NEW YORK – The holidays are happy if noisy affairs for most Greek-Americans, celebrated in warm, nicely-decorated homes with friends and family. For some members of the community, though, happy holidays are mainly things of the past, and their struggles give the rest of us an opportunity to experience the real meaning of Christmas: sharing and giving of our God-given blessings.
Nicholas Leontitsis worked long hours as a chef and owner at a number of restaurants and enjoyed and shared his bounty with others, but his life changed dramatically when he was stricken a particularly difficult-to-treat case of Multiple Sclerosis.
He and his wife, Priscila, have done their best to cope over the past 15 years, but after they were recently presented with an eviction notice, Nicholas, a proud but modest man, felt compelled to seek help, and he reached out to The National Herald.
He called Demetris Tsakas, Senior Writer for the Greek daily edition, and told him his story: “For 15 years I have been pinned to a wheelchair…and as if the pain, sadness and depression were not enough, on December 29 a marshal will come to evict us…We are desperate and we don’t know what to do. Please help us.”
He and his wife live in the house owned by his brother, Dimitri, which is now in foreclosure.
After researching the situation, Tsakas brought the matter to the attention of TNH Publisher-Editor Antonis H. Diamataris, and a check for $500 was issued from the newspaper’s Fund for the Neediest.
THN also contacted some businessmen in the community in the hopes of putting together a holiday gift basket.
Kostas Mastoras, the proprietor of Titan Foods filled a box with holiday sweets and other food items and Tom Kourkoumelis, who owns the United Brothers Fruit Market said “go through the store and take anything you want.”
TNH Religion Editor Theodore Kalmoukos contributed a bottle of red wine and Tsakas, along with two colleagues drove to the Leontitsis home on Sterling Avenue in White Plains.
Priscila de Lara, Leontitsis’ devoted wife, welcomed the TNH staffers at the once-stately two-story house. Leontitsis is now largely limited to his second story bedroom.
Priscila showed TNH the living room with the fireplace and a grand piano, which was their pride and joy and where she used to give music lessons. They cannot afford to heat that part of the house, so she now she visits students at their homes.
The couple is now wrapping up their time in the White Plaines neighborhood filled with well-to-do homes, literally packing up their lives and hoping to find affordable senior housing nearby.
“Thank you very much for the check,” she said, explaining that it will enable them to safely put their possessions in storage until their future is resolved.
Their past was filled with the usual mix of joy and struggles.
Leontitsis was born on Corfu on January 16, 1947 and came to America in August 1964 to study communications. He was going to return to Greece after a year to perform his military service and then work for OTE.
The plans changed when he met his first wife. Their son, Jason, now 22 years old, is struggling with wounds sustained as an Iraq war veteran.
After getting his divorce, Leontitsis married Priscila, whom he met in 1989 as a customer at the Oasis restaurant he and his brother owned.
Priscila is Polish-American from the Poconos near Wilkes-Barre, PA. She has worked as a professional musician, playing piano and singing opera in New York.
Looking far younger than her 81 years, Priscila inspires people with her good cheer and energy in the face of difficulty. She has been lifesaver – literally – as Leontitsis’ wife and his nurse.
He became sick in 1999. “I was working one day, and I had a fever. I tripped as I was going down the steps in the restaurant and a man from Crete grabbed me so I would not fall. They took me home but the next morning I could not get out of bed.”
They took him to a hospital and the doctors told him to undergo surgery on his spine, but he refused. He was later diagnosed with MS.
Priscila was been working hard to find new accommodations, but the bank is not being patient.
“There is no space in White Plains,” but there was a breakthrough a week before Christmas when she got them on a list for senior housing at the armory right in the middle of town.
“We are high and the list and should move up quickly…it could be a week, but it could be a year…maybe the bank will be kind enough to let us stay until we can move in…”
She deeply appreciates the people who have been helpful and generous to them. “I love Father Elias Villis of the church of the Savior of Rye, NY -he said ‘tell me what I can do’ – and my dentist,” who discounted needed treatments.
The staff of Congresswoman Nita Lowey has been helpful, but there is not much they can do.
Asked how TNH’s readers can help, Priscila said donations would be deeply appreciated. They can be sent to:
Priscila de Lara/Nicholas Leontitsis
c/o Gudrun Althoff
3 Hampton Drive
Carmel, NY 10512-5631