SALT LAKE CITY, UT – The Cretan community of Utah will be hosting an eventful weekend to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the formal establishment of their local Cretan organization. The Minos Century Celebration takes place on Friday, Jun. 1-Sunday, Jun. 3, in Salt Lake City.
Dr. Tony Gianoulis- Chairman of the Minos Century Celebration, told The National Herald about the event and this remarkable community. He said, “The Cretan community in Utah has a very large presence. Many Cretans came to Utah at the turn of the 20th century to work in the copper mines. As the years went by, more and more Cretans immigrated to Utah and established their families, homes, and businesses here. Today, we are one of the largest Cretan communities in the United States. Moreover, we are proud of the fact that Utah had the first organized Cretan club in all of the USA.”
The History of the Cretans in Utah
The first Cretan immigrants who came to the United States left everything and everyone back home in search of a better life. They immigrated to a strange land not knowing the language. They had no money or formal education but did have their faith, love for their heritage, filotimo, and devotion to their religion. In 1905, their long work hours and faith paid off when they were able to help build the first Greek Orthodox Church in Salt Lake City, on 400 South and 400 West.
John Leventis came to Bingham Canyon, UT from Theriso Kidonias, Chania, Crete in the early 1900s. With the help of his brother, Steve, John opened up a butcher shop and the Acropolis, a local coffee shop. John was known as the Kapetanio of all the Cretans in Bingham Canyon.
In 1910, he organized the first Cretan Club in the United States called the Cretan Brotherhood of Bingham Canyon. Stella Mamalakis was the first woman to join this club which united many of the Cretan immigrants providing them a “home away from home.” Unfortunately, the club dissolved shortly after Palm Sunday in 1912 when most members returned to Greece to fight in the Balkan Wars. Additionally, the Kennecott Copper Mine accused the local Cretans of organizing a union, causing some to serve jail time. John stayed behind and continued to be the undisputed Cretan leader. Utah’s National Guard was called out to end a worker’s insurrection led by Utah’s Greek miners. The strike was organized to get a $0.25 raise a day and stop paying agent Leonidas George Skliris finder’s fees from each pay check.
In 1918, John Leventis, Sam Kounalis, John Harhalis and several other Cretans re-organized a Cretan club, this time in Salt Lake City. The club was named the Cretan Brotherhood of Minos. Later the name was changed to Minos.
In 1923, the first Cretan Magazine, written by Sam Kounalis, circulated across the United States. It was written on the first Greek typewriter in the United States purchased by Minos. This magazine went on to become KPHTH magazine, which continues to circulate today.
In 1923, Salt Lake City had a ground breaking ceremony for the new Holy Trinity Cathedral on 300 South and 300 West where it still stands today. The cornerstone of this new Cathedral was to be dedicated to Minos. Minos’ pledge of $2,100 granted them the privilege of placing the cornerstone. In total, the Minos chapter raised over $8,000 for the construction of the new church.
In 1924, the Castle Gate No. 2 Mine explosion killed 172 men leaving 417 dependents. Of the 49 Greeks perishing in the disaster, 48 of them were Cretan, leaving behind 41 orphans. Minos along with the mining company raised over $130,000 for the families of the victims. Unfortunately not even one wooden cross was placed in any of the Cretan miner’s memory.
In 1986, Chris Tsoutsounakis, President of Minos, spearheaded an effort which included all local Cretan chapters, the Hellenic Greek Orthodox Church of Salt Lake and the Hellenic Cultural Association (HCA) of Salt Lake to construct a monument to honor these Greeks. The co-sponsorship included the veterans who lost their lives in World War I and World War II, the founders of the Greek Orthodox Church, and all the Greeks who have lost their lives in industrial accidents in Utah. This monument stands today on the campus of Holy Trinity Cathedral in Salt Lake City.
