Norfolk, Virginia Chapter 122
On July 26, 1922, eight Americans of Hellenic descent, realizing the need for an organization that would help to combat ignorance and intolerance, met at the Greek Orthodox Church Hall in Atlanta, Georgia, and laid the foundation for the international organization now known as the American Hellenic Educational Progressive Association (AHEPA).
Our Beginning - November 2, 1926
George Pahno was the initial driving force, and often referred to by his peers, as the “backbone” behind the formation of the AHEPA Chapter in Norfolk, VA. On November 2, 1926, twenty-six Americans of Greek Extraction met in the old Eagle Hall on Church Street and formed Chapter No. 122 of Norfolk, VA. The Chapter’s name was selected at the time, to demonstrate publicly that the local AHEPANs and their families belong in Virginia. The first president was Brother Sam Douros and the first secretary was Brother George Pahno, who served in that capacity for almost half a century.
The Church moved from downtown Norfolk to Granby Street in 1955, and our local Chapter meetings were conducted in the social hall. Later, after the Hellenic Center was built, meetings were conducted in one of its Sunday school classrooms. In the years that followed, the classrooms were taken over by the expansion of the Hellenic Center’s kitchen.
Fortunately, our local AHEPANs were prepared to move again. In the intervening years, Brother Ted Maroulis was approached by the Chairman of the Norfolk Harborfest Committee, and indicated that Greek food should be sold during the municipal event. Chapter members sold gyros and other Greek specialties for four or five years, and did very well. The Chapter donated $50,000 to the Church, to help finance its expansion, and have an “AHEPA Room” on the 2nd floor. The Chapter held its meetings there for a period of time; and it purchased the property on which the AHEPA Center sits today.
In the late 1980s, another key event took place, as a result of the growing sentiment that the local Chapter should have a home of its own for its meetings. Six brothers meet over a bottle of ouzo and a bottle of Metaxa at John Stefanou’s house, and they discussed the matter further. That very night, brothers John Perros, John Stefanou, Andy Kopasis, Ted Maroulis, Paul Angelson and George Neskis pledged their time, talent, and treasure to begin funding the construction effort with an added sense of energy. From this initial spark, donations and fund raising efforts by the members followed, over a period of time.
Brothers Andy Kopasis and Paul Angelson were in charge of the construction; and handled it with skill and diligence. Additionally, a storage facility for the church was built into the side of the structure. Today, we are the beneficiaries of many years of collaborative planning and hard work.
The chapter has operated continuously since it’s founding, under the leadership of 53 presidents (as of April 2021), and numerous other dedicated officers. Many of them have served multiple terms. The Chapter’s mission has remained focused and relevant while American society has continued to evolve.
In the decades that followed our chapter’s founding, the Brothers of AHEPA, along with members of the Daughters of Penelope, have been active by serving the AHEPA at the National and District levels: brothers Gus James II served as a Supreme President; John Angelson, John Parker, Theodore Boyce, and Paul Angelson served as Supreme Governors; Ted Maroulis and Nicholas Gretakis served as District Governors; Nick Harrison served as Lieutenant Governor; Chris Christomou served as District Athletic Director; Michael Savvides served as National Chairman of Cyprus and Hellenic Affairs; and Andy Kopassis served as Chairman of numerous District Conventions.
In addition to those noted above, brothers from our Chapter have served in local government: Peter K Babalas served as a State Senator; John Joanou served as a member of the Virginia House of Delegates, and later as a State Senator; Nick Reras served as a State Senator; and Andy Protogyrou served as a member of the Norfolk City Council. Also, Brothers appointed by the Norfolk City Mayor, who who have served on the Airport Commission have included: Nick Vourlas, Gus James, Nick Gretakis, and Chris Stephanitsis. Furthermore, members of the Norfolk Board of Elections have included Ted Maroulis and Andy Protogyrou. Finally, numerous AHEPANs have been elected to the position of President of the Parish Council of the Annunciation Cathedral.
For promoting Hellenism, the chapter has honored members of Congress by bestowing them with the Periclean Award. Among the recipients are former U.S. Representatives Porter Hardy Jr., George William Whitehurst, and former Senator Charles Robb.
Proud to announce that our chapter (as of the year 2021) has, past and present, twenty-one (21) members that have earned a 50-year pin.
During the 1980s and 1990s the chapter’s participation in Norfolk’s annual Harborfest enabled the organization to raise funds toward the construction of the Annunciation Cathedral’s St. Theodore’s Chapel and the classrooms in the church’s new addition.
Over the years, AHEPA has supported our Archdiocese, our Church, Eastern Virginia Medical School, Cooley’s Anemia Foundation, Operation Smile, Saint Basil Academy for orphans and children in need, and relief for the earthquake and Fire victims in Greece. In 1974, truckloads of clothing and provisions were sent to Cyprus for the relief of people who were fleeing from their homes during the Turkish invasion of Northern Cyprus. Our love for our faith enabled us to contribute toward reconstruction of St. Nicholas Church in downtown Manhattan, New York, which was destroyed during the 9/11 attacks at the World Trade Center. With the combined donations from our local chapter and from the others, the AHEPA national organization was able to contribute $1 million dollars toward, what is now known as, the Saint Nicholas National Cathedral.
In the promotion of education, AHEPA has awarded hundreds of thousands of dollars in scholarships to worthy students over the years and is especially proud of the annual scholarship to the Orthodox seminary for the education of our future priests.
Another overall accomplishment of our chapter; we have proudly provided approximately over $400,000 on scholarships for education to students in our community. For the past 7 years we have given scholarships to 114 recipients for a total amount of $145,500.
These good works have continued into the present day. For example, over the past 10 years alone, our chapter alone has awarded approximately $250,000 to the following: scholarships: community charitable organizations; battered women’s shelters; children research hospitals; Saint Basis’s Academy in NY; benevolent distributions to Annunciation community members in need; fire and earthquake relief in Greece; the Ionian Village Summer Camp; Toys for Tots; etc.
Why and How We Do It
The glue that holds our chapter together has been the monthly General Meetings and the Monthly Board of Governors Meetings. The meetings are preceded by dinners prepared in the AHEPA Center, by AHEPANs. These dinner meetings provide use with the opportunity to keep old fraternal and familial ties alive, while laying plans to promote AHEPA’s mission, the promotion Hellenism, education and philanthropy. Additionally, brothers support the chapter’s various fellowship and fund raising activities, that in non-COVID lock-down times include: an annual Tavli (backgammon) tournament; Super Bowl party; a periodic Fishing Tournament; an annual Golf Tournament; manning a Greek foods tent at Norfolk’s Harborfest (in the past); participate in the Church Festival; and holding an annual Oyster Roast. The brothers also get together with their spouses to celebrate an annual Christmas dinner.
Love and respect of our roots and our local community:
AHEPANs have hosted dinners for visiting AHEPA national and district officials, and NATO officers of the Greek navy; and we are proud to have Greek NATO officers as AHEPA members in our Chapter.
Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, the chapter continued to prepare and serve for the local church community, a luncheon in the Hellenic Center, to honor Greek Independence day; and to provide some light Lenten foods following the Akathist Hymn service, every year.
In addition to the above, it has been our privilege to hand out flowers to all mothers in our community, after the Church service that honors Mothers Day; and we have enjoyed presenting certificates and pins to the Greek School graduates of our community. Furthermore, our brothers have had fun serving an annual Thanksgiving luncheon for our senior citizens in the AHEPA Lodge. Generations of our community’s mothers and seniors have taken great care of us, and the children bring us joy; so, this has been our small way of saying, “Thank you.”
One of the activities of our Church’s Cultural Committee is to clean headstones and place flowers on the graves of parishioners who no longer have living relatives; and several of our AHEPA brothers take great pride in lending a hand. During a typical year, the bonds of brotherhood are further enhanced during an annual Fishing Tournament, and a Christmas dinner-party that includes our spouses.
AHEPA Chapter 122 has been a money generating organization in behalf of our local community; and we have continuously been generating funds for these goals. Our next goal is to generate enough funds, to one-day build a community retirement center. Nearby properties are under consideration for acquisition in the future.
If you are interested in promoting the AHEPA’s mission and in expressing your gratitude to our community, simply because its Hellenic values have helped you to become a better person, please consider joining our fraternity. Please reach out to either Mike Douklias at email@example.com, or Chris Coureas at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Related History about AHEPA
History of the Order of AHEPA 1922 - 1972
George J. Leber's book, commemorating AHEPA's Golden Anniversary in 1972, was published by the fraternity as a service to its membership, and in recognition of those early pioneers of AHEPA to whom we owe so much for their dedicated service and devotion to the mission and principles of the fraternity.
Images and videos where appropriate have been added to the web version of the original book.
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