In 1821, the Greek Revolution began against the oppressive Turkish Empire. Long before the Greek immigrants had arrived in Springfield, they received the sympathy of the Springfield press. The Hampden Patriot an early Springfield newspaper, reported a meeting at Peabody assembly hall on December 13, 1823. The meeting was held to pledge support for Greek freedom and independence. The participants claimed that Greek emancipation was of utmost importance to all free people everywhere. Springfield continued to express its sympathy for Greece throughout the entire war. When America celebrated its independence on July 4, 1824, Dr. A.J. Miller of Springfield composed a poem in honor of the memory of Lord Byron, himself a poet and a hero of the Greek Revolution. Another mass meeting in support of Greece was held in 1827. O.B. Morris presided, and Reverend Bezaleel Howard pledged arms and ammunition for the Greeks in their fight against Turkish tyranny. Samuel Bowles, editor of the Republican, wrote at this time: "We revert to affairs of Greece as of first importance to the cause of freedom and liberty."
Although Americans had sympathized with the Greeks since early in the 19th century, it was not until the 1880's that Greeks began to filter into the area. Those who came to America did so for many reasons. First, Greece was always a poor country. The difficulty of scratching out a meager living on the rocky soil of Greece led a number of Greeks to seek a better way of life. The Greek immigrants who came to Springfield were not only from Greece proper; many came from Eastern Thrace, Asia Minor, Crete, Northern Epirus, and the Aegean Islands.
Eleftherios Pilalas was the first Greek in Springfield, but the exact date of his arrival is not known. He apparently came around 1884, however. He lived on Calhoun Street and worked at the Kibbe Company candy factory. After a few years, he became manager for the Kibbe Candy Company on Harrison Avenue. When other Greeks began to arrive, Pilalas was instrumental in bringing them to the Kibbe Company as employees. He later purchased Vaughn's Candy Store on Main Street, became a successful businessman, and accumulated an appreciable amount of property before his death in 1910. Stavros Pilalas came to America a short while after his brother and he also went to work for the Kibbe Candy Company. For five years, Stavros attended night school, which enabled him to become proficient in English. He was later employed as a part-time Greek interpreter in the local courts. After the Pilalas brothers, a young man from Sparta, Theodore Carellas, came to Springfield in 1886. He also went to work for the Kibbe Candy Company, where he remained for sixteen years. Another early arrival from Greece, John D. Cokkinias, opened the first Greek-owned candy stores in Springfield. By the turn of the century, the city's Greek population steadily grew to about five hundred.
Some of the young Greek immigrants had adventurous backgrounds. One of these was Alex Kefalas, a successful duelist. During the 1896 Olympic games at Athens, Kefalas, who was impressed by the numerous American victories, decided that he would like to come to America. He was at the University of Athens in 1897, when hostilities broke out between Greece and Turkey over Crete. Because other Greeks disagreed with him over political beliefs, Mr. Kefalas fought and won two duels. His family in Greece and came to the United States. When he arrived in Springfield, he enrolled at American International College.
A larger influx of better-educated Greeks came to Springfield in 1905-1906. They learned the language while working as waiters or as mechanics. By 1912, more than half the Greek citizens in Springfield were a younger generation of Greek college graduates. The limitless opportunities offered by America attracted the best men Greece had to offer. In Greece, they would never have been doing such menial labor, but in America, even the best educated were forced into menial work before starting up the ladder of success.
Due to many problems, life was never easy for the early Greek immigrants in Springfield. The language barrier to bridge, and a number of young Greek boys could find nothing better than to work in shoeshine establishments. During World War I, a controversy arose because of the "enslavement" of these boys. The protest centered over long working hours and bad working conditions. In 1916, the Saloniki, a Greek language Chicago newspaper, reported on the Greek bootblacks in Springfield. The newspaper claimed that a hundred Greek bootblacks in Springfield had gone on strike to attain better working conditions.
In 1908, more Greek boys left their homeland. The Ottoman Empire made military service compulsory, and the Greeks were being forced into the ranks. This included the Greeks of Asia Minor and those living in Constantinople (Istanbul). As a result, many Greeks escaped to America. It is reported that more than half the Greek male population in Springfield at this time (1908-1909) had escaped forced induction into the Turkish Army. Steven L. Efthymion of Springfield was one of those who escaped Turkish military service. Efthymion was with his platoon on the Izmir (Smyrna) waterfront when he escaped into the ocean. He swam about two miles, until he was picked up by an American vessel.
