A pregnant woman was driving in the HOV lane near Dallas.
NEW YORK – A brief conversation with AHEPA’s Supreme President John Galanis confirms that he pours all his energy and heart into this beloved organization on behalf of his brothers and sisters in the AHEPA family, and the Greek-American community as a whole. During a trip to New York, where two of his sons live, Galanis, who lives in Milwaukee, spoke to TNH about what AHEPA means to him, and of its importance to the community.
The essence of AHEPA is that it is a service organization, he said. It is of course an important component of Greek-Americans’ social lives, but Galanis said “I would rather be a member of AHEPA than, for example, the Lions. He noted just a few of their programs: athletics, scholarships, sending young people to Greece, veterans affairs, Hellenic heritage activities for youth, and senior citizen housing – there are 92 homes across the country.
AHEPA is also ethnically oriented, focused on issues concerning Greece, Cyprus, and the Ecumenical Patriarchate. “We are an ally of the Church, and we can do things the Church cannot do,” promote thoseissues he said. Its Washington, DC headquarters gives them prominence in the nation’s capital – AHEPA and the Archdiocese are the community entities best known to elected officials across the country.
Galanis said all members and chapters are encouraged to reach out to and educate their representativeson the community’s issues. He recently met with his Senator Ron Johnson, Chairman of the Subcommittee on European and Regional Security Cooperation. “They are looking for ways to help Greece,” Galanis said.
The importance of influencing America’s policy makers is one of the reasons, along with the need to focus better on the Order’s overall mission and its growth, that the leadership emphasizes unity. Elections are still contested according to parties, but there is a smooth alternation of leadership that can be foreseen for a number of years, allowing candidates to prepare. Last year Galanis travelled to Cyprus and Greece so that he could do a better job when it was his turn.
YOUTH IS THE PRESENT
AHEPA’s prestige today is rooted in its heritage – FDR, Truman and Eisenhower were Ahepans, for which Galanis credits its noble mission statement, which also contributes to its staying power compared withorganizations like GAPA, but the foresight of its leadership through the years aslo deserves credit. Good fortune is the residue of design.
They undertook surveys to engage and learn from the membership. “The Sons of Pericles and the Maids of Athena have been rejuvenated in recent years,” he said with pride. He added “it’s not often recognized, but those groups are training grounds that will enhance their lives, with experience that can used both in business and the non-profit world. They learn how to chair a meeting, how to organize events, and other things.”AHEPA is becoming a valuable networking resource for young professionals.
They have learned that the biggest challenge is not to attract new members – the Order’s heritage is astrong draw – but to retain them. He says the solution is leadership, and involvement. “The more involved we get people – and that generally requires leadership – then they will assume positions of leadership themselves.” “Right now we are at 16,000 members and we average 1500 new people a year,” he said, adding that his goal is 20,000, supplemented by 10,000 in the women’s division.
Driven by his sense of fairness and well as an eye to the future – a national organization cannot ignore half the Greek-American population – Galanis is also a proponent of equal status for the Daughters of Penelope and the Maids of Athena.
He re-iterated the organization’s appeal. “We do good works,” and emphasized “we are chapter driven. The national leadership does not tell them what to do, although there are national projects like the St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox National Shrine and Coolies Anemia. That, said, the more he delves into AHEPA’s work and mission, he sees that they are underfunded at thenational level. As effective as the current staff is, led by Executive Director Basil Mossaides, Galanis said “a minimum of two more people are needed.” The human resources are everywhere, but money is key.
“One of beauties” of his position is the chance to meet talented people with good ideas all over the world.” And the sky is the limit for AHEPA’s international development. “I came back from a trip to Europe with $9,000 for St. Nicholas. A brand new chapter in Brussels gave us $3000 and $6000 from the group in Stuttgart. Galanis’ devotion to Hellenism and the community is rooted the values he and his brother and sister learned at home in Milwaukee. His parents, both from Pyrgos in Elias. “They took us to church every Sunday. It was important to them and me.”
Galanis was active in the local Boys Club, which he continues to serve. He is also a PC member at the Church of the Annunciation, where he and his wife Patricia, who grew up in St. Louis and has roots in Imbros and Northern Greece, raised four children. He became an Ahepan after earning a B.A. from the University of Wisconsin at Madison, but he became very active after earning his law degree at the University of Michigan.
“My aspirations were to be the best I could be. I went to law school after serving in the Army as an ROTC officer and I saved money for my first year at law school, then worked hard to get a scholarship for the balance,” he said. After law school he went to London School of Economic on a Ford Foundation grant and saw a lot of Europe – Greece twice – and Constantinople.
He wasn’t as knowledgeable about Greek history as he is now – he didn’t visit the Phanar, and ironically he is now a devoted Archon, but he agreed that it wasn’t until Archbishop Iakovos focused on the Ecumenical Patriarchate that second generation Greek-Americans became aware of it.
Coming from modest beginnings, he then set his sights on earning a good living and opened his own practice, but he will never stop giving back to his community.
Supreme President John Galanis talks with TNH Publisher-Editor Antonis H. Diamataris.
A pregnant woman was driving in the HOV lane near Dallas.
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