New York.- By Vicki James Yiannias
After a couple of days spent in pursuit of an interview with Phillip T. Frangos, we caught up with the new Supreme President of the Order of AHEPA on his cell phone. He was en route to AHEPA’s Washington DC headquarters to preside over the District Governors Weekend after his tour of several Pennsylvania, Delaware New Jersey, and New York chapters, some of which were presented with awards of achievement and all of which celebrated the Supreme President’s visit with festivities.
The District Governors Weekend n Washington DC on September 26 and 27 included a meeting of the Supreme Lodge and a meeting of district governors from all over the U.S. And in less than 60 (commitment-filled) days Supreme President Frangos will embark on a trip in conjunction with the Archons, the Philoptochos, and AHEPA to participate in the historic November 27 – December 5 Apostolic Pilgrimage to Constantinople in honor of Pope Francis’s visit to meet with Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew.
To call this schedule brisk is an understatement, but devoting swaths of time to promote AHEPA is not new to Mr. Frangos, who as Supreme Secretary (2011-2013) and Supreme Vice President (2013-2014) of AHEPA undertook over 200 chapter visitations and meetings in 22 districts of the AHEPA domain forming a clear picture of the challenges and potential of the largest membership organization in the Greek-American community. As Supreme President, Frangos’s responsibilities include being the chief executive officer and principal spokesperson of the entire AHEPA domain, which includes the United States, Canada, and chapters in Europe.
Direct and engaging, Supreme President Frangos spoke enthusiastically about the Mid-Atlantic chapters tour he just completed, speaking highly of his reception by all the Chapters. and noting some accomplishments of AHEPA. (This interview has been edited for length.)
GN: What was one of the highlights of your Mid-Atlantic tour?
PTF: Visiting Odyssey, the AHEPA charter school in Wilmington, Delaware, that I had heard so much about. 1,000 students, eight building campus, thirty-six acres. It’s a public school, not a parochial school, which is funded like any other public school by the State of Delaware. And it’s a diverse body of students. When I walked into the kindergarten, the little kids said, “Kalimera sas!”, and all the children are wearing their “Odyssey” t-shirts, and the teachers are real enthusiastic… there was a real chemistry there. I was so impressed. Hopefully we can make our constituency aware of this; it can certainly serve as a model to emulate. It’s been a great deal of effort, a great deal of work. I had heard about it but seeing it and experiencing it was absolutely extraordinary.
There is a full program, from kindergarten on through middle school and high school. And they score well. Of all the schools in Delaware I think they rank fourth in math proficiency, language proficiency, social studies, which speaks well for the quality of the program that’s being offered.
GN: Was there an emphasis on attracting new and young members to AHEPA in your tour?
PTF: Yes, just one example was our evening in Concordville. George Coliatis, as District Governor for District 5 had put together a beautiful dinner [as did all the places Mr. Frangos visited] and because of the proximity to both eastern Pennsylvania, District 4 and southern New Jersey, District 5, there were something like 12 Chapters were represented, about 100 people. There were a substantial number of non-AHEPANs present that we were targeting as prospective members of the AHEPA because they obviously are very interested to encourage the younger people to join the organization.
GN: Are you getting a good response to this?
PTF: Yes, very positive. We set a healthy target this year; we’re looking to increase membership by 10%. If that’s successful it will bring almost 2,000 new members into the fold.
GN: What are the numbers today?
PTF: Right now the AHEPA itself is slightly over 16,000 members, but factoring in the Daughters of Penelope, Sons of Pericles, and Maids of Athena, you’re probably looking at about 25,000.
GN: What did you do in New York on your trip?
PTF: I had a meeting with the Hellenic Medical Society of New York. We had some past efforts. AHEPA sends aid to Greece and Cyprus every year. Hopefully, if we can get the cooperation of the government of Greece, cut the red tape, I think the omogeneia and certainly the missions area, can provide some much-needed service. I don’t know if you’re aware that the AHEPA has sponsored the shipment of almost 6 million dollars worth of medical supplies to Greece; each shipment costs approximately 600,000 dollars. We are close to 10 shipments now; we just sent one to Crete.
We also visited His Eminence Archbishop Demetrios, who was gracious enough to meet with us for about an hour at the Archdiocese who has always been a staunch supporter of the AHEPA as witnessed by his annual issuance of an encyclical for AHEPA Sunday and the work of the AHEPA. He’s just a wonderful person at tying the Church and the AHEPA together.
GN: AHEPA is raising funds for the St. Nicholas National Shrine at Ground Zero.
PTF: We have made a commitment to be the major fundraisers for the rebuilding of St. Nicholas. That project will probably be extended over two years. We hope to certainly represent the fraternity in a very positive way, and I see no reason why we can’t. This is a national shrine which I think transcends our ethnicity and our religion in terms of what happened on 9/11.
GN: You also went to a church festival!
PTF: Unexpectedly! When we went to Holy Cross in Brooklyn I said, “My goodness, you’re roasting lambs for my arrival?” But I was humorously set back to find out that it was for their festival. It was a wonderful festival; we had a very good time. The food was excellent and we had a chance to visit with all the AHEPANs and a lot of non-AHEPANs.
GN: You also attended the Blessing of the Waters ceremony in Asbury Park, NJ.
PTF: Yes, this is an approximately 62-year practice started by then Archbishop, of course, later Patriarch Athenagoras. I wondered how the Blessing of the Waters differed from Epiphany, and was told that it differs in the sense that the blessing of the waters brings all the civilizations of the world together. A beautiful service. Unlike Tarpon Springs, young women as well as young men diving for the crosses. Four different crosses were thrown into the water for different age groups. It was an excellent way to do it. There must have been more than 100 divers. Metropolitan Evangelos, who was in Greece, was we—represented by at least 15-16 priests from all the churches that came together, not holding liturgies in their own churches that Sunday.
GN: The Consul General of Greece, The Honourable George Iliopoulos hosted a reception while you were in New York.
PTF: Yes, that evening we attended the reception and we met the Foreign Minister of Greece, Evangelos Venizelos. After the minister’s Remarks we had some one-on-one Kodak-moments. It was a very nice reception.
Other topics discussed by Supreme President Frangos will be presented in a subsequent issue of the GN.
An attorney, Philip Themistocles Frangos is a former Chief Deputy Secretary of State and CEO of the Michigan Department of State. In this capacity he also served as Executive Secretary to the Michigan Historical Foundation. He was on the parish council for of the Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church of Lansing, Michigan for over 20 years, serving as president for four years.
Go to www.ahepa.org/ for a detailed account of the Supreme President’s tour and the wonderful events arranged for his visit by all the Chapters.