American Hellenic Educational and Progressive Association
The National AHEPA organization can trace its history to the summer of 1922 when two Greek American businessmen, George Polos and John Angelopoulos, working out of Atlanta, met by chance in Chattanooga, Tennessee. Among other things, they talked about the growing wave of hostility that targeted their nationality and religion. This was a time in history when the US Congress and the federal government were discussing ways to stem the tide of ‘less desirable’ immigrants from ‘certain’ countries, which invariably included the Balkan nations – with Greek immigrants being the main group targeted.
Both men agreed there was a real need for a patriotic organization that would direct and channel the energy of the Greek community in the United States. There was never a shortage of Greek fraternal organizations whose members came to America from the same region, island or village in the old country. Such regional societies tended to departmentalize the Greek American community, isolating it from the larger, mainstream American community. While these regional associations, together with the local Church communities, brought much comfort to the struggling Greek immigrant, the two men agreed that there was a need for a much larger organization that would help bring the Greek Americans to the forefront of American civic life.
This idea for a Pan-Hellenic organization wasn’t new. Previously established organizations are the Pan Hellenic Union, which was established in 1907 and by 1912 had 30,000 members with 150 branches throughout the United States including New Haven, CT. This organization raised money to finance the trips of those Greeks in America who desired to return to Greece to fight in the Balkan Wars. They also raised money to assist the families of those in the United States who found themselves in a state of hardship as their fathers, brothers and sons went to the battle front. But the Pan Hellenic Union, due to various circumstances, ceased to exist following the conclusion of World War I.1
Both men agreed that a truly American fraternity of Greeks was the order of the day; a national group that could lead its members to rise above the political fights between Monarchists and Venizelists that typified Greek American community life in the early 1920s and could stare bigotry in the face to fight anti-Greek forces that were plaguing the community’s businessmen. They also believed something that so many immigrants refused to admit that the Greek settlers were here to stay. This was a reality the Greek community in the United States was slow to accept.
They presented the idea to a group of twenty-five members of the Atlanta Greek community. Seventeen men offered their support. On July 16, 1922 the American Hellenic Educational Progressive Association – the Order of AHEPA was born.
Twenty more meetings were held that year to lay the groundwork during which a constitution and bylaws were adopted. It was decided that members had to be US citizens or in the process of becoming citizens; AHEPA would be open to persons not of Greek descent, but who shared in the ideals of the organization. English was adopted as the organization’s official language. Nicholas C. Chotas, an Atlanta businessman, was elected as the first president of AHEPA.
AHEPA’s first decade was characterized by explosive growth. Initially it was a fraternity of the 32 local chapters established in the first year of its existence, based in the South and Southwest. At that time only three chapters existed north of the Mason-Dixon Line.
The ideals of AHEPA appealed to a rising middle class of Greek Americans who were interested in climbing the proverbial ladder of success and committed to raising their families in America. By the end of 1924 AHEPA had 49 chapters and over 2,800 members. By 1928 there were 192 chapters and over 17,000 members nationwide, including the AHEPA chapter #98 which was established at the Saint Barbara Parish in New Haven on March 5, 1926.
AHEPA’s friendly relations with President Franklin D. Roosevelt further enhanced the organization’s stature. FDR was initiated as a member of AHEPA on March 11, 1931 when he was governor of New York. When he was elected President of the United States AHEPA’s regular visits to the Oval Office took on an added significance. President Harry S. Truman and President Gerald Ford would also become members of AHEPA.
The dark days of World War II galvanized the membership and demonstrated just how much an organization like AHEPA could achieve. The poignant turning point for Greek Americans came more than a year before Pearl Harbor when on October 28, 1940 Mussolini’s troops invaded Greece from the North. That day is still remembered and revered as “OXI Day” or the day that Greece said “No!” to the Axis powers.
An AHEPA visit to President Roosevelt a short time after the invasion of Greece brought about what the White House termed “an unusual procedure,” as FDR announced a promise of US aid to Greece that was chronicled in many American newspapers. AHEPAns in various businesses donated a day’s and week’s profits to the cause with many contributions coming from non-Greeks. The organization had a close partnership with the newly formed “Greek War Relief Association,” which was founded to provide aid to Greece.2 AHEPA would further demonstrate its American patriotism when the United States entered World War II, and the association supported the war effort by selling more than $250 million of US War Bonds -- more than any organization in the country.
