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Borough celebrates Greek Independence Day

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It began with Marshall herself, who introduced the day’s festivities by...

By Dustin Brown

A lot of people suddenly became Greek last Thursday, a cultural conversion that coincided neatly with Borough President Helen Marshall’s celebration of Greek Independence Day.

It began with Marshall herself, who introduced the day’s festivities by proudly noting the Greek roots of her first name, rendered most famous by the mythological figure whose beauty caused a 10-year war.

City Councilwoman Helen Sears (D-Jackson Heights) embraced the heritage while steering clear of any comparisons with her Trojan name-sake.

“All I can say is, today I’m Greek,” she declared after greeting a room “filled with friends.”

Even the Unisphere was a little Greek that night, bathed in blue light to honor the Greek flag.

But if a borough president, a city councilwoman and an inanimate symbol of borough pride can all claim temporary affiliation with a culture that dates to ancient times, what happens to those with a more permanent status?

They get awards.

So it was fitting that 13 prominent Greek Americans from Queens were rewarded at last Thursday’s celebration at a second-floor meeting room in Borough Hall, where Marshall handed them citations of honor for their contributions to the community.

The honorees ranged from Dennis Lyberatos, a longtime Greek leader from Bayside who has kept his Lower Manhattan restaurants and delis open despite lost business since Sept. 11, to Mark Stroubos, a vice president at Chase Manhattan Bank who initiated Greek Independence Day celebrations at its Queens branches 15 years ago.

The event was chaired by George Delis, the district manager for Community Board 1, who watched his sister Libbie Robbins accept a citation for her work as principal at PS 85 in Astoria.

Also honored were His Excellency Metropolitan Paisios of Tyana, George Alexiou, George Almiroudis, James Demetriou, Anthoula Katsimatides, George Katsihtis, Christos Kossovitsas, Charles Marangoudakis, Nikos Notaridis, and Sotirios Proios.

Although most of the attendees also planned to attend the Greek Independence Day Parade in Manhattan three days later, state Assemblyman Michael Gianaris (D-Astoria) noted the appropriateness of celebrating the occasion in Queens, which boasts the largest Greek population outside of Greece itself.

City Councilman Peter Vallone (D-Astoria) and state Assemblyman Ivan Lafayette (D-Jackson Heights) praised ancient Greece as the birthplace of the democratic ideals that are central to American government and, hence, their own jobs.

“We’ll get it right one day,” Vallone quipped.

Greece initiated its war of independence against the Ottoman Turks in 1821, ultimately breaking free from the oppressive empire that had governed its Mediterranean peninsula for four centuries.

“It was a fight to restore our culture, our religion, our language against 400 years of darkness,” said Greek consul Despina Poulou, one of many dignitaries to speak at the Borough Hall celebration.

But the Greek struggle for independence gained greater modern relevance in light of the war on terrorism the United States has waged since Sept. 11.

“The same ideals our forefathers fought for are now in the forefront of our battle against terrorism,” said the young woman who was named Miss Kalamata USA 2002 by the Astoria-based Federation of Hellenic Societies.

The sometimes heavy themes were brightened not only by borough restaurants’ donation of food and pastries, but also by an assortment of folk dances performed by the young protégées of Helen Skarla, who runs the Hellenic-American Youth Ballet Theater in Astoria.

Reach reporter Dustin Brown by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 154.

Posted 7:03 pm, October 10, 2011
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