LOS ANGELES, CA – At their annual dinner dance, the Cretans of Southern California (CSC) honored Alex Gus one of their longest serving members and paid tribute to the Arkadi Holocaust.
The event took place at St. Anthony’s church in Pasadena and featured a Cretan music group that was brought here directly from Crete, delicious Cretan food, skilled dancers, and lots of fun.
CSC President Thanasis Lantzourakis presented the historical tribute on the 150th anniversary of the Arkadi Holocaust. In 1866 after two hundred years of brutal Ottoman rule, the Christians of Crete decided to react and formed the Cretan revolutionary committee. The decision was to seek Unification with Greece and to stop recognizing the Turkish rule. The monastery of Arkadi in Rethymnon became the heart of the revolution and the Turkish ruler Ishmail Pasha sent a letter requesting that the revolutionary forces surrender upon his arrival. Their answer was similar to the one Leonida’s sent to the invading Persians, We Prefer War.
The battle was hugely uneven as of the 964 people inside the monastery only 325 were men trained to fight against fifteen thousand Ottomans with heavy artillery. Once the Turks got inside the monastery the Cretans decided to sacrifice themselves and inspire others. They blew up the gunpowder room and the explosion killed most of the Christians and at least 1,500 Turks died. Three years later, in 1869, a new rebellion broke out and this time Crete was liberated vindicating the Arkadi sacrifice.
CSC honored Gus for his almost 60 years of contributions. CSC was formed in October, 1950 and Gus joined in 1957. The idea of an association took shape during a social gathering at the Joe Metzidis’ family home. Metzidis and George Skandale were instrumental in the formation of the association and it has been active ever since. They joined the Pan Cretan Association in 1956. The chapter awarded its own scholarships in addition of participating in all of the philanthropic fundraisers of the PAA. Gus’ history with the organization is an interesting one since he is not born Cretan but he married into the Cretan family.
“I was injected with the Cretan culture. I was humbled by their warmth and inclusiveness and I consider them family,” Gus told TNH. They liked him so much that they had to change the bylaws so he could be able to serve on the board. Alex has served two terms as President and was the recording secretary for 11 years. Gus’ family left Greece in 1939 after Hitler had invaded Poland and came to America. “At age 12, I remember collecting money for the Greek Aid wearing proudly my foustanela,” he said. He was also part of the team that campaigned to bring the PAA National convention to California and finally hosting it for the first time in Anaheim in 1990. Chaired by George Skandale and Mike Stavros, it was proclaimed “as one of the best ever” and it is one of the highlights in the club’s history. New SCCA President Thanasis Lantzourakis and the new board that consists of George Zoumberakis Vice President, Corresponding Secretary Helen Skandale, Recording Secretary Bobby Zoumberakis, and Treasurer Mike Sapon have big ambitions for the new year. Lantzourakis who had served for many years in different capacities in the PAA told TNH that he and the new board want to increase membership by 25% by approaching young families who are of Cretan descend, and by adopting Nikos Kazantzakis’ belief, who said that “whoever sets foot on this island senses a mysterious force branching warmly through their veins, I believe once we approach them it will reignite the dormant spark in their hearts as many have passionate memories from visiting the island, a lot of them as exchange students.”
With involvement from Cretans Omonoia, Orange County “we want to establish Cretan dance groups from an early age to high school age students. Other goals are sponsorship of local and national programs that promote Cretan and Greek culture and to reestablish the local scholarship program.”
Now, the focus will be on the Christmas dinner that the chapter hosts with the Cretans Omonoia of Orange County, on December 11 at St. John in Anaheim, CA.
More information is available on the Facebook page Socalcretans.