Today New Haven Chapter #98 is one of over four hundred AHEPA Chapters in the United States, with several more in Canada, Greece, Cyprus, New Zealand, and Australia. The chronicle of Chapter #98 is intertwined with that of the Saint Barbara Parish, as evidenced by the fact that the roster of the lay leadership of the Saint Barbara community includes numerous AHEPAns. Members of the Chapter have always been participants in the liturgical and communal life of the church and have continuously offered support for its ministries through volunteer service, leadership and financial measures.
Since its founding, the Brotherhood of AHEPA has amassed a record of activity in accordance with the initial vision of its founders which, over the years was made deeper and more encompassing.
In elucidating the AHEPA fundamental purposes of 1922 modern day AHEPAns are more explicit regarding the Brotherhood’s aims in our times - to promote Hellenism, education, philanthropy, civic responsibility, family, fellowship, and individual excellence. These ideals are based on classical Greek values. They amplify the intent of the founders and are now integral to the heritage of AHEPA.
In coupling action to its purpose, AHEPA embarked on an outreach that spans a broad swath in public service including a National Educational Foundation dedicated to funding college scholarships.
True to its original mission, AHEPA financially supports scholarships, educational chairs, housing for the elderly, medical research, community programs, charitable projects and other worthy endeavors through contributions of more than $2 million a year from its local chapter, district and national levels.
More recently, AHEPA raised $400,000 for the restoration of Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty as well as $775,000 for a sculpture commemorating the Centennial Olympic Games in Atlanta. AHEPA has received Congressional and Presidential recognition for promoting friendship and goodwill among the people of the United States, Canada, Greece and Cyprus.
AHEPA has sent millions of dollars to St. Basil Academy in New York, AHEPA Hospitals in Thessaloniki and Athens, and in support of relief services at times of natural disasters in Greece. Examples of AHEPA’s history of involvement in the area of public health and medical research include the Silver District Tuberculosis Sanatorium at Albuquerque, NM, in 1937, and the establishment of the Cooley’s Anemia Foundation, in the 1970s. Recently, AHEPA has undertaken the “Dogs for Warriors” project providing trained canines to assist veterans in negotiating the exigencies of daily life.
In the area of civic responsibility AHEPA’s National Housing Corporation, with headquarters in Indianapolis, IN, has built over one hundred senior housing facilities in several states, including several in Connecticut in Groton, Wethersfield, Niantic and Norwich. In promoting excellence in athletics the AHEPA Hellenic Hall of Fame has inducted into its membership numerous players, coaches and sports personalities, Hellenes and Philhellenes, starting in the mid-20th Century.
AHEPA, in their effort to sustain Greek-American heritage and in support of the security of Greece and Cyprus, communicates the position of the Greek-American community to elected representatives at the federal, state, and local levels, i.e. the Congressional Caucus on Hellenic Issues.
AHEPA Chapter #98 at Saint Barbara Greek Orthodox Church received its own charter on March 5, 1926. The Chapter is governed by an executive council lead by its President and a Board of Governors. In perusing the Annual AHEPA Supreme Convention volumes, published by the Order since 1922, participation of delegates from Connecticut chapters, is in evidence. Representing Chapter #98 at the 1930 convention were Seraphim Pappas and James S. Carson. The Thirtieth Convention volume in 1956 highlights the substantial financial contribution made by Chapter #98 in support of building the AHEPA Hall for Boys at St. Basil’s Academy. In subsequent years, members of Chapter #98 advanced through the ranks to reach positions of leadership in the Supreme and District Lodges. Brothers Constantine P. Verinis and George J. Margoles served the National Order of AHEPA as Supreme Presidents in the years 1957-1959 and 1962-63 respectively. ‘Brother’ Greg Stamos served for two years (2013-2014) in the Supreme Lodge as Supreme Counselor. ‘Brother’ George Scarveles served both as Supreme Governor of Region 4, and District 7 Governor, and ‘Brothers’ Peter Stamos and Nick Giatrelis served as District 7 Governors as well. Furthermore, the Chapter has been selected by District 7 as Chapter of the Year on several occasions.
