By Vasilis Papoutsis
LOS ANGELES, CA – The American Hellenic Council's (AHC) Annual Awards Gala has been established as the premier award event of the Greek-American community in Southern California, featuring honorees who showcase excellence in various fields including business, philanthropy, entertainment, and public service.
This year's honorees were exceptional as well. Dean Spanos, Owner and Chairman of the Los Angeles Chargers and two Philhellenes,Congresswoman Karen Bass and Archaeologist Stephen Miller.
Emcee Demetrios Boutris had a distinguished career in public service and business, having served as a Commissioner of the Department of Corporations and as Legal Affairs Secretary & Counsel to the governor of California. Boutris said that “I am happy to be back to AHC among the people who always loved me and supported me.”
AHC President Dr. Menas Kafatos thanked the attendees and said that “the Council enters a new era with the addition of new Executive Director Ioannis Fidanakis, two new board members, and extending cooperation with new organizations such as the American Jewish Council and the Armenian National Committee of America in order to promote common interests.”
Spanos’ appearance was highly anticipated given the recent decision to move the team from San Diego to Los Angeles. Dean's father, Alex, owner of the real estate development company A.G. Spanos Companies bought the team in 1984. Alex, born in Stockton to immigrant parents from Messinia, started working in his father's bakery when he was very young. He married to Faye Papafaklis, whose family originates from Symi, and started a family. He soon realized that he could not raise his family on the salary he was making at the bakery and heborrowed $800 to buy a used catering track. He invested his earnings in real estate and by1997 his company had become one of the largest builders in the country.When he bought the Chargers in 1984,he said that “I always believed in the pursuit of one's dreams. In buying the Chargers, I've been able to realize a dream.”
PASSING THE TORCH
Alex wanted the Chargers to remain in the family forever and in 1994 his son took over the presidency of the team. “My father was an authoritative figure, he was strict but he was fair. He loves his family and he instilled in us the value of hard work and community service,” Spanos said. When the younger Spanos became president, he often called his father often for advice. One day his father told him “Dean stop calling me. You are capable in making your own decisions, and when you make mistakes like we all do, you can learn from them. You will be fine.” That advice served Spanos well. During the 11 years he served as president, the Chargers won 113 games; five of which were AFC West Championships. The highlight was the Chargers’ 1994 Super Bowl appearance, his first year in charge.
In 2015, Spanos handed the fortunes of the team to his two sons, A.G., who serves as President of Business Operations and John, who is President of Football Operations. Spanos afforded his sons the same liberty in operating the team as his father did with him. “I have complete confidence in my sons, they have grown up with the team and know the business. As a family we always talk but they need to be making their own decisions.”
MOVING UP THE COAST
The most significant decision was to move the team to Los Angeles, a move received with bitterness by San Diego fans who supported the team for 56 years. The decision came after efforts for over a decade to find a viable solution for a new stadium were unsuccessful. Since then, another California team, the Oakland Raiders have been approved to move to Las Vegas. The common denominator has been the refusal of the two cities to offer public financing to build new stadiums and the end result was that both left.
Disappointed fans are wondering how much loyalty is valued by the NFL. Spanos was very candid about the situation, “I understand the fans’ disappointment because we are disappointed as well. In our case we believe that we offered a proposal that would had been beneficial to the team and the city of San Diego by creating a joint use facility.Extending and renovating the convention center and building a new stadium that the city would use most of the time. And the whole project would had been financed by a hotel tax with no additional cost to the residents. But it was not approved and we were running out of options. Nevertheless, San Diego will always be part of the Chargers identity” he told TNH.
Spanos’ brother Michael, who is President of the A.G. Spanos Companies and who oversees real estate development and construction nationwide, said “we felt that the proposal was a win-win situation for everyone and we worked hard to send out the message. When it failed, it became apparent that the option to move to LA that the NFL offered us should be exercised.”Despite the bitter ending, the fact is thatvia the Chargers Community Foundation, the Spanos family has contributed greatly to the San Diego community. Over the years they have contributed more than $13 million to youth and families in San Diego. “We will continue to contribute to the charities we have established relations with all these years. We will be present in the San Diego community even if the team is not there anymore,”Spanos told TNH.
A.G and John were recently seen at the landmark eatery Pink’s, shaking hands with fans. “The Chargers have a fan base here. Twenty five percent of our fans in our San Diego games came from the LA and Orange county. And we hope that our San Diego fans will make the trip and watch the team play,” Dean Spanos said.“We will be involved with the LA community the same way we were in San Diego. At this time we are in the process of evaluating different proposals.” The outreach efforts seem to have turned perceptions around. Last week it was announced that the season tickets for the new season have been sold out, a very positive development in a long process.Winning is of paramount importance with the fans and this year's team has high hopes. “Our new coach Anthony Lynn has the leadership ingredients we were looking for in a head coach. He commands respect and he will hold the players accountable to perform in a high level,” Spanos added.
Rep. Bass received the Pericles Award for distinction in public service. In her acceptance speech, she spoke about Pericles' legacy as an Athenian leader and the greatness of the Athenian democratic system. She has collaborated on many issues over the years with Aris Anagnos, a founding member of AHC. Bass recently joined the Congressional Hellenic Caucus. She said that “Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan's aggression is very worrisome not just for Greece but also for the other countries in the region.” When asked about the Syrian refugees and the limited contribution of the United States to alleviate the burden that has been placed upon Greece and other Mediterranean countries she acknowledged that “we have not done as much as we should have on that issue. The Obama Administration would have liked to accept more refugees, but they received enormous pressure from conservative Republicans who worried about terrorism. My opinion is that it was more about racism.”
In her view,“our vetting process is very long and very effective. It takes close to two years for anyone to come in the country,” she told TNH.
In assessing the prospects of the Trump Administration she simply said “Chaotic. I suspect that the White House's involvement with Russia would be to very damaging to the Administration.”
When Dr. Miller, distinguished Professor of Archeology at UC Berkeley, arrived at the site of Ancient Nemea in 1973, there was very little there. The excavations were carried out very cautiously and frequently with bare hands.He spent the next 20 years overseeing excavations, and the result was to unearth the ancient stadium. In 1994 he founded the Society for the Revival of the Nemean Games.Dr. Miller insisted that participants to the Games wear similar attires as with those in antiquity. Miller,who lives in Nemea and was unable to travel due to his health, sent a very inspirational video message chronicling his effort to bring the ancient city to life. He recalled that of all the initial contributors, only two were Greeks. One of them was Alex Spanos. He also said that his work in Nemea made him feel part of the magnificent Greek history.
George Kolovos, a real estate developer and philanthropist who has special affection for the project since his wife, Tina, originates from Nemea, received the award on Miller’s behalf.
Upcoming activities for the AHC will include participation in the commemoration for the Armenian Genocide on April 24th in Los Angeles and participation in the ceremony for the commemoration of the Greek Genocide of 1916 at the Fresno City Hall on May 19th. More information at www.americanhellenic.org or contact AHC Executive Director Ioanni Fidanaki.