By Catherine Tsounis
NEW YORK.- Educators shape students. Their impact lasts a lifetime. Each person has an educator who changed his/her life. Mr. Constantine Parthenis, a W.W.II Greek hero, of St. Demetrios Greek-American Parochial School and St. Catherine’s School in Astoria influenced generations. He is a man of military bearing and discipline who taught youth Modern Greek language, Culture and the Greek Orthodox religion for over fifty years.
On Saturday evening, March 6th, 2004, the “Tholopotamousion Amerikis ‘Kimisis Tis Theotokou’ (Assumption of the Virgin Mary) Society of Chios honored Constantine Parthenis at the Chian Federation cultural Center. A lavish cocktail hour and dinner was served to over three hundred and fifty persons. The Chian Federation dance group performed traditional Chian folk dances. Music by the Apollo Band and clarinetist/singer Lefteri Bournias entertained all. The presentation of awards was performed by Master of Ceremonies Christoforos Scoufaras; Athena Tsokou-Kromidas, principal of William Spyropoulos School, and Michael Bitsakis, President of the Tholopotamousion Society. A proclamation by Assemblyman Mirones of Staten Island was presented to the educator. Prominent persons present included: Rev. John Antonopoulos, of St. Demetrios and St. Catherine’s Churches in Astoria; Re. Paul Palesty (Palestidis) and Rev. Anastasios and Presvitera Maria Diakovasilis of St. Nicholas Church in Flushing; Alex Doulis, president of the Chian Federation; Chris Kosovitsas, president of the Parish Council of St. Demetrios Community; Captain Stelios and Mrs. Tatsis and others.
“We are here to honor a great man, who wanted to be a skillful teacher,” said Rev. John Antonopoulos. ‘He achieved his goals. There are few persons such as Constantine Parthenis. He lives a life close to his faith.” International poet, Rev. Anastasios Diakovasilis, composed an elegant Greek poem saying “you stood like a warrior, fighting for education…unique child of Chios. What greater honor exists than to be remembered by our children?” Society President Chrystosomos Bitsakis said, “persons from Pennsylvania and New Jersey have traveled to Astoria tonight to honor Mr. Parthenis.” Chris Kosovitsas, President of the St. Demetrios of Astoria parish council, added “he made our children proud to be Greek-Americans.
Rev. Paul Palesty (Palestidis) believes “you were not only my teacher, but a wonderful soul, who loves the culture, language and Greek Orthodox religion. You pushed us with your love. Your teaching planted seeds in each one of us. I always bless my teacher and parents in my prayers.” Mrs. Athena Tsokou-Kromidas, William Spyropoulos principal, said, “Mr. Parthenis’ life has had meaning helping others. In retirement, he has devoted himself to building the Panchiaki Korais Society into a major national scholarship benefactor and philanthropic organization.”
Mr. Constantine Parthenis is a family man. “In my life, I knew two women, my mother and wife. My late wife was a great woman who inspired me,” he explained. “We owe something to America. When we leave this life, what can we say we contributed to mankind? When I was a teacher in the late 1940’s in Chios, I had my students plant young trees. In the 2004 Tholopotamousis’ village, there now stands a forest. That is what I have attempted to do for mankind.
Kirie Partheni, as he is called in Greek, was born in 1925 village of Tholopotamousis, Chios. He finished the Arenon H.S. in Chios in1943 and received his college diploma from the Zarifio Pedagogical Academy. As a young man, Kierie Parthenis did not enjoy his youth. The time was W.W.II. Greece stood alone in her fight for freedom against the Axis Powers. Young Parthenis attended the Efethron Military Officers School. He fought with valor for his country and paid the ultimate price: wounded in action at the battle of Mpelles, Albania. He finished his military service as a second lieutenant. His military experience, fighting for a country with primitive military resources, explains his formal militaristic air, physically and psychologically. War made him tough. He turned a negative experience into a positive: making the world better for generations of children. In 1953, Mr. Parthenis married the late Maria Kontaroudis. They had three children, Peter, Litsa and Smaroula who are college graduates. He has seven grandchildren.
He taught in Chios until he immigrated to the United States in 1956. In 1957, he became Principal of the Modern Greek Department of St. Demetrios Greek-American parochial school that was the largest in the United States. His duties included: Assistant Principal in 1989 of St. Catherine’s School, Astoria and Principal of the Afternoon Greek School of St. Demetrios and St. Catherine Churches. He completed a degree in Classics from Hunter College. His Eminence, Archbishop Iakovos, primate of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of North and South America, awarded the educator in 1992 with the “medal of the Apostle Paul”. He was selected “Educator of the Year” in 1994 by the National Herald Greek-American newspaper. The Greek teachers organization, Prometheus, honored him in 1996.
St. Demetrios Greek-American School in Astoria opened in 1956 America by immigrants and first generation Greek-Americans who fought W.W.II. They wanted their children to remember their European values. Rev. Demetrios Frangos, the pastor of St. Demetrios Church, was instrumental in bringing the top two educators of Greece to his new school: Professor Michael Catsimatidis of the University of Athens and Constantine Parthenis from the island of Chios. The militaristic, aristocratic bearing of both men made an impression on many. They were role models. I had the unique honor of having Kirie Partheni for four years. At that time we had a half-day of Modern Greek. He made Greek culture alive to all of us with his energetic, lively portrayal of figures in Greek history. His honesty and discipline formed the fundamental basis of values for every generation that passed through his hands. The historical concepts he imparted to his students aided them in their high school, college and postgraduate studies. Learn is what one did in Kirie Partheni’s classes. His old fashioned values of discipline, honor and integrity made a difference in every child’s life.