the Autism Caring Center; member of the North Fayette Township Parks and Recreation committee (a committee that organizes all social events in his township); Senior Writer for Pittsburgh Sports News and known in Pittsburgh as “The Pitt Guru.” Lastly, he is an accomplished martial artist in Tang Soo Do karate.
TNH: Do you continue to give them advice today, and if so, what kind of advice?
AP: I only give advice if I’m asked for my opinion. If not, I do not impose on my children.
TNH: What does it take someone to be a good mother?
AP: Every child is different. You cannot advise or treat both in the same way. Every student I taught was different. You must use good judgment. Be understanding of their problems. You must keep a positive attitude and always encourage them to do the very best. That’s all you can do.
TNH: How many grandchildren do you have?
AP: I have five grandchildren. Alexandra, Leo, and Marina are Michael’s children. Costa (Gus) and Maximos (Max) are Harry’s children.
TNH: What is the secret about how your marriage continues to be strong all these years?
AP: Regardless of any problems or obstacles faced, we were always united in putting our children first in our life. Our love and respect for one another, our strong faith instilled by the teaching of our church, have kept our marriage sound. I would offer the same advice to any young couples.
TNH: If you had a advice to give to today’s mothers, what would it be?
AP: In this digital age of YouTube, Facebook and Instagram, children are exposed to greater environmental distractions, which require a young mother to be more vigilant. Mothers must address each problem individually, whether it be problems from school, problems socially or family situations.
TNH: What are your thoughts on this Mother’s Day?
AP: My first thoughts this Mother’s Day are with my beautiful, intelligent, and lovely granddaughter Alexandra, who will be graduating from Syracuse University. Her pappou and I wish her continuous success in her career and in her life in general. Secondly, I will have the pleasure of being with my two daughters-in-laws Robin and Michelle. Both have been a blessing in my life. They are lovely, educated, caring young ladies and phenomenal mothers. Sadly, on this day, I will miss both my mother, who passed away on this day in 1999, and my beautiful mother-in-law Mary.
TNH: Have you been to Greece?
AP: George and I and Mike’s family traveled to Greece together twice. My grandfather, my pappou Stamati, was the village priest. When the people in the village heard that we were in the village, they opened his church and let us walk through. It was an extremely emotional moment in that I never knew any of my grandparents. Just being in the village is something I will never forget.
TNH: Which were some of the happiest days of your life?
AP: My wedding day. The days of the births of my children and grandchildren. And the joy of watching them mature as young adults with great character.
TNH: Finally, if you were to start your life today, what would you do differently?
AP: I would not change anything. I feel with every step in my life, I have been blessed by good fortune, good health, the love of my children, the love of my grandchildren, and the love and support of my husband, George.
TNH: Any other thoughts to share?
AP: The first Mother’s Day was celebrated in Grafton, WV. I feel so honored to be interviewed for this very special day. Lately, in the news, everyone has heard about the teachers’ strike in West Virginia. Teachers were underpaid when I was a teacher and continue to be. In my career, I was blessed with honors money can’t buy. First, in 1995, the West Virginia Community College honored me as Citizen of the Year for outstanding accomplishments in the field of education. Secondly, the Hancock County Board of Education named the little theater at Weir Middle School, the Mary Ann Psaros Little Theater. Third, in 2012, the city of Weirton voted me in the city of Weirton’s Hall of Fame in the field of the fine arts. Lastly, when my mother passed away, Michael bought the house from my sisters that she lived in.
George and I remodeled the house and kept it in the family. When Michael learned that the Christian Center needed to expand its services, but needed more space, he donated that home on Orchard Street in which I grew up to them. That organization helped young children and young adults in need. My cousin, Archon Nick Latousakis, who is on the board of the Christian Center, named the house Evyenia’s House of Hope. Today, Evyenia’s House has more meeting rooms and services for children and adults in need. We are so proud of this contribution to the Weirton community.