By David Bjorkgren, Editor, Special to the Hellenic News of America. More than $800,000 was raised at a recent Chicago gala, ensuring a vital resource promoting Hellenism continues to thrive in America. The Hellenic News of America captured the
atmosphere and the comments of attendees at the May 12 gala for the National Hellenic Museum. The gala’s theme “Connecting Generations” was the focus for 500 Greek Americans and friends who attended, enjoying a night of music and dancing at the Chicago Marriott Downtown.
“What a wonderful night it was with so many elegant attendees, the spectacular live music, and of course, the great generosity of our donors,” said Dr. Laura Calamos, PhD., president of the National Hellenic Museum.
The event was emceed by WGN’s Dean Richards, with music from the Chris Sarlas Orchestra, George Dimas, Voula Karahaliou, and The Levendes, featuring singer Nikos Koutras.
A highlight of the evening included the presentation of the inaugural Alec K. and Viena P. Gianaras Philanthropy Award, given this year to The Gianaras Family and Frank S. Kamberos, in recognition of donors who have demonstrated a steadfast commitment to the National Hellenic Museum and to the ideal of philanthropy.
The philanthropic support from the evening benefits the tens of thousands of museum visitors, with 83 cents of every dollar spent on programming.
The National Hellenic Museum (NHM) celebrates Greek heritage and the Hellenic legacy through educational classes, exhibitions and programs. It preserves more than 20,000 artifacts, the largest collection of artifacts and oral histories dedicated to the Greek American story anywhere in the world. Located in Chicago’s Greektown, it is a central repository for researchers, teachers and students, telling the story of the journeys taken by Greek and Greek American families. The museum’s investment in collective management software makes it easy for researchers to find information in the museum’s archives.
“We are far beyond just Chicago-based,” Museum President Calamos told Hellenic News co-publisher Aphrodite Kotrotsios. “We have rebuilt the third floor, the Greek story in America, to tell stories from all across the U.S., whether folks are coming from Tarpon Springs (Florida) or Astoria, we gather all those stories.”
John G. Manos, treasurer of the PanHellenic Scholarship Foundation, talked about the legacy he wanted for his children that the museum can offer. My family, just like many of the Greek families here, came here in the early 1900s, so I walk up and down Van Buren. I walk up and down Halsted Street and I feel my family. I sense them and I want to relay that to my children.”
John P. Calamos, Sr., a member of the museum’s board of trustees, said it was important to share the Greek American history with the next generation through the museum’s exhibits. “What we hope it does is motivate the next generation to do what the past generations have done,” he said.
Kathy Korkos Theofilos, a member of the museum’s Classic Committee, agreed. “This event is all about our children, our kids getting together, family and Hellenism, and giving our kids opportunities that we had as children that they haven’t had yet.”
Hoping to unite in promoting Hellenism and Greek American history to future generations, the museum and the National Hellenic Society have formed a partnership. “There was so much in common with the National Hellenic Museum it just makes sense,” Korkos Theofilos said.
Dr. George J. Korkos, MD, founder of the National Hellenic Society and a member of the museum’s executive board said both organizations share the same mission statement. “We perpetuate Hellenism...because, you know what? We owe it to our parents.”
Drake Behrakis, newly elected chair of the National Hellenic Society shared his excitement for the partnership with the National Hellenic Museum. “We take our pride in partnerships, we try to work with many like organizations, because as you know, one organization cannot do it all. National Hellenic Museum has been a great partner of ours for years. This is the third year where we have had our board meeting the same day as the gala event. We have made it a destination weekend as so many of our members are based here in Chicago and support the museum as well.”
Mike Manatos, a member of the board of directors for the National Hellenic Society, said the partnership with the museum has been a wonderful collaboration. “The museum is one of the hidden gems in our community. I think too many people think of it as the Chicago museum. It’s not. It’s a national museum on Hellenism. What it’s done already is fantastic, but the potential is even greater,” he said.
Vivian Haritos of the PanHellenic Scholarship Foundation described the museum as an important institution for the Greek American community.
“The theme tonight was ‘Connecting Generations’ so I think that’s the really important thread that holds all of us together, connecting the generations from year to year so the stories aren’t forgotten and that’s why we’re all here to support it tonight,” she said.
The museum has an “extraordinary organization” dedicated to the “history, the immigrant experience” and the “ideal of Hellenism,” said museum board of trustee member Aristotle P. Halikias, “not only from the standpoint of Greeks having brought Hellenism throughout the world but Hellenism and the ideals of Hellenism being a world-wide factor.”
Vassilis Mataragas, president of the Hellenic American National Council, recalled the early days when the building housing the museum was a hardware store. “I’ve been involved with the museum before it was even a museum,” he said. He was on the committee that helped secure $7 million in Tax Increment Financing from Chicago’s Daley Administration to buy the building and start the foundation for the museum.
“I’ve been involved with the Greek American community since I came to America in 1974. Whatever is Greek I support 100 percent all my life and I will continue to support it in any way possible,” he said.