CHICAGO, IL – “Isocrates, some 2300 years ago, defined a ‘Hellene’ not by one’s genealogical tree but as a person who partakes of the Hellenic Paideia – Education and Culture.” Those words adorn the home page of the Ted & Erika Spyropoulos Foundation. Its president and founder, Theodore George Spyropoulos, passed away on September 25, at age 75. The words embody the man’s passion for Hellenism, which stands to reason why he was so widely beloved by Greek-Americans and non-Greek Philhellenes alike.
Better known to friends as “Ted,” Spyropoulos has been perennially admired for his unwavering contributions to fostering Hellenism in the United States and abroad. Alongside Erika Knickman, his wife of 54 years, and their daughter Mariyana, he was a consistent supporter of Greek efforts, a frequenter of Greek restaurants, and present at countless community events over the years. Standing tall with his characteristic white hair and Mrs. Spyropoulos by his side, his presence in the Greek-American community was well-noted.
Friends and family gathered to say their last goodbyes to the beloved community leader. Commemorative wreaths, including those from the Hellenic Republic of Greece, the Government of Cyprus, and several embassies, filled the room where visitors reflected on Spyropoulos’ life and contributions. Illinois Governor Patrick Quinn, former Illinois State Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias, and the Honorable James K. Booras of Illinois’ 19th Judicial Circuit were among notable guests attending memorial services to pay their tribute and respect.
The funeral service held at St. Demetrios Greek Orthodox Church in Elmhurst, IL on September 29. Archbishop Demetrios dispatched an extensive tribute, praising Spyropoulos as a great leader for his many contributions to Hellenism and the community. Leading the funeral service was Bishop Demetrios of Mokissos, Chancellor of the Metropolis of Chicago, and Archimandrite Ierotheos Zacharis of the Sacred Patriarchal Monastery of St. Irene Chrysovalantou in Astoria.
Giannoulas described Spyropoulos as “a giant in our community. He did so much for so many. He was a leader. He was an organizer. It’s a very sad day for his family. It’s a very sad day for the community. He inspired thousands of Greek Americans and it’s up to us to live up to his legacy and help the next generation through his lessons.”
Spyropoulos was “the most significant Greek I have met in my life,” said Dr. George Sianis, who “had the opportunity of being his doctor for the last couple of months. He was dedicated to the community and dedicated to the ideals of Hellenism. He expressed to me with regret that Greece has problems and that the Greek-American community is not doing so well itself these days. He was a worthy man, and I am sorry that he left us so early. I hope that other Greeks follow his example.”
CHAMPION OF HELLENISM
Born in Kalavryta, Greece, Spyropoulos studied political science in Stockholm, Sweden, where he met Erika. After serving in the Hellenic Navy, he immigrated to Chicago in 1964 and served as president of T.G.S. National Wholesalers, an automotive wholesaler operating in the United States, Europe, and the Middle East. He was also president of A & T Oil Company, T.G.S. Petroleum Co. Inc., Can2 International Manufacturing and Marketing and “Plant Your Roots in Greece,” an initiative that helps reforest fire-stricken acres across Greece.
Throughout his life, Spyropoulos’ ambitions were to unite Greek-Americans on the national issues affecting Greece and Cyprus, and to promote the improvement of education. As such, he was a significant financial supporter of Greek-American and Philhellenic politicians, organizations, and media through the Ted and Erika Spyropoulos Foundation.
The Foundation’s mission, according to its website, spyropoulos.org, is “to unite Greek-Americans for the national issues of Hellas and Cyprus; the improvement of Education; the establishment of Hellenic Studies in America; the creation of cultural centers in the United States wherever there are Hellenic Communities; to organize and provide assistance to the Hellenic-American Youth; and for the improvement and preservation of Hellenic American democratic ideals.”
PanHellenic Scholarship Foundation Chairman Chris P. Tomaras described Spyropoulos as “indeed a legendary figure. He was a man known throughout the Greek-American community because of his work, because of his beliefs, and because of what he actually did. He was a man who really offered a lot. Anytime he was asked for something, he was there to provide it. He never refused anyone, regardless of what the request was for. The idea was that he fought for several causes, especially Greek education.”
Even though Spyropoulos succumbed to his illness, his dream lives on. As Tomaras described: “The man gave a very, very strong fight and whatever he left behind will continue without a doubt. All of us who cared a lot about him will continue that work. We certainly miss him. Without a doubt he will always be considered a man that stood as an example for us to follow…I believe there will be others like him that will do similar things.”
An avid supporter of various initiatives, Spyropoulos was also a member of numerous associations including AHEPA, the Businessmen’s Democratic National Committee, the American European Committee Association USA, and the International Political Advisory Council.
Judge Booras said “the term ‘Hellene’…should be next to his name. He made a great impact on the community, not only financially, but also organizing the community, putting together all those Greek organizations that maybe had different agendas…he united them all to be one. Congratulations to him for that. He will be missed.”
Serving as the first elected president of the Hellenic American National Council USA, where he advocated Hellenic issues in Washington, Spyropoulos supported a number of exchange program scholarships, parochial and charter schools, university programs, and the Greek-American Teacher’s Association, while organizing conventions promoting Hellenic ideals on local and international levels alike.
Vassilis Peponis said “Ted was a people’s person. He never stopped supporting the omogenia. He helped all the Greek-American politicians. It was an individual who was not meant to leave us. God did injustice to him. Theodore was like a beehive that attracted all the honeybees to help him continue what he believed in – the betterment of humanity.”
An ardent advocate of youth, Spyropoulos told TNH in 2008 that the adults in the community do not do enough to understand the priorities of its younger members (“Spyropoulos: We Ignore the Needs of Youth,” Sept. 13, 2008). Most recently, TNH reported about Spyropoulos’ participation in the short film The Greek Secret, about philotimo, which he described as “the most unique word that the human being has to express himself” (“The Greek Secret: Video about ‘Philotimo,’” Sept. 13).
In concluding to his message to all visitors to his Foundation’s home page, Spyropoulos advises: “We Hellenes, regardless of where we live, are carriers of Hellenism. We ought to also be carriers of Paideia, for these two concepts are identical. When we are carriers of both, we will indeed be able to look at our young people in the eye without any guilt.” He may have left us in body, but his spirit, and his words, live on.