BROOKLYN – The Borough President of Brooklyn, Eric L. Adams, in conjunction with the Hellenic Community of Brooklyn hosted a Greek Heritage Celebration at Borough Hall on March 23.
Very Rev. Eugene Pappas, pastor of the Three Hierarchs Church, was the Emcee. He read a prayer and greeting from Archbishop Demetrios and invited the color guard, Three Hierarchs’ Boy Scout Troop 531- the Golden Greeks – into the ornate courtroom.
Zoe Koutsoupakis praised the achievements and community contributions of the honorees and thanked the benefactors and all who contributed to the success of the event, including attorney Andrew Gounardes, counsel to the borough president, for helping organize the event. “We are very proud of him,” she said.
Gounardes echoed Koroupakis’ acknowledgements and introduced Adams, who said the event has become one of his favorites and emphasized the importance of expressing appreciation for the contributions of citizens and of the Greek-American community.
He also longs to reprise his visit to Greece. “Tony Bennett sang ‘I left my heart in San Francisco.’ I left my heart in Mykonos.”
Adams revealed that he has been studying Greek history of late, and said that while people talk about Hellenes laying the foundation of Western Civilization what touches him is that after the Greeks obtained their freedom from Ottoman rule, “from your struggle you ensured other did not have to struggle,” and cited the establishment of AHEPA to fight the Ku Klux Klan in the 1960s and Archbishop Iakovos’ marching with Martin Luther King in Selma, AL.
Amb. George Iliopoulos, Consul General of Greece, congratulated the honorees and noted that in 1821 the Greeks risked everything in a war that others perceived to be an ”irrational and hopeless undertaking,” but they fought under the sacred banner “freedom or death” and prevailed.
When Iliopoulos cited the current crisis, he acknowledged it is not comparable to the wars and invasions Greece has endured, nevertheless “it has shaken our society and many have suffered, but our responsibility is to be part of the solution, not the problem. We need to ask ourselves whether we are doing our part and our duty.” Among the responsibilities of the diaspora, he said, is to pass on to next generation our values, language and tradition.”
He then turned to Adams and declared, “You have among your constituents here probably the best citizens you could wish for.”
The Honorees were introduced in alphabetical order by Fr. Pappas, Koutsoupakis, Gounardes, James Tampakis, Stella Kokolis, Tony Grigos, Angelo Mallas and Basil Kapetanakis.
Fr. Pappas takes pride in – and the guests appreciate – his ability to move the speaking program swiftly towards the students’ dance performances and the delicious food that awaited them, so only a few the highlights of the lives of the honorees were noted.
Marjorie Bacas, president of the Philoptochos of Sts. Constantine and Helen has been a dedicated member of the chapter for 45 years.
Theodore Bouzalas has presided over a successful real estate business in Bay Ridge and has served, led Arcadian societies, is a published poet and benefactor of scholarships.
Constantine (Gus) Christakos has served on the Three Hierarchs parish council (PC) for 35 years. He preceded Dean Veroutis as scoutmaster of Troop 531, succeeding the legendary John “Mr. K” Kentouris.
Joanna Giannopoulos was a veteran of the beloved Greek programs of radio station WEVD. In 2001 she joined Cosmos FM as a volunteer and since 2006 has served as its director of operations. She has served Three Hierarchs as PTA president and Philoptochos board member.
As always, Kokolis offered an especially touching introduction. She said Dianne Gounardes of Holy Cross Church “is the face of all women who…who teach our children Hellenic values.” In 1992 she shifted from a career in business to education, eventually rising to assistant principle of PS 170.
Fr. Pappas pointed to Andrew Gounardes and said “that’s his mother!”
James Hagipetros has worked in shipping and real estate. He has been a PC member at Holy Cross since 1989, served as its president, and has been a basketball coach for 25 years.
Businessman John Kafkis was born in Lemnos is a member of the Kimisis PC has served as its treasurer.
Attorney Calliope Manis was one of the first women PC members in Brooklyn. “She was one woman among 27 men on the Kimisis Board. She was a fighter and never backed down,” Mallas said..
The Pantelides brothers – George, James and Peter – grew up in Bay Ridge and built their real estate company Pan Brothers Associates into a firm with investments across America.
George, and James are Archons, and members of Leadership 100. Peter, a 9/11 first respondent, is a member of Leadership 100.
Constantine Vassilakos is proud to have been a student the day the A. Fantis School opened – Tampakis was his classmate and they sat together throughout elementary school. They have since served together on the PC and the A. Fantis school board.
Nicholas Chamberas representing State Assemblywoman Nicole Malliotakis, who could not leave the state capitol, brought up the rebuilding of St. Nicholas at Ground Zero and the continuing struggle for the complete liberation of Cyprus as great community causes in the spirit of 1821.
Aslo among the clergymen present were, Very Rev. Damaskinos Ganas of Kimisis, Fathers Gerasimos Makris and George Livaditis of Holy Cross, Fr. John Romas, pastor of St. Nicholas, and Fr. John Lardas, Dean of Sts. Constantine and Helen Cathedral.
Michelle Weller led the dance troupes from The Greek School of Plato, The Hellenic Classical Charter School, A. Fantis and the Dimitrios and Georgia Kaloidis school.
Dianne Gounardes told TNH, “Events are absolutely wonderful….it’s important that we carry on our language, religion, culture and traditions…I have to thank my parents who instilled them in us… I am happy my children are eager to carry them on.”
Her family aslo nurtured civic values, “because we have been fortunate to be able to succeed in America …We were always taught to give back… and make the community stronger.”