NEW YORK – A packed spring schedule at City Hall pushed this year’s commemoration of the Greek War of Independence to April 29, but it was worth the wait as Costa Constantinides, the City Councilman for Astoria, turned City Council Chambers into a state for the celebration Hellenism and Democratic values for honoring six Greek-Americans who dedicated themselves “to bettering their neighborhood and the lives of their neighbors.”
Fr. Nektarios Papazafiropoulos, Dean of St. Demetrios Cathedral, offered the invocation, Georgia Catechis sang the national anthems and the guests enjoyed food donated by community restaurants and were entertained by the dancers of the Nisyrian Youth Organization.
Constantinides, who conveyed the best wishes of his fellow Greek-American elected official for Astoria, State Senator Michael Gianaris and Assemblywoman Aravella Simotas, co-hosted the event with City Councilman Paul Vallone, but the latter could not attend due to a family emergency.
City Councilman Vincent Gentile introduced the first honoree, educator Christina Tettonis, the principal of Brooklyn’s Hellenic Classical Charter School, whom he called, along with her husband Mark “part of the bedrock on my Bay Ridge Community.”
Tettonis paid tribute to her parents, Vasilios and Stavroula Poulos, for conveying their “faith, values and determination and the importance of education and the appreciation of our Greek heritage,” and the other honorees followed her lead.
Arthur Cheliotes, elected 11 times as President of CWA Local 1180, was greeted with the loudest burst of applause and he too dedicated his awards – all the honorees received framed City Council proclamations – to his parents.
He told the touching story of his late father entered American as a stowaway in the 1920s after the restrictive 1924 immigration law that not only limited new immigration but cruelly divided many a Greek family. His mother, “a tough Spartiatisa” entered legally. From them Cheliotes “learned to respect the dignity of all people…and learned compassion, honesty, integrity and respect,” from their examples, not mere words.
After noting the priceless contribution to New York of people who came from other countries, he declared “we must show to today’s immigrants, undocumented like my father or documented like my mother, the same welcome and respect.”
Constantinides said that throughout her career, Nancy Papaioannou, the president of Atlantic Bank and the Hellenic American Chamber of Commerce, “expressed the ideals of Hellenism. She thanked Constantinides for the honor and called being president of those two revered institutions “the realization of the dream of a lifetime…and I will continue to serve the Greek-American Community in any capacity I can.”
Jimmy and Euripides Pelekanos, the co-Founders of the thriving and growing Bare Burger chain of restaurants – Constantinides was pleased one of the 24 franchises is located near City Hall –
They were born in Cyprus, where Constantinides has roots, and their family came to New York after the Turkish invasion in 1974. Euripides could not attend but a humbled Jimmy said “coming from Cyprus and growing up in Astoria I never imagined speaking from the podium at City Hall.” He concluded by declaring his hope that Cyprus will soon be reunited.
Paul Vallone, whose father Peter F. Vallone, Sr. and brother Peter F. Vallone, Jr. represented Astoria in the City Council for decades, would have introduced Kostas Angeloudis, Co-Founder of GAEPIS, the parent organization of Cosmos-FM.
After Constantinides also noted his Angeloudis’ tenure at major community institutions like The National Herald and HANAC, the latter said “I think it is my duty to do these things for the community.” It is the least he could do, he said with reverence, given that the heroes of 1821 sacrificed their lives.
Constantinides explained that Public Advocate Leticia James asked him “Costa who else should we honor,” he did not hesitate: Petros Galatoulas, President of the Federation of Hellenic Societies of Greater New York. “We have worked well together,” the Councilman said, and noted that Galatoulas has spearheaded causes like Hurricane Sandy relief and the naming of part of 33rd Street in honor of Archbishop Iakovos.
Galatoulas thanked the hosts personally and on behalf of the Federation and pledged to continue his efforts “and partner with all who help spread the Greek spirit and traditions.”
Lt. Colonel Maria Bouliakoudi, military attache, represented the Greek Consulate. She thanked the hosts and congratulated the honorees and said that “On behalf of the people of Greece, I would like to thank the Greek Diaspora and the people of the U.S. for their continuous solidarity and support, during the Greek Revolution of 1821 and today.”
Constantinides concluded the event by thanking all who helped organize it, especially his staff. He declared that after a year in office he knows “without your staff you are nothing.”
Among the guests who were very pleased was past Federation President Elias Tsekerides. He is especially proud of the honorees but reminded there are many distinguished members of the community whose names we do not know. “You and The National Herald have to find them and tell us about them.”
The celebration was bittersweet for Claudia Giannakopoulos, Miss Greek Independence and her entourage, whom Federation Cultural Committee chair Avgerini Catechis called a remarkable group of young women. She was happy to participate but sad that it constituted the final event of this year’s celebration of Greek independence she would share with her new friends.