QUEENS, NY – In an emotional, yet optimistic atmosphere, a banquet organized by the Hellenic Congress of America (HCA), in cooperation with the Federation of Sterea Hellas U.S.A. & Canada, the Pan Arcadian Federation ‘Old Man of the Morea,’ Evrytanes ‘Karpenisi’, and Kastorians ‘Omonia’ was held in Flushing on May 14. The banquet was the culmination of the the first Special Conventionon on the right of Greeks abroad to vote from their place of residence that concluded a few hours earlier at the ‘Nikos Andriotis‘ hall of the community of Saints Catherine and George in Astoria, New York.
The banquet was dedicated to the late Michael Halkias, businessman and philanthropist, and the Hellenic Excellence Award, received on his behalf by his wife Alice Halkias, was intended to honor the contributions of both to Hellenism.
The welcoming remarks and the bios of the guests of honor were presented by attorney and president of the Hellenic Women’s Alliance, Maria Markou and journalist, Dimitris Filios, and Despina Afentouli, Doctor of Sociology and journalist, was Emcee for the banquet.
The national anthem of the United States was performed by Kostas Psarros and that of Greece by Gregory Maninakis, who was also the musical director of the event, leading the Mikrokosmos‘ band. The opening prayer was offered by chancellor of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America, Archimandrite Fr. Nektarios Papazafeiropoulos, who officially represented Archbishop Elpidophoros of America. He also conveyed His Eminence‘s message of support for the organizers’ project on the issue of voting rights for Greeks abroad.
The pediatrician and chairman of the organizing committee of the Special Convention, Dr. Dimitris Markouizos, greeted the guests and told TNH, “it was an emotional day, from beginning to end… We started with the conference on the voting rights of expatriates and ended with honoring the late Michael Halkias… who gave his life and soul to Hellenism and the Greek values.”
The vice president of the organizing committee, Konstantinos Lambropoulos, also offered greeting and referred to the philanthropic contributions of the Halkias and to the honorary presence of his wife, Alice Halkias.
The president of the Hellenic Congress of America, Nikos J. Apostolopoulos, greeted the event and expressed through TNH his contentment for the Community’s response to the Special Conference and the official banquet, as well as his optimism for the future course of the Hellenic Congress of America, saying, “I saw it as an opportunity, after the first convention of the Hellenic Congress of America, to celebrate this honorary distinction for the late Michael Halkias, for the philanthropic, national, and social work he has done in his life, together with his wife… The response was great… I am very optimistic about the Hellenic Congress of America, because we had participation from Canada, Australia, Europe, and Greece, including Mr. Nikos Alivisatos, an important personality. The outcome was positive for all of us.”
Rhode Island state senator and president of the World Hellenic Inter-Parliamentary Association, Leonidas Raptakis, greeted the event and presented on behalf of the Rhode Island State Senate an award to Alice Halkias in recognition of the contribution of her late husband to Hellenism. Speaking to TNH, he explained that the state of Rhode Island honors people from all over America: “Michael Halkias was a very honorable man and his philanthropic work had an impact on Hellenism in the United States and possibly, on Hellenism all over the world. That’s why, it is important to honor his family, his wife, [to show] how important it is to be a philanthropist, to remember one’s root and not to forget one’s cultural heritage…”
The consul of Greece in New York, Dimitrios Papageorgiou, welcomed the initiative, calling for unity and solidarity among Greeks on the issue of voting for Greeks abroad from their place of residence.
The key speaker of the event, who travelled for that initiative from Greece to New York, was Nicholas Alivizatos, a lawyer, author and emeritus professor of Constitutional Law at the Athens Law School. He spoke to TNH about the message of his speech: “This was my first time participating in an expatriate gathering… I wanted to speak in a more optimistic way… In the first and heroic hundred years of independent Greece, the expatriate community provided so much. The sponsorships and donations are well known… At least three people told me about their grandfathers who volunteered and fought in the Balkan Wars. After 1922 and the Asia Minor Catastrophe, there followed many decades during which… the bonds were not so strong… I think the reason for this loosening of ties is that in Greece we had very intense divisions and civil wars… On the contrary, after ’74, things are going better and I have the impression that the conditions for establishing stronger relations are being created again.”
The surprise of the evening was the presence of the godson of Michael Halkias, Orestis Rellos, who came from Michigan to New York for the event, as well as his brother, George Rellos, who came from California. Orestis Rellos expressed his gratitude, speaking about his godfather and the late’s family.
Michael Halkias‘ wife Alice Halkias was visibly moved as she received the award from the president of HCA, Nick J. Apostolopoulos, who also called up all the contributors to the event to join in the award ceremony.
Mrs. Halkias expressed her thanks for the honor, noting that the absence of her late husband is palpable, as he was a strong supporter of Hellenism and initiatives, such as the Greek Parade for the celebration of the Greek independence on 5th Avenue in Manhattan.
The rest of the members of the organizing committee of the Special Convention and the official banquet that followed were: Nick Tavantzis (Vice Chairman), Christos N. Vournas (Treasurer), Theodora D. Abazis (Journal Chairlady), and Theodore Vasilakis (Honorary Chairman).
The Hellenic Congreess of America was established in 2016 by a group of 33 dedicated Greek-Americans as a movement for the Hellenic diaspora that empowers community growth and that will unify, inspire, and motivate Hellenes and Philhellenes.