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Arts

Lowell: The Acropolis of Hellenism of America

November 14, 2019

BOSTON – The University of Massachusetts Lowell History Department in collaboration with the Hellenic Culture and Heritage Society and the Dr. Christos J. Bentas Endowment for Hellenic Studies organized the photographic exhibition and lecture titled Acropolis of America: The Greek Community of Lowell 1874-2020.

More than 300 hundred Greek-Americans attended the exhibition’s opening event despite rain and strong winds and among them were prominent businessman and philanthropist from Lowell George Behrakis, the Greek-American Mayor of the city of Lowell William Samaras, Consul General of Greece Stratos Efthimiou, president of the Federation of the Hellenic–American Societies of New England Vasilios Kafkas, A Vice president of the Federation Kostas Travagiakis, and the president of the Evoikos Society of Boston Dimetris Mattheos.

Robert Forrant and Shopie Combs of the History Department walked the audience through the exhibit depicting and describing the lives, the habits, the struggles, the aspirations and the achievements of the first Greek immigrants – of the pioneers as we call them – who established the parishes, the schools, the associations, and the small businesses. They were collecting nickels and dimes to stablish the churches and the Greek Schools.

In 1880 there were fewer than ten Greek immigrants in Lowell, but by 1925 there were more than 35,000, representing the third largest Greek immigrant population in the U.S. after New York and Chicago.

The Acropolis of America was made possible, in part, by the Christos Bentas Endowment for Hellenic Studies. Bentas who died in 2003 was a founding member of the Hellenic Cultural Society.

The exhibition was dedicated to Charles Nikitopoulos, professor of Psychology for more than forty years at the University of Massachusetts Lowell, who was also a cofounding member of the Hellenic Cultural Society. Nikitopoulos passed away a little over a year ago.

His daughter Christina Nikitopoulos paid tribute to her father with a speech, saying among other things that “I know many of you are here not only for the opening of this great exhibit, but to honor my dad for his work on Greek culture and heritage. My dad treasured his years here at the University. The psychology department and wider university were an important part of his life, and it became an important part of our family’s lives. He enjoyed teaching, he enjoyed mentoring. He enjoyed collaborating with his colleagues. Dad helped create the community/social psychology master’s program in the psychology department. He was a community psychologist who truly saw the value in connecting the university to the city of Lowell. I think where he really shined was when working with students in the master’s program.”

She also said that the “Community was everything that dad represented. He loved making connections and helping create positive community initiatives through the city of Lowell. And helping bridge the community to the university. He helped with the Flowering City initiative, helped with poetry events, helped with art projects in Lowell, and he helped in the preservation of history across various cultures. Honestly, he was involved in so many projects, we don’t know about all of them.”

She added that “he was quiet and reserved about his work. He was a thinker.”

“Dad,” she said, “was born in Greece and came here at a very young age. Being in this city and in this community, through his lens as a community psychologist, he saw the importance of maintaining community within the Greek culture. He loved learning about the culture and traditions, cultural events, and learning about Greek and ancient Greek words. You would have been amazed at his knowledge of the meanings of advanced words that people don’t use any more. As decades and generations passed, he saw the importance of holding onto the history of not only the Greek culture and traditions, but of how these stories, the businesses that were built, the families that were raised and became successful, and how this history helped shape communities such as Lowell. With Lowell being an immigrant city, he knew there was such an influence on cities from the various influxes of immigrants through the decades. He wanted to document this history. He wanted to preserve the story of Greeks in our rich history of our community.”

Consul general of Greece Stratos Efthymiou in his remarks he said that “the story of the Greek community of Lowell is the story of the first Greek Consulate in New England, which did not open in Boston where it now operates, but here in Lowell, in 1903.”

He also said that “this community was called by Archbishop Athenagoras, who later became Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople, “the Acropolis of America’s Hellenism.”

He added that “at first sight this exhibition seems local – but it is not, because it tells us in a way the wider story of two nations. The story of the Greeks, a nation of emigrants and refugees, caught between wars and economic crises, and the story of the Americans, a nation of immigrants who came here to achieve their own American Dream of success and upward mobility in a society of equal opportunity for all. And the Greeks of Lowell indeed achieved their American dream, gaining their special place in the beautiful American mosaic not by chance but through sacrifice, risk-taking, and hard work.”

The Consul also said that “despite the deindustrialization that followed, their traces are still here and vivid: four Greek Orthodox Parishes, The Hellenic American Academy, the only Greek day school in New England, musical concerts and Greek festivals, the restaurants and businesses, an annual parade on the day of the Greek independence, and several public Monuments.”

He added that “the Lowell Greek community has given to this nation some giants. Two Presidential Candidates, Dukakis and Tsongas. Ted Leonsis, a huge figure in the sports started from here. The Demoulas family, owner of Market Basket. George Behrakis, a colossal figure in the life-sciences sector and great philanthropist.”

A reception followed for all.

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