In 1929, many Cretans from across the United States gathered in Chicago to create the national organization The Pancretan Association of America (PAA). Among them was Utah resident Sam Kounalis who was integral in the creation of the national organization. The PAA spearheaded multiple philanthropic endeavors over the years. The Cretans in Utah helped the national organization in donating to the Venizeleion Sanatorium Hospital in Iraklion, Saint George Hospital in Chania, a hospital in Rethymnon, the Venizelos Scholarship for students of Cretan descent, death benefits for the families of deceased members of the PAA, donations to War Relief organizations, the orphans in Crete, the Dowry Fund, the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese USA, sick and indigent members, Maliotis Cultural Center, Cyprus refugees, the University of Crete Endowment Fund and many other philanthropic institutions in Crete.
In 1934, the Cretans of Utah hosted the 4th PAA National Convention in Salt Lake City.
In 1956, the Cretans of Utah hosted another PAA National Convention chaired by John Maragakis.
In 1961, the Minos chapter sponsored a special banquet to honor Mike Manatos who was the highest ranking Greek (Cretan) under the Kennedy and Johnson administrations. Mr. Manatos was the founder and first president of the Cretan club of Washington, DC.
In 1971, the national Pancretan Youth Association convention was hosted by Salt Lake City and was chaired by George Brokalakis. Fundraisers from this event went to the PAA Venizelion Scholarship fund and the Greek Orthodox Church of Salt Lake City.
In 1975, Minos raised money for the High School of Hora Sfakion.
In 1978, the Cretan clubs of Utah hosted another PAA National Convention once again chaired by John Maragakis. In the same year the Cretans of Utah donated $50,000 for the mosaic in the narthex of Prophet Elias Church in Salt Lake City. Under the presidency of Tony Kourianos, the members of Minos also raised money to sponsor a PAA sound system for the church memorial building.
In 1980, the Cretan clubs of Utah sponsored a banquet to honor all the 57 living Protoporoi.
In 1983, the Minos chapter hosted a national exhibit on The Battle of Crete.
In 1986-1989, during the presidency of Chris Tsoutsounakis along with Jim Fuskandrakis and Jim Katsanevas, Minos raised $80,000 earmarked for the purchase of a Cretan House.
In 1986, Minos hosted members of the Labry Dance Group from New York to perform at their annual Horoesperitha. This inspired the Cretan youth in Salt Lake to start a dance group. Since then hundreds of youth have participated in dancing at various ethnic events. Today, over 100 youth members perform with this dance group.
In 1987, the Venizelos Exhibition was sponsored and brought to Utah by the Minos chapter. The exhibit was featured at the University of Utah for a week.
In 1988, the Minotavros Cretan youth chapter, under the presidency of Tony Gianoulis, sponsored a Salt Lake community New Year’s Eve party raising approximately $5,000 for the Greek Orthodox Community of Salt Lake City.
In 1991, the Minos chapter raised money for the construction of the Iatreio of Anopoli, Sfakion.
Also in 1999, the Minos chapter, under the presidency of Michael J. Katsanevas, raised $10,000 for the restoration of Holy Trinity Cathedral and $250,000 for the construction of the new pavilion at Prophet Elias in Salt Lake.
In 2001, under the presidency of George Liodakis, Minos raised $27,000 for the Despotiko Throno at Holy Trinity Cathedral.
In 2005, Minos member Andrew Hillas discovered that 29 of those Cretans who perished in the 1924 Castle Gate Mine disaster were buried in mass or unmarked graves. Hillas spent countless hours reconciling cemetery records with death certificates and Ellis Island manifestos to determine who was buried where. With the help of Minos, Hillas raised enough money to create a monument in the Price, Utah cemetery to honor and name the 29 Cretan immigrant miners. In that same year Minos, under the presidency of George Tsoutsounakis, raised $12,000 for the Prophet Elias Pavilion and $10,000 for the PAA Venizelion Scholarship.
In 2015, the PAA National Convention was hosted by Salt Lake City. Under the chairmanship of Kosta Katsohirakis, this convention was one of the best attended and successful conventions ever for the PAA.