Our First Home on Constitution Avenue: An Overview 1940’s to 1996
Saints Constantine and Helen Greek Orthodox Church, Annapolis, Maryland
Ss. Constantine and Helen Greek Orthodox Church, 4 Constitution Avenue, Annapolis, MD
Saints Constantine and Helen Greek Orthodox church was our first church which would not have been built without the generous donation in 1949 from businessman Steve Foundas who donated $50,000 and the land on 4 Constitution Avenue in Annapolis, Maryland. In today’s dollars that $50,000 would be equal to $570,000. It was Steve Foundas’ good friend and business partner, Alex Petrides who suggested that Foundas donate the land and money in memory of his brother Constantine who died as a young man from tuberculosis. Thus, our church was named Saints Constantine and Helen.
The first Greek-American immigrant families worked hard to raise the remainder of the money needed to build the first Greek Church in Annapolis. However, within a decade, the community realized it was growing and needed to expand or build a new church. Everyone was involved in this effort in some small or large way. Parents and their children were committed to a lifetime of fundraising for the church.
As youngsters in the Junior and Senior Greek Orthodox Youth Organizations (GOYA), the youth of the community, now seniors in their 60 to 80s, joined their parents in efforts to raise money for the church. One fundraising event was the GOYA caroling. At the beginning of the New Year and in celebration of Saint Basil’s Day, the teens followed the ancient tradition of going from home to home, all located in the city proper, singing the carols called kalanda. Parents drove them to the homes waiting in their cars while the teens approached each house sing the kalanda carol. As they crowded into the home doorways, they brought greetings and blessings to the families. The families invited them in, offering them food and drink while dropping a money donation for the church into an empty cigar box the teens used as their cash box.
Whether it was the annual Greek Festival started in the basement of the first church, selling raffle tickets to win a Cadillac, bake sales, bingo, Christmas tree sales, or dances held at the National Guard Armory, each are a part of this story of church fundraising. The Greek festivals became an annual event and continue to this day. These Greek festivals were held mainly in Annapolis but we did have a few in Glen Burnie, thanks to George Hadjis, who insisted we had to appeal to all the Greeks in Anne Arundel County.
Church Fundraiser. Ss Constantine and Helen Greek Orthodox Church 4 Constitution Avenue. Nick Manis, George Bounelis, Little Nick Samaras, James Mandris holding Nick Apostol, Nick Pantelides, Nick Fotos, Big Nick Samaras, and Savvas Pantelides holding John Pantelides, 1950s
Church fundraising included selling Greek pastries baked and sold by the Ladies of the Philoptochos Society (Friends of the Poor) who set at tables in front of the Annapolis City Court House on Church Circle. The Philoptochos was always at the forefront of church fundraising providing funds and volunteers for each fundraising effort and their important work continues to this day.
Philoptochos September 1957. Women of the First Families who served their church in many roles from Sunday School Teachers to organizing fundraisers. Back Row, Evangeline Siomporas, Magdalena (Margie) Pantelides, Mary Samaras, Christine Samaras. Front Row: Vasilia (Bessie) Samaras, Vasilia (Viola) Panos, and Helen Palaigos. Margie served as one of the advisors with Evangeline Siomporas from 1957-1959.
The local chapter of the Annapolis chapter of the American Hellenic Educational Philanthropic Association (AHEPA), Chapter 286, was founded in 1931 and was always sponsoring events like crab feasts, dances, Christmas tree sales, and Super Bowl parties, to raise money for the Building Fund. Through the years, people like John Kallis, Chris Samaras, George Nikiforou, Savvas Yiannoulou, and George Hadjis headed the yearly raffles to win a new car, usually a Cadillac. Dances were held at the Armory every year featuring big name bands such as Guy Lombardo and his Royal Canadians, Danny Kaye and Tommy Dorsey. These men and women were bold and imaginative when it came to fundraising.
Sammy Kalye played for the famed “Swing and Sway”. Kaye, the orchestra leader, poses here with officers of the Greek Community who arranged his appearance here at St. Mary’s auditorium. From left to right are Nicholas J. Mandris, member of the board of directors; Peter Palaigos, Secretary; Savvas Pantelides, President, and another member of the board. Absent when the picture was taken were John Kallis, Vice-president and Thomas Siomporas, Treasurer.
Greek Festival 1960
John Kallis, George Hadjis, Mike Kokkinos, Doug Cosgrove, and John Kyriacou roasting lamb
Christine Samaras chaired the first Greek Festival which started in the basement of the church on Constitution Avenue. The image of Cleo Apostol and his wife Mamie boiling water on a hot plate to make hot dogs in our very small kitchen will never be forgotten. These Greek Festivals raised tens of thousands of dollars over the years and are now an annual fundraising event at the new church complex on Riva Road which draws almost 40,000 people over four days for a complete immersion in the Greek culture.
The stories about Christine Samaras as Chairwoman were legend as she was a no nonsense disciplined woman who knew how to make a profit. According to Angela Nikiforou, to be sure no one tried to sneak in extra ingredients and portions, Christine measured every portion and knew exactly how many of the Greek cookies, koulourakia, were in each batch. Angela recalls the story that one time, as Christine was counting the batch, she noticed it was four cookies short! Bessie and Mary Samaras were present when Christine called for everyone to stop and listen to her give a lecture that the volunteers had to use the exact measurements or the production would be short. Finally, Angela stepped up and said she had sampled the missing cookies. Under Christine’s rules, all the volunteers paid for what they ate at these festivals. These events required Christine’s discipline as the Greeks were sometimes not good at taking orders and liked to give customers more than the exact portion Christine demanded. One vendor who had shorted an order of Greek cheese got a stern lecture from Christine telling the supplier, “Don’t you know it is a sin to steal from the church.”
Politime Mandris assisting with making diples
I can still see Politime Mandris making the diples using a fork to turn the dough in boiling oil into a twist. Artemis Characklis, Effie Pappas, Helen Palaigos, Bessie and Mary Samaras, Evangeline Siomporas, Louise Chipouras, Helen Lewnes, Eva Arhos, Viola Panos, Georgia Nichols, Efrosini Bounelis and her sister Theresa Abramides, Margie Plakatoris, Sarah Samaras, Anna Manis, Mary and Catherine Leanos, Effie Charas, Korina Borantas, and Helen Sfondouris were some of the many bakers and cooks in those early years who made the festivals a great success. It seemed that each of these women were very good at making a particular sweet and you knew who had baked it. Patra Moutsos made the best custard desert, galaktoboureko. Cypriot women like Angela Nikiforou and Maria Papaleontiou made their famous melopites, a sweet thin dough with honey. Bessie was known for her outstanding baklava and sweet Greek bread. Remember this band of woman made literally thousands of homemade pieces of sweets for each festival.
Danny Tsamouras selling Greek wares at the Greek festival
One of the largest fundraisers was the brain child of Parish President George Coutros who wanted to help the national United Greek Orthodox Charities raise money and also to help our church. George asked John Pantelides and Ted Samaras to be co-chairs of an International Festival with Charlie Feldman joining them. George asked the then Governor Marvin Mandel to be the Honorary Chairman and this allowed us to use Sandy Point State Park for the event. From September 21-24 1972, “International Festival 72” drew according to the Capital newspaper, over 80,000 people to Sandy Point for international food, exhibits, cultural demonstrations and dancing.
Festival ’72 Opens with 80 Big Exhibits. GIFT ‘FOR THE GOVERNOR – Gloria Fekas presents a specially prepared Greek Souvlaki (shish kebab) to Governor Marvin Mandel, who is honorary chairman of the International Festival ’72. the festival opens tomorrow at Sandy Point State Park and runs through Sunday.
Our church community had the concession for sodas and selling Greek food. The local schools sent thousands of students on the first day, free of charge, to get a taste of this international event. Nationally known film Greek actor George Maharis and his wife were special guests.
September 21-24, 1972, Sandy Point State Park, Annapolis, Maryland
Joseph W. Alton, Jr. is presented with a program describing events to take place at the International Festival to be held at Sandy Point Park. Alton officially proclaimed September 18-24 International Week in Anne Arundel County. Representatives of the festival are from left, George Coutros, Chairman of the festival; Maria Samaras, an entertainer; Jane Papdemetriou wearing a traditional Greek folk dress; and Palma Tripodi in traditional Italian dress. The festival is being presented by the United Greek Orthodox Charities.
George Nikiforou, George Hadjis, Chris Samaras, Louie Keshes, John Kallis, and Savvas (Sam) Pantelides organized the first of the New Year’s Parties at the church hall. These men went door to door of their fellow restauranteurs obtaining food and drink so there would be no expense to the church and each family prepared a special dish. John and Martha Christo would always give a generous donation of their famous crab cakes. Later, Sotos Christoforou organized these New Year’s party saying “We were small and happy.”
These events were open to children of all ages as were the many dances sponsored during the years. This immersion of the youth in Greek dancing would result in many happy memories years later and reinforce the church as the center of cultural activities for our small community.
One memorable event of the AHEPA, chaired by John Mostakis, was a Christmas Tree Sale on West Street. George Nikiforou, Dean Padussis, Danny Tsamouras, John Mostakis, and Louie Keshes were among those who sold these trees with only a camper for them to stay warm. There was a big trailer on an empty parking lot and every day the trees had to be taken out, set up on stands, and those not sole had to be put back in at the end of the day. Usually, I would go home for a lunch break. George Nikiforou always complained that I was taking too long and said I was probably making a baby. It was probably a coincidence but my wife Gloria gave birth to Gregory the following year, 1981. Although we made money at the Christmas Tree Sale fundraiser and had fun, the experience led us to never do one again.
All of the events mentioned above were for the building of a new church as these early immigrants and their children realized that a new church complex would soon be needed. Eventually, a formal fundraising effort was launched under the leadership of Father George Gallos and a professional fundraising consultant was hired. Christine Samaras, her son George, and John Pantelides alternatively chaired this campaign which resulted in over $500,000 raised. However, the $500,000 was not enough to build a new church complex so we built a portion of it; a multipurpose facility that could host dances as well as athletic events. We completed this multi-purpose Hellenic Center in 1984 and President Mike Panos cut the ribbon beginning a new chapter.
Mike Panos, Alex Lardis, Ted Samaras, and John Pantelides, Groundbreaking for Hellenic Center
The money for a new church complex was generated by the generous donation and exchange of land on Riva Road from James and Zoe Moschovitis. Under the leadership of civil engineer, Danny Tsamouras, this deal happened. Danny led the effort to have the land rezoned from residential to commercial. In November 1988, the community accepted an offer from developer Gary Pyles to buy the land and Hellenic Center for approximately $4,500,000 and we received the check on May 30, 1989 for $4,499, 968. Furthermore, as part of the deal, Gary Pyles generously agreed to provide seven acres on Riva Road upon which to build the new church.
We now had the money to build a new church complex for approximately $2,500,000 dollars and still have approximately $2 million dollars put in an endowment fund. It was Father George Gallos who led this effort and retired in 1986. As in any large endeavor, many were involved. For a more detailed history on how the Annapolis Saints Constantine and Helen Greek Church community was able to acquire the funds to build the church complex on Riva Road read the story Our New Home: “The Miracle on Riva Road” [hyberlink]
We were fortunate to have Father Kosmas Karevellas lead us in building a new church complex on Riva Road that was completed in 1996. Our church complex serves as a focal point for our Greek Orthodox faith. In addition, the Church complex is complete with a gym, stage and available seating for over 1,000 people, hosts regional basketball tournaments, dance competitions, Greek Festivals, retreats, and Drug and Opioid conferences to name a few. The complex currently also houses the Greek Language School and a pre-school. The building has been a source of revenue for the church for renting out for large banquets, weddings, and other events. Fundraising continues to this day with parishioners continuously working to support the church and its expenses.
We recognize the many church boards and their presidents and the church organizations and members and our community who were always raising money for the Building Fund. Recognition also goes to the James Mandris family who donated land on Riva Road where our Saint Demetrios Greek cemetery is located. Prior to that donation, most Greeks were buried in the St. Anne’s cemetery as well as Greek cemeteries in Baltimore.
In summary, all praise and glory goes to our God and Jesus Christ who made the church complex a reality. There were no million dollar gifts or wealthy people making huge donations for this new church complex. What happened was a gift from God to our community and His inspiration to those early parishioners and their children to keep working hard and pushing forward to make the dream a reality. Our job is to continue the Lord’s work by using this church complex to serve our Lord, teach our youth, help the elderly, poor and forgotten, preserve our heritage language, culture and traditions. Furthermore, we must continue to assist the surrounding community to battle the challenges which affect us all.
John Savvas Pantelides