From the turn of the century, Greeks from the island of Crete had settled in the Springfield-Chicopee area, and they had established the oldest chapter of the Pan Cretan Association of America. The local Cretan Society would later help to organize the American Pan Cretan Union, in 1929. In October of that year, Harry J. Erinakis represented Springfield and Chicopee at the first annual convention of the Pan Cretan Union of America, in Chicago. Erinakis later compiled a history of the Pan Cretan Association of the Springfield-Chicopee area.
Now that the size of the Greek community was increasing, it was natural for Greek organization to develop. Attempts to organize the Greek community before 1906, however, were failures. John D. Cokkinias tried to organize a ÒPan HellenicÓ society, which soon disbanded. Eleftherios Pilalas also tried to organize the Greeks, but again to no avail. It even proved difficult to establish a Greek Orthodox Church in Springfield. Meetings were held in a room over a shop at Stearns Square, and finally a hall was rented at State and Maple Streets. Shortly thereafter Reverend Athanasios Sideris came to Springfield as the first Greek priest. When the hall soon became too small for the growing congregation, it became necessary to locate another facility. With a number of strong-willed leaders who disagreed, however, it appeared that the church might be destroyed. Then in 1905, Paisios Ferentinos of Pittsburgh, the first Greek priest in America, was invited to help regain unity in Springfield. As a result of his help the problem was solved. In 1906, Reverend Jacob Leloudas arrived and became the first priest of the newly-founded church. Land and a brick house were purchased on Auburn Street, and in 1907, the building became St. George Church. According to one report, it was easy to select a name for the church. When the Church Society was established to purchase the land on Auburn Street, twelve of the members were named George. As a result, that name was selected for the church on Auburn Street. After a few years, Reverend Leloudas made plans to expand the church and replace some old decorations. The beginning of the Balkan War in 1912, however, prevented the completion of his plans. Many young Greeks left Springfield to fight against Turkey, and those who remained donated as much as they could afford to support the War effort.
The social life of Springfield's early Greeks centered around their clubs. By 1912 there were six Greek clubs in Springfield. Four of these clubs were located at the corner of Main and Cypress Streets. The clubs were actually open cafe-type restaurants, where Greeks gathered. One of these was the Greek club, run by Panteles Hectore. It was an open cafe where the Greeks would gather to read Greek newspapers, drink Greek coffee, discuss politics, and exchange ideas. Hectore was a hero to many of the Greeks, being a well known athlete. He had competed in the 1904 and 1908 Olympic Games. When the Greek population had outgrown the Auburn Street Church, again new land had to be purchased. In 1919, Hectore headed the society that bought the new church lot on Patton Street.
The Greeks had come to Springfield so quietly that for a whole generation they seem to have gone unnoticed. The Greek population had been steadily growing, but an incident in 1912 drew attention to the local Greek community. A large crowd gathered at Union Station in October to bid farewell to many young men who were going to Greece to fight in the Balkan War. American International College was directly affected when two Greek students returned to Greece on October 8, 1912, and within a short period, four others had joined them.
World War I resulted in several bitter feuds among the Greeks in Springfield. For a while, it seemed that Springfield would be a "battleground" for settling Greek politics. The feud centered on whether Greece should participate in the war. Premier Eleftherios Venizelos and his liberal supporters wanted Greece to enter the war on the allies' side, while King Constantine and the Royalists wanted to remain neutral. Two rival contingents from Greece came to America to rally support. Each faction claimed control over the Greek Orthodox Church in North and South America, and the church was completely divided. The Royalist Archbishop of America, Troianos, struggled for supremacy with the Venizelist Archbishop of America, Rodostolou. Former Archbishop Metaxakis, also a Venizelist, supported Rodostolou in his claim to lead the American church. In 1917 separate rallies were held on the same day in Springfield. A court battle was waged between the two factions, and Springfield became a war zone. Due to the clash, a Royalist Church, the Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church, was organized in 1920, on Carew Street. Attempts were made to unite the two churches, but for many years these attempts were unsuccessful. In 1933, Nicholas H. Prempas, with the help of Archbishop Athenagoras of New York, managed to unite the two churches for a short while. In 1935 the Holy Trinity Church was reorganized and it remained in existence until it could no longer sustain itself in the early 1950's. It was actually due to lack of support that the church ceased to exist. Prempas, who earlier tried to unite the two churches, was a well known figure in the Greek community. In the mid 30's he served on the Republican committee from Ward 4, and in 1934 he was appointed as Petroleum Inspector.
