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Culture

Paul Poulos: Honored Citizen

February 6, 2021

The active role Greek-American citizens seek in small towns, cities, and major urban areas all across America is a topic of little or no investigation. The predominant assumption that Greek-Americans are nothing more than passive law-abiding citizens misses their individual sense of pride and deep personal identification with their home communities all across the United States. This personal identification often sees expression in the civic role(s) these persons play in their home communities. As a case in point, the daily life and civic involvement of the late Paul Poulos in Fall River, Massachusetts is an edifying example of just such a typical Greek-American citizen.

In 1936, Paul Poulos, was born in Mansfield, Ohio, the son of Greek immigrants the late Constantine and Polixeni (Milonas) Poulos. At some point, years later, the Poulos family moved to Brockton, Massachusetts – where the elder Poulos couple spent 22 years. During this period Paul Poulos was a 1954 graduate of Brockton High School. Mr. Poulos was an Air Force veteran who served from 1955-58. In 1962, Poulos was a graduate of Bridgewater State College, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in education. He received his master’s degree in geography from Rutgers University, New Jersey, in 1964.

Not long after, Poulos began working in Fall River and by 1968 he moved there permanently.

Poulos held several positions in the city. From 1969-75, he was executive director of the Fall River Model Cities Agency, a program in which he designed and initiated neighborhood improvements. He was the assistant planning director for the Fall River Planning Department from 1967-69, and from 1964-67 was senior planner for the Fall River Planning Department. For 23 years, Poulos was the executive director of the Fall River Community Development Agency (Herald News (Fall River MA) October 9, 2020). Ultimately, Poulos helped to create the city's master plan, entitled aptly enough, 'Fall River 2000.' This dry chronology of Poulos' career says little or nothing about his daily interactions with others.

Citizen officials frequently remarked that Poulos showed many of them the very basics for such a vigorous development program. As Kenneth Fiola Jr. of Fall Rivers' Office of Economic Development freely acknowledged, “he is essentially a walking text book in regards to regulations and policy.” Fiola went on to say, “He was certainly a leader within his field and had been with the community development agency since its inception in Fall River. He managed all aspects of its programs and is responsible for its success (South Coast Today 1998; updated 2011).”

Yet Poulos was not just a local luminary.

In November 1996, Mr. Poulos was the first recipient of the Region I Community Development Achievement Award for outstanding contributions in community development. He received the Luther Roberts Achievement Award at the 1998 winter meeting of the National Community Development Association in Washington, DC, “in recognition of outstanding leadership in furthering the objectives of the NCDA.”

He was a past president, vice president, secretary, and treasurer of the National Community Development Association, and served on the board of directors, as well as Region I representative and past treasurer, once even serving on the legislative committee. Poulos was a member of the United States Conference of Mayors, having worked on the subcommittee on community development. Mr. Poulos was on the board of directors of the Community Development Training Institute since March 1985. As if all this were not enough Poulos was a member of the Model Cities Directors Association, the American Institute of Planners, the American Society of Planning Officials, and the Association of American Geographers. High praise indeed. Yet, we learn little from this notable sources about Paul Poulos, the man.

Aside from his duties with the Fall River development association, it is widely recalled that Poulos was also an avid golfer and so a member of the Fall River Country Club for many years. An accomplished saxophone player Poulos was also, for a time, the band leader for the Swansea Community Musicians. Poulos loved jazz and was known to, on more than one occasion, get on stage at local jazz clubs to sing a few songs.

There does not seem to be anything essentially unique or in fact even inherently interesting about an especially active city planner. Yet in an objective view of Paul Poulos' life we are perhaps best served not by what is freely found in published documents but by the direct actions of those who knew, lived with, and were daily influenced by Paul Poulos.

Paul Poulos died Sunday, April 28, 1998, at St. Anne’s Hospital, at the age of 62, after a brief battle with cancer. Survivors include a son, Michael A. Poulos of Quincy; two daughters, Melisa A. Poulos of Cambridge and Marcie A. Poulos of Stoughton; two sisters, Anastasia Poulos of West Bridgewater and Athena Paraskis of Holbrook; and a loving companion, Mary Almedia of Holbrook. The funeral began at 9 AM Friday from the Cherry Place Home of Waring-Ashton & Coughlin-Sullivan-Driscoll, 178 Winter St., with a service at 11 AM at Annunciation Greek Orthodox Church, 45 Oak St., Brockton. But Poulos' legacy did not end with the man.

Not long after Poulos' passing the National Community Development Association (NCDA) Region 1 New England re-named its annual award for excellence the Paul Poulos Achievement Award. As noted on its website “The Paul Poulos Achievement Award is an annual award established by the National Community Development Association (NCDA) Region 1 New England in honor of the late Executive Director of the Fall River Community Development Agency and former national President of NCDA. The award is given annually to an individual in recognition of their long-term achievements and contributions in housing and community development (ncdaregion1.yolasite.com/paul-poulos-award.php).”

Then, on Friday, October 9, 2020 at 2:32 PM, Mayor Paul Coogan, city officials, members of the Fall River Community Development Agency and members of the late Paul Poulos gathered for the dedication of the Paul Poulos Memorial Park on Aetna Street in Fall River. “Speakers highlighted the life and accomplishments of Paul Poulos, former executive director of the Fall River CDA and assistant planning director/senior planner for the Fall River Planning Department, as well as the hard work undergone to repair the Aetna Street playground (Fall River Reporter October 9, 2020).” During the opening day ceremonies, aside from Mayor Coogan's opening formal dedication, Michael Poulos, son of Paul Poulos also spoke.

The park had been neglected for some 20 years. So, “[T]he Aetna Street park was rehabilitated through collaboration between the Coogan administration, the City of Fall River Park Department and the Community Development Agency. CDA provided grant funding for the park’s rehabilitation, which cost $291,621 in total (Fall River Reporter October 9, 2020).” This renovation included a new basketball court, two new playgrounds, new playground equipment, new signage and handicapped accessible picnic tables, along with new benches, sidewalks, fencing, landscaping and signage.

It seems more than fitting that a city development planner be the individual for which a local park is dedicated. And so, Paul Poulos, based on his lifetime of accomplishments, joins that select group of Greek-Americans who have had all manner of local public venues such as, beaches, plazas, monuments, streets, fountains, parks, trails, and a host of other such public spaces dedicated to them in recognition for their individual outstanding public service.

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