Chapter #98 has its own lengthy chronicle of public service which includes projects in Greece at times of need in this country, specifically within the community of the Saint Barbara Church where it contributed over $100,000 toward the construction of the new church edifice and social/educational facilities in recent years.
Additional philanthropic endeavors include the introduction and passing of the Cooley’s Anemia Research Bill Act 3 in the US Congress in 1972, which resulted in the funding for Cooley’s Anemia Research. This was a joint effort with Connecticut Congressman Robert Giaimo, who was also a member of AHEPA. More recently, Chapter #98 members have contributed labor and skills in the completion of the Paideia building complex on the campus of the University of Connecticut.
The AHEPA College scholarships awarded annually, are a long term tradition dating back to the 1980’s; the annual Hellenic History Tournament hosted, by AHEPA since 2009, is an inspiration to students’ sensibilities about the millennia of Greek achievement; and recently Chapter #98 has undertaken to provide, on a continuous basis, for the needs of military veterans housed in Harkness House in New Haven.
These activities as well as others like these, provide only an outline of the identity of AHEPA Chapter #98. Its full identity is a work in progress and will continue to be so, as generation after generation of ‘Brothers’ take the reins of the ‘Brotherhood,’ hone it, and polish it to a higher shine as the decades go by.
The Hellenic values of old are the guideposts in the Chapter #98’s journey, but always within the framework of the Orthodox Christian faith and the Church of Saint Barbara. The bedrock of the Chapter’s core strength that enables it to summon action in line with its values is the bond among its members, developed through shared experiences. Mindful of this fact, Chapter #98 aims to always provide opportunities for shared experiences and the self-fulfillment they engender among its members.
Officers of Chapter 98
PRESIDENT: E. VAGOS HADJIMICHAEL, PhD
VICE PRESIDENT: GEORGE SCARVELES
SECRETARY: JAMES BENAS
TREASURER: EUGENE ESARES
CORRESPONDING SECRETARY: GREGORY STAMOS
Board of Governors
The Board of Governors of the Chapter is chaired by the immediate past president Eugene Esares, and includes: Mark Hojnowski, Paul Redding, George Scarveles, Greg Stamos. These individuals monitor progress in Chapter concerns, and plans and proposes strategies to the Chapter aiming to pursue successfully and achieve its goals.
Assisting in carrying out the important functions of the Chapter are seven Committees, each lead by a Chairman, and with its functions prescribed by a charter. The Committees are:
- Public Events and Outreach
- Visiting and Member Social Contacts
- Endowment and Investment
- Liaison with the Order Constituent Units
Chapter members are urged to serve on one or more of these Committees, thus contributing their ideas, organizational skills, and labor in the pursuit of AHEPA pride and fraternal enjoyment.
Record of Leadership
- Chapter #98 is proud in that two of its members, Constantine P. Verinis and George J. Margolis, have served the National Order of AHEPA as Supreme Governors.
- George Scarveles and James Giatrelis have served as District Governors.
- Gregory Stamos has served as Supreme Counselor.
Over the years, the Chapter has participated in projects aligned to the AHEPA principles; selectively:
- In 1966, the Chapter supplied materials to the Save the Children Foundation for the construction of a school kitchen on the Island of Leros.
- In 1972, the chapter joined hands with the Connecticut Campaign Against Cooley’s Anemia, and with Ahepan Congressman Robert Giaimo in introducing the Cooley’s Anemia Research Bill Act before the U.S. Congress, resulting in the National Funding for Cooley’s Anemia Research.
- In 2010, Chapter #98 was the first to host the AHEPA Northeast Regional Banquet, on November 20th of that year.
- On an annual basis, Chapter #98 hosts the Hellenic History Tournament, an educational project of the Order of AHEPA.
On the local level, in the framework of the Saint Barbara Greek Orthodox Church of Greater New Haven, Chapter #98 has:
- contributed over $100,000 toward the construction of the new church edifice and social/educational facilities at 480 Racebrook Road, Orange, CT,
- continued the long-term tradition of the Easter Egg Hunt for the children of Saint Barbara, first held in 1949,
- provided annual funding for 2-3 scholarship awards, in the name of AHEPA, to entering or continuing college students from the Saint Barbara and other near-by parishes.
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