In World War I, Greeks from Springfield served with the U.S. Army, and two men won recognition for bravery. Constantine Veniopoulos Nestor was killed in the Argonne, and he was later praised for valor. Hercules Gorgis also spent considerable time in Springfield, but at the time he enlisted, he lived in Lynn. Gorgis was credited with having captured 257 Germans single-handedly. Following the war, K.P. Tsolainos who lived at 37 Sargent Street, represented the Greek-Americans at the Paris Peace Conference after World War I. Educated at McGill University in Canada, and at Columbia University in New York, he became secretary to Greek Premier Venizelos. In the 1930's Tsolainos became an officer at the National City Bank in New York.
From 1910 to 1930, the Greek population in Springfield grew rapidly, and the Greeks began producing professional men. The first Greek physician was Dr. Socrates J. Paul who graduated from Tufts Medical College. He was active in politics, serving for many years on the Republican City Committee from Wards 4 and 5. Another Greek physician was Dr. Louis G. Spelios. For many years, the only practicing Greek lawyer was Dimitrius V. Constantine. In 1935, he was an unsuccessful candidate for Alderman from Ward 5.
During these years, many Greek immigrants rose to prominence and distinguished themselves as citizens of Springfield. Some became successful businessmen. Nicholas Cassavetes founded the Pharos Tourist Agency, and was instrumental in initiating Greek-American excursions to Greece. George Bacopoulos, a graduate of American International College, served as a member of the Chamber of Deputies at Athens, Greece, and became Greek Minister of the Interior. Charilaus Lagoudakis, associated with Springfield College, became Director of Athens College, in Greece. Another Greek from Springfield, Anestis Fanos, became editor of the Atlantis, a New York newspaper which was the oldest Greek daily in the United States. George N. Pilalas was a businessman, proprietor and manager of the Forest Park Restaurant. John Regas, native of Calavryta, Greece, was a manager of the Star Lunch Company of Springfield. He later owned three Springfield restaurants. Elias Janetis, another early arrival from Greece, was an author of distinction and had many books credited to his name. Some of his works were His Majesty, The Immigrant, and a patriotic play Martyrs and Avengers.
The 1920's were still the formative years of the Greek community, and one thought seemed to prevail over all others. The desire to make a fortune and return to Greece was prevalent among a large percentage of the Greeks. In 1922, the Greek press estimated that twenty percent of the Greeks in Springfield eventually planned to return home. Many were waiting for better relations between Greece and Turkey, while others were waiting to make their fortunes. In time, their attitudes changed, and many who wanted to return to Greece never did. They began to assimilate, and eventually they adopted America as their home.
For a generation, Nicholas G. Veniopoulos Nestor was the leading member of Springfield's Greek community. He was born in Sparta on November 25, 1886, and he came to America as a young man. He graduated from the American Law School in 1920, after which he founded the Nestor Realty and Brokerage Company. He was the first Greek-American in the city to become a Notary Public and Justice of the Peace. Nestor spoke English, Greek, French, Italian and Arabic, and he became an expert in naturalization, immigration and Americanization. He became known as the "citizen maker", not only among Greeks, but also among other foreign-born residents. He served as an advisor to Greek ministers in Washington, to the Greek diocese in America, and to the Greek consul in Boston. He was author of several works including Nestor's Parliamentary Law and Rules of Order. Nestor was founder, president, and editor of the National Union, which was reportedly the only Greek-American newspaper printed in English. The monthly newspaper was established to assist those who chose America for their home, by helping them to learn the language, familiarize them with American laws, and promote civic and social responsibility.
A natural politician, Nestor was constantly organizing within the Greek community. In 1919 he was founder of the Massachusetts Republican Club. Nestor was President and William Kimberly Palmer was Vice President. Palmer was a poet and a great admirer of Greek ideals. He also served as contributing editor of the National Union, and he was a close friend of Nestor. Nicholas Nestor also organized the first Springfield branch of AHEPA (American Hellenic Educational Progressive Association) in 1924. The purpose of AHEPA was to Americanize the Greek immigrants. One of 360 AHEPA clubs nationwide, the local chapter was located at the Young Building, 1653 Main Street. Nestor later served as Supreme Warden of the National Organization of AHEPA.
The Greeks in Springfield founded many other clubs, one of which was the Greek American Progressive Association (G.A.P.A.). Its purpose was to preserve and perpetuate Greek ideals in American life. For young people, there were such clubs as the Sons of Pericles and the Maids of Athens. The Philoptochos, another club, was a women's organization devoted to charitable work in coordination with St. George Parish. On January 28, 1934, the "Proodos", a Cretan ladies organization, was established in Springfield, to perpetuate the traditions of Crete.
On June 2, 1928, just before the seventh annual convocation of AHEPA was to take place in Springfield, Nestor received a letter from Mayor Fordis C. Parker. The mayor welcomed AHEPA to Springfield, and the city placed the Municipal Auditorium at the disposal of AHEPA.
Nestor was elected president of the Foreign Language Publishers Association of America in 1929. He placed emphasis on America's foreign-born citizens and their contribution to American life.
Nestor was very involved in state politics and in 1922 was an unsuccessful candidate for State Representative. Nestor won the Republican nomination from the fourth Hampden District with a total of 3,915 votes. He carried the East Springfield and Berkshire Districts, and it was the first time in 20 years that a Republican had ever won in the latter district. Nestor's success became the inspirational factor for the success of Representative George Demeter of Boston, who served two consecutive terms in the Legislature, in 1932 and 1934.
Dr. Nicholas Iliopoulos came from Greece and entered Springfield College in 1932. Quickly recognizing the need for organizing the youth in Springfield's Greek community, he assembled 120 boys of Greek descent and organized a program in coordination with the Y.M.C.A. He called his group the "Olympians". In 1933, he organized a group for girls called the ÒOlympiads.Ó Archbishop Athenagoras helped organize the groups on a national scale after World War II, and he renamed them G.O.Y.A. (Greek Orthodox Youth of America).
By 1936 Springfield's Greek population had grown to about 3,500 and had scattered to all parts of the city. Springfield never really had a "Little Greece;" by that time, the Greeks lived in all parts of the city including the North and South Ends, Forest Park, and the Hill sections. They owned and operated about 100 lunch rooms and restaurants in Springfield, and owned a variety of smaller businesses including ice cream, candy, and fruit stores. Shoe shining, hat cleaning, and tobacco shops were also owned by the Greeks.
In 1936, when Springfield was planning Tercentenary activities, John Micharalos was selected to organize the Greek community. Micharalos was President of the Altis Chapter of AHEPAns, and he was a leader in the Greek community. He had a turbulent past, barely escaping from Turkey with his life during World War I. For a short period he was interned in France and then with aid, he came to America. On his arrival, he enrolled at American International College and later went into business.
Early in the Second World War, Greece had tried to defend itself against invasion, but it was eventually overwhelmed. The Greek War Relief Association was established to aid the war torn country. It was organized on a national scale, with about 1,000 chapters in the United States. On the local level, letters were sent out to business leaders of the Greek community to discuss ways and means of conducting the war relief campaign. Nestor was invited by Chairman Christopher Kantianis, an architect who was deeply involved in the affairs of the Greek community. The initial meeting was held on January 6, 1941 at Greek War Relief Headquarters, at 2309 Main Street.
In July of 1942, when King George II of Greece arrived in Philadelphia, a delegation went to greet him. The Springfield contingent was led by Nicholas Nestor, who invited the Greek National Organization to bring the next Archdiocese convention to Springfield. Shortly before his death, Nestor received two letters from Athenagoras, the Greek Archbishop of North and South America. One was written in November of 1943 and the other in March of 1944. Both letters were inquiries about his failing health, as he was very sick for many months before his death in 1945.
Since the founding of the church in 1907, the council has always been in charge of church affairs. Over the years