New York.- By Catherine Tsounis
An honorary internet event held in memory of Ioannis Giannopoulos, an Arcadian of the Peloponnese and founder of the first Greek school in America, was held on Sunday, March 13th. 2021 at 1 pm. The Federation of Hellenic American Educators and Cultural Associations of America sponsored the event to commemorate the 200th Anniversary of Greek Independence. Mrs. Stella Kokolis President of Federation of Hellenic American Educators and Cultural Associations of America, galvanized Greeks internationally to create this unique memorial in St. Augustine, Florida. Mrs. Meropi Kyriakou, President of Greek Teachers Association “Prometheus” was moderator of a program with clergy, international leaders, and educators.
Mrs. Stella Kokolis, explained he was a “young man who came to this great country in the late years of 17th hundreds and his first thought was to build a school. This school is the only wooden school in the U.S.A that is still in Existence.”
The program opened with the following prominent persons: His Eminence Archbishop Elpidophoros address read by a representative; Prayer by His Grace Bishop Demetrios (Kantzavelos) of Mokissos; Mr. Marmarinos’ introduction: Mr. Procopi Pavlopoulos, former President of Greece; Mr. J. Chrysoulakis, Secretary General of Public Diplomacy and Hellenes Abroad, Ministry of Foreign Affairs; Ms. Sophia Zaharakis of the Greece Department of Tourism; Leonidas P. Raptakis, Democratic member of the Rhode Island Senate representing District 33; Mr. Chris Chris Alahouzos, Mayor of Tarpon Springs; The Consul General Consulate General in Tampa, Florida, Mr. Dimitrios Sparos; Mrs. Athena Tsokou Kromidas, President of High Council for Greek Education in the U.S.; Director Anastasios Koularmanis of Greek Education Department of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America; Prominent persons contributed to this unique program. For a complete list of distinguished diplomats, speakers, and organizers, please contact Mrs. Stella Kokolis and Mrs. Meropi Kiriakou on facebook.
Videos of the Giannopoulos House in St. Augustine and Tripoli, Greece honoring Ioannis Giannopoulos on February 5, 2020 at the Apostolopoulou Spiritual Center were shown. The Tripoli event was organized by the Municipality of Tripoli in collaboration with Mr. Dimitris Talaganis, who has designed the bust of Ioannis Giannopoulos and is part of the celebrations of the 200th Anniversary of National Independence. Mr. Talaganis and his Tripoli Greece presentation were spectacular in February 2020. Seeing this video on Sunday was special to all of us who were not in Greece. This program should be recorded on utube. Hearing Saranta Palikaria brought tears to my eyes. Dr. John Siolas ancestors, Georgakis and Kostakis Siolas were the bodyguards of Theodore Kolokotronis on the March to free Tripoli.
Mr. Procopi Pavlopoulos, former President of Greece, praised “Mr. Giannopoulos for promoting Greek education in America. From my heart, as an Arcas, I feel patriotism and pride in Ioannis Giannopoulos achievement. He built a school projecting the Arcadian spirit “Et in Arcadia Ego”. The Greeks, the Arcades, bring the spirit of education wherever we go. Greek education is the pillar of Western education and civilization with Rome. Giannopoulos created a new foundation, a start in America. Every person in America is commended for perpetuating Greek language. My roots are Arcadian, and I am deeply moved by Ioannis Giannopoulos contribution.
“The literal translation of “Et in Arcadia Ego” is “Even in Arcadia, there am I”. Poussin’s earliest biographer, Giovan Pietro Bellori, understood the ‘I’ of the phrase to refer to Death, thus making the painting a memento mori, reminding the viewer that even in the blissful utopia of Arcadia, death still exists.”1
Mr. Dimitrios Sparos, Consul of the Consulate General in Tampa, Florida, explained he “was impressed with the historical significance of Ioannis Giannopoulos. We do not know about him in Greece. His story will be put in the history books for all to learn.”
Mrs. Athena Tsokou Kromidas, President of High Council for Greek Education in the U.S. said “his love of education led to the building of this schoolhouse. In Kostis Palamas, The Dodecalogos tou Gyftou (The Twelve Lays of the Gypsy), he says ‘Everywhere Greeks go, they spread the seeds of education and culture.’” The Gypsy poet, in The Dodecalogos tou Gyftou is an outcast possessed only of his vital language, wanders from creative tasks to love and to the death of gods and of the ancients, finally becoming a prophet and uniting at last science, nature, and man.2
Principal Demosthenes Triantafillou shared his impressions of Ioannis Giannopoulos with this writer. “The Odyssey of the adventurous Greek spirit from Jason and the Argonauts is exemplified by the creative and visionary thinking of Ioannis Giannopoulos……., I applaud Mrs. Kokolis’ support of the project. I donated $ 2, 000.00 personally, encouraging President of Prometheus, Mrs. M. Kyriacou, to collect contributions from its members and donate $ 1,000.00 on behalf of Prometheus. The commemorative plague shows the donors. I Identify myself with Giannopoulos in the sense that, we both were pioneers in education in America: Mr. Giannopoulos established the first school and Mr. Triantafillou was the founding and first Principal of the First Greek American Parochial High School, the St. Demetrios High School.” For more information, contact Principal Demosthenes Triantafillou on Facebook.
The unveiling of the John Giannopoulos (Juan Genopoly) bust took place in the Garden of Educators, St. Augustine, Florida on Saturday, March 7th, 2020. Greek sculptor Dimitris Talaganis from Arcadia, Peloponnese, created the work of art. Over two hundred persons were present. Mrs. Stella Kokolis has worked on this exceptional project for three years with the assistance of the Federation of Hellenic-American Educators, Pan Arcadian Association with chapter Geros Tou Morea chapter of New York and donors from across the United States. Ms. Elaine Fraser, CEO, and owner of the “Oldest Wooden Schoolhouse”, was moved with tears on this historic event. Her grandfather, the former late Senator Walter B. Fraser, who was also Mayor of St. Augustine, Florida, labored to preserve the ‘Oldest Wooden Schoolhouse” and archaeological sites in St. Augustine.
“In those years, Americans viewed Greeks as illiterate,” said Mrs. Vasiliki Filiotis, President of Hellenic Paideia of America. “They were not welcomed and embraced as beloved Greeks. Restaurants had signs “No Dogs. No Greeks.” John Giannopoulos was an exceptional man, who left the slavery of the Turkish Empire to build a school. From slaves of the Ottoman Turks, Giannopoulos and compatriots became slaves of the Americans. They escaped. Their first thought was not to build a business. They built the first wooden schoolhouse. Plato said, “No man should bring children into the world who is unwilling to persevere to the end in their nature and education.” This quote is engraved in the culture of Greeks.
This program must be shown to the Greek American Schools of America. This is what we want the next generation to learn. Mrs. Stella Kokolis President of Hellenic American Educators and Cultural Associations of America gave an emotion speech that got its point across to the viewer. “We must project the true spirit of Ancient and Modern Greece,” said President Kokolis. We must make Greece first again, with is positive features. We must spread Philhellenism and inspire all nations to promote the Greek language, and civilization. We must strengthen bridges with all to keep Greece alive. The 200th Anniversary of Greek Independence is alive with the Ioannis Giannopoulos Memorial.