$3 Million for Hellenic Studies at Stony Brook

NEW YORK – Manhattan’s famed Four Seasons Restaurant was the scene of a celebration of Stony Brook University’s commitment to Hellenism. A dinner hosted by businessman George J. Tsunis on November 29 and attended by the University President Samuel Stanley, was held there in honor of the billionaire philanthropist James H. Simons, in appreciation of his financial support for Hellenic Studies at the University.{55664}
Because Tsunis is the other substantial contributor, the University will establish the George and Olga Tsunis Center for Hellenic Studies and the James and Eleni Tsunis, (his parents’ names) Chair of Hellenic Studies. Each will be allotted $1.5 million.
The endeavor began when the local Greek-American community raised $250,000, including more than $200,000 from the family of Peter and Despina Tsantes, which was matched by Simons. The Tsunis Family has donated $1.25 million, which Simons also matched. Stony Brook has also committed itself to another full-time professor.
Tsunis told TNH Simons has already pledged $375,000 to endow the second chair, and Greek-Americans have begun efforts to raise matching funds led by the New York Chapter of the American Foundation for Greek Language and Culture (AFGLC) which raised the initial donations. {55679}
Tsantes is its treasurer and the president is Stella Tsirka, Professor of Pharmacology at Stony Brook, who also donated $25,000 top the project.
Tsunis hopes the enterprise is a model that will be reproduced across the country.
According to Stony Brook “the incumbent of the Chair in Hellenic Studies will be a leading scholar in his or her field and will assume a leadership role in research and education in Hellenic Studies at Stony Brook. The Center will assist in establishing and enhancing the University’s course offerings in Greek language and fields of Greek literature, history, philosophy, art, society and culture… The Center will also organize visiting lecture programs involving prominent scholars in Greek studies, seminars, symposia and conferences promoting Greek language and culture and assist faculty in publishing of scholarly works on Greek civilization and culture and all other related fields.”
The Modern Greek languages classes are attended by matriculating students and local high school students.
Tsunis told TNH “The University will provide beautiful academic and office spaces,” and he looks forward to the school becoming the center of Hellenic intellectual life on Long Island, but he also stresses the importance of the social spaces where students of Greek descent and philhellenes can gather to build friendships and develop their love of Hellenism, as he did when he was a student at NYU.
Among the 24 people who attended the dinner were the Rev. Alexander Karloutsos, Protopresbyter of the Ecumenical Patriarchate and his presvetera, John Calamos, Dennis Mehiel, James Chanos, C. Dean Metropoulos, David Peterson, the son of Peter Peterson, Attorney General Beau Biden of Delaware, son of Vice President Biden, Harry Wilson, Dr. Peter Michalos, George Michalas, and Phil Mungar and Antonis H. Diamataris.
Tsirka told TNH that the New York chapter of AFGLC was organized about three years ago at the initiative of Tsantes and Calliope Gemelas, who had contacted AFGLC headquarters in Florida, which works to spread their model for establishing endowed chairs in Hellenic studies across the country. The group was put into contact with Tsirka, and they formed a committee which now also includes Mikis Nicodemou, Betty Turner, Van Stamatiades, Calliope Valentine, and Anna Grekoukis and meets every month.
The committee had managed to collect $470,000. That was well short of what was needed, but Tsirka told TNH “we were in the very fortunate situation of having a wonderful donor like Jim Simons.” In 2011 he made a huge gift to Stony Brook, $150 million, and part of that was set aside as a challenge grant. Simons pledged to match any other donation over $25,000.
“George Tsunis also came through and he has been absolutely fantastic,” Tsirka said, explaining that Tsunis approached them as a result of the “recommendation and support and encouragement” of Father Karloutsos, whom she had contacted two years earlier about the endeavor. Karloutsos met with the group a number of times and helped them to organize one of their fundraisers. Tsirka said, “If it wasn’t for him we would not be where we are now. I am very grateful to him.”
Tsunis met with the group and with Stony Brook’s provost, also Greek, Dennis Assanis, and became very excited about the project. “He had this big vision, that matched our vision exactly,” Tsirka said, adding that he immediately pledged to support the chair, which Simons matched.
But Tsunis “came back and said that’s not enough, we need to do more than that,” evoking smiles among her colleagues. He pledged another $750,000 for the Center, which was again matched by Simons.
Tsirka told TNH that travel fellowships for students who go to do “study abroad” in Greece will be named in honor of Tsantes. She also is grateful to Dr. Herodotus Dan Damianos, who offered his Pindar and Duckwalk wineries in Long Island for a fundraiser whose proceeds were also matched.
Tsunis could not express enough appreciation to TNH for the “selflessness and generosity of Simons,” who retired in 2009 as the President and CEO of Renaissance Technology Corporation, one of the worlds most successful hedge funds. His net worth reportedly exceeds $11 billion. Apropos of having developed the mathematical algorithms that are the foundation of his firm’s success, philhellene Simons named his yacht “Archimedes” in honor of the Ancient Greek math genius.