New York.- Vicki James Yiannias
The lively motto showing the idea behind the Hellenic Times Scholarship Fund at the fund’s Cocktail Reception for scholarship presentations and the 25th Anniversary Celebration of the Hellenic Times Scholarship Fund on September 10 said it all: Today’s Students Are Tomorrow’s Hope! Let’s Give Them a Chance! John and Margo Catsimatidis have been giving the “best and brightest” Greek American students this vote of confidence and financial push for 25 years.
The sophisticated venue for the 2015 Hellenic Times Scholarship Fund’s celebration–the party room at the top of the Mutual of America building on Park Avenue with its expansive view of Manhattan–may have been smaller this year, but the commitment of John and Margo Catsimatidis and the supporters of the HTSF is bigger than ever.
“We usually give away more than100, 000 thousand dollars a year in scholarships to deserving, college-bound kids, and even though we’re having a small cocktail party this year we’re going to give away another 150,000 dollars,” Mr. Catsimatidis said to great applause. “The key thing in this event is we have zero cost in dollars to the Hellenic Times Scholarship Fund: an anonymous benefactor paid for the room, the drinks, the food, so every dollar that was donated tonight is going–100 percent–to the kids of New York and our country.
Catsimatidis thanked the over 200 donors to this year’s scholarship, naming the top ten donors: the Bouras Foundation, 30,000 dollars; Mary and Michael Jaharis, 15,000 dollars; Jim and Nora Orphanides, 10,000 dollars; Robin and Michael Psaros (former recipient of an HTSF scholarship) 10,000 dollars; Antonia and Spiros Milonas 10,000 dollars; Tom and Janet Constance, 10,000 dollars; Ted Moudis, 5,000 dollars; and New York Community Banks/Atlantic Bank, 5,000 dollars.
“Let’s have a hand for my wife Margo and her associate Nick Katsoris,” said Catsimatidis, commending them for their HTSF Gala presentations of the scholarship awards. “They’ve been doing it for 25 years and wanted to take a year off,” and went on to thank The evening’s Honored Guest Michael Dukakis, former governor of Massachusetts and 1988 presidential candidate and his wife Kitty for “going out of their way to come down to New York to help celebrate the 25th anniversary.”
Drawing attention to “a few young people in the audience who went into politics because they were inspired by Michael Dukakis,” Catsimatidis said, “They are Hellenes, and never saw a Hellene run for the presidency of the United States before. And in 1988, boy, did we come close! We came very, very close.”
He invited Mr. Dukakis to further inspire the scholarship recipients by telling them: “If I made it, and you made it, then you guys can make it too.” Dukakis did just that. “I’m sorry we didn’t win in ’88… we should have,” Dukakis began. He called his described his presidential campaign as “an incredible adventure”, and commended the Greek American community’s very positive response to his canvassing. “That was true whether we were doing big events in Chicago or New York, or as happened to me in a small town in Iowa, he said in one of several anecdotes, “I walked into the local pizza place, there was a guy behind the counter who had the map of Greece all over his face, and I said, ‘Λοιπον, τι χαμπαρια? (so, what’s up?)‘ He looked at me and said, ‘Ποιος εισαι? (who are you?). I said ‘Ειμαι ο Ντουκακης, ο Κυβερνητης (I’m Dukakis, the Governor). That pizza place became our County headquarters.” This happened everywhere, said Dukakis, noting the great pride of the Greek American community…”
It also involves some hazards, he added. “Many people will remember that we had a great rally in Astoria few days before the primary, and the New York primary is what clinched the nomination. There were 50,000 fanatic Greeks in that place…I wanted to keep things as informal as possible as long as I could, but this Greek crowd in Astoria was so passionate that they almost trampled us. Kitty looked at me as we were being hustled into a car, and said, ‘Look, pal, I’m with you, but if you don’t get the Secret Service in here, I’m not going anywhere…”
Dukakis went on to say that the costs of obtaining a college education are very high today, “It’s really getting kind of crazy. We’re graduating thousands and thousands of talented kids that are coming out of college with huge amounts of debt. There’s got to be an answer to this. But at least for the time being, John, it’s this kind of help that will make it possible for our kids to be able to do this…”
“Greece needs help,” said Dukakis, “Greece is really getting beaten up. Part of it’s the fault of the Greeks, and we all understand that, and they’ve got some serious governance issues they’ve got to deal with. But you can’t get a country out of a great depression with austerity. It doesn’t work.” Together with a number of other people Dukakis is working with the White House to develop “a modest but important economic stimulus program from existing US programs that can help Greece, develop it, and after the Greek election see if we can first give Greeks a little boost in terms of morale and secondly, begin to help them come back. And I think that’s something that w can do.” President Obama has a knowledgeable team of about six people who are committed to this, said Dukakis, including Joe Biden. “Would the administration make this happen it would be the single most important thing we could do to help Greece at this point.”
Presenting an award to Mr. Dukakis, Mr. Catsimatidis thanked him for “inspiring our Greek youth to excel in politics, in education, and in life.”
Before presenting the scholarships to the recipients, Margo Catsimatidis spoke, saying, “When we began this fund in 1989 we had no idea that we would have such a positive impact by awarded almost 1,000 scholarships. The need is so great, and I’ve been thrilled to be part of this. And John, this would not have been possible without you by my side. I think you so much for this recognition. And to Nick Katsoris, whose idea, determination, and efforts on behalf of this Fund from the very beginning have helped make it a great success. Thank you so much everyone, and thank you, Nick.”
“29 years ago, as a student at Fordham, I met John and Margo, said Nick Katsoris, “I want to thank them for giving me a chance, because 29 years ago I interviewed with Margo at the Hellenic Times newspaper. We talked about starting a youth column, and started the Hellenic Times Youth Connection.”
Katsoris related the amusing story that while he was very excited about Margo’s first assignment, a movie review, Game 6 of the 1986 World Series happened to be on the same day. “I’m a huge Mets fan,” he said, so had to choose between his first opportunity to write his very first article for the Hellenic Times or watch the Mets. His solution was to take his Sony Walkman with him to the movie. “That was the first thing John and Margo did for me and they’ve done so much over the yeas and I thank them for that.”
The Scholarship Fund got started through the Youth Connection, said Katsoris, “We wanted to do something for the community, and now we’ve given out almost 1,000 scholarships. Many of the kids are now supporting us on the Committee, and we’re very grateful. We’re very grateful to everyone in this room because may of you have been here from day one, over the last 25 years, supporting us financially and also supporting us in other ways.” He called previous scholarship recipients present who are now Committee members forward to be thanked.
Since its founding, the Hellenic Times Scholarship Fund has granted almost 5 million dollars in scholarships to promote youth going to colleges.
Scholarships ranging from 25,000 dollars to 1,000 dollars bear the names of the donors or the individuals in whose memory they were made, and those below $1,000 are cumulatively awarded.
Note: John Catsimatidis ‘Cats’ Roundtable Radio Program, in which he speaks with noteworthy individuals, takes place on 970AM from 8:30 to 10:00 on Sunday mornings.