ATHENS – Attorney Louis G. Atsaves, candidate for Supreme Vice President of the Order of AHEPA at its upcoming Supreme Convention in Athens, Greece, is one of the names that has been well-known among Greek-Americans in Chicago, in the Midwest, and across the country – but in many ways he is the image not of Community fame, but of the countless humble Hellenes and Philhellenes who have built the Greek-American community over the past 120 years.
The Community, compromising AHEPA, the Archdiocese of America, and a variety of local and national organizations all over America, has reached the pinnacle of American society through a remarkable combination individual and collective effort and dedication to excellence, founded on one everyday fact: when asked to serve, to help Hellenism in general or their communities, more often than not, their answers are “yes!” and “how can I help?”
The latest ‘chapter’ – pun intended – in Atsaves’ AHEPA story opens with the suggestion last February from the organization’s Supreme Lodge that he move up from Supreme Counselor – the number five position – to SVP.
“I was floored and flattered, and I agreed,” he said, adding that AHEPA’s two main parties held their caucuses in April and endorsed him, which according to recent tradition has meant he would run unopposed. This year, however, for the first time in a long time, another distinguished Ahepan – Lou Katsos, District 6 Governor in New York – tossed his hat into the ring independently of that process – apropos, perhaps, of the return to the birthplace of Democracy.
Atsaves was surprised but he doesn’t mind because he is a veteran of Chicago Republican party politics. “I’ve run a lot of campaigns,” he told The National Herald.
Born and raised in Chicago, both sides of his family came from the Sparta region after WWI. His grandparents’ hard work led to a successful restaurant that supported three families, but higher education was the goal from the start for the American-born generations. “Our grandparents were adamant about it.”
Of course, there was a corresponding Hellenic dimension to that American Dream reality. “From a young age I was immersed in all the activities of my church, St. Demetrios – my parents were heavily involved, my father was PC president my mother became Philoptochos president, I was in the scout troop, a member of GOYA, attended Greek school, and was in the junior choir.”
It was a completely Greek neighborhood, and in fact ‘American school’ was right across the street from the Church – when that day ended, he walked across the street and dived into parish activities. “It was a total immersion Greek-American experience,” he said.
He entered the AHEPA realm through the parish’s Sons of Pericles – the Byron chapter. After holding multiple offices on all levels, he was first elected to the Supreme Lodge in 2009 when he became Supreme Governor of Region 6.
Asked what first got the Supreme Lodge’s attention, he said it was when his District’s leadership proposed at a Supreme Convention that the Hellenic Museum in Chicago become an AHEPA National Project, for which they raised $30,000.
He volunteered to become the Supreme Athletic Director in 2013 during a turbulent period. “The program was falling apart because nothing was happening, so I called a Past Supreme President, the late Jim Scofield, and asked if there was a candidate.” When he expressed interest in running after being told there was no candidate, Scofield said, “we were thinking of making you Supreme Counselor.” That came later, in 2019, after five years as Athletic Director.
He was told there were only a handful of matters a year to handle – but 2020 was no ordinary year. “COVID-19 hit and all hell broke loose. Our chapters and districts could not meet. Action was needed which necessitated not three or four opinions as in the past, but 36!”
He greenlighted AHEPA operating using conference calling, and allowed for elections for district and chapter lodges through Zoom and conference calls. Such arrangements could not be applied at the national level after the cancellation of the 2020 Convention, raising the question of how AHEPA could continue to operate. “I went back to the history of AHEPA,” Atsaves said. He found that after Pearl Harbor, AHEPA cancelled three Supreme Conventions, so that the elected officers served for four years.
One of his greatest concerns through the years has been to attract young people to the AHEPA family. Among the issues that need to be addressed, he says, is the current age range of the Sons of Pericles – 14 to 28 – which essentially splits chapters in half in terms of members’ life realities, interests, and needs.
Atsaves believes AHEPA as a whole can become the Hellenic Diaspora’s supreme social and professional networking organization, and emphasized, the future of AHEPA depends on respecting and supporting the our youth. “I started in my mid-20s and now I am 66 – so I understand what it’s like for someone in their twenties to join and be told by the veterans ‘sit over there in a corner, keep quiet and learn. I did that for a couple of meetings and learned nothing, so I became a little more aggressive.”
He knows that with young people, “you have to give them something to do. More importantly, you have to trust them. That formula worked when I was involved in politics in Cook County. I would always have the youngest group of committeemen.”
For AHEPA, he would “concentrate both on membership retention and allowing newer and younger members to spread their wings and take responsibility for matters, this includes Philhellenes,” Atsaves said. “I would also like to see as a National Project financial support of various Greek Schools in the United States, Canada, including adding more Charter schools under our umbrella.”