NEW YORK – Greek American history is built of the immigration stories of generations of courageous Hellenes who crossed the Atlantic Ocean in pursuit of opportunities for themselves and better lives for their families. Dean Sirigos, who was born in Manhattan and essentially lived his life in the institutions and organizations of the Community, represents a rare phenomenon, a reverse immigration journey to Hellas.
On February 17, almost 60 of his friends and relatives ignored a snowstorm to attend his farewell party at Astoria’s Victory Sweet Shop. Friends like Staz Tsiavos, Marina Belessis Casoria, and Lou Katsos insisted he could not leave without a party, and Katsos, founder of EMBCA and Vice President of AHEPA Delphi Chapter 25, topped off the event with the gift of live Greek music. Among those in attendance were AHEPA Delphi Chapter 25 President Argyris Argitakos and his wife Ellie, St. John’s Univerisyt Professor Asher Matathias and his wife Anna, Dr. George Liakeas and his wife Nicole, Dr. Stella Lymberis, and James Demetro.
Sirigos’ was among the optimistic community voices through the Greek crisis, believing that Hellenes in the homeland would ultimately succeed in building a New Greece. He believes he is moving there in the year when the country’s turnaround will finally be felt by its people, but the revelers at the Victory were in the mood to reminisce, not forecast.
Friends noted it is difficult to pin down exactly when and where they first met Sirigos. “You are everywhere,” was heard frequently. “It’s my job,” he responded when he was Senior Writer for The National Herald.
He welcomed many hundreds at Avra restaurant for almost twenty years as cohost of the networking receptions of the American Hellenic Institute (AHI), first assisting the monthly event’s founding host, Andonios Nerulias, and more recently with Katsos.
Some expressed appreciation for the Pre-Lenten Lecture series he organized for ten years for the Holy Trinity Cathedral Fellowship, and once in a while visitors from the nation’s capital speak fondly of the social and cultural events of Delian League Sirigos helped establish in that city. Older friends remember him helping to build the 14 parish New York YAL Federation.
“I’ve been blessed to be part of great teams,” he said.
Sirigos counts among his mentors Father Angelo Gavalas of blessed memory, longtime pastor of Three Hierarchs in Brooklyn, and two guests, his best friend and Koumbaro Emmanuel Tsarnas and Jimmy Sirris, served as altar boys under his presidency. No one recalls the impact he made, for better or worse, as a member of the choir, although he praised his sisters Dimitra Dimeck and Presbytera Kelly Papagikos for “singing like angels.”
Three of Sirigos’ seven nephews, children of Dimitra and Spiro Dimeck, stole the show with a heartfelt display of kefi on the dance floor. Their zeimbekika dazzled the guests and impressed musicians Julie Ziavras on guitar and vocals, Chris Papadopoulos on bouzouki, and pianist Spiros Cardamis, who delighted the guests all night long.
Sirigos is ready for new joys and challenges in Ellada, which he plans to write about, but he said the latter pale in comparison with what was faced by the Community’s forebears who journeyed to lands with languages and customs they didn’t know. Like his cousin Teddy Markou, who was present with his daughter Tina, his grandparents and parents migrated from the Island of Siphnos.
He basked in the good wishes and prayers of the guests, and looks forward to polishing his Greek and exploring in the land of its birth the essence of that magical substance called Hellenism.
Photo by Constantine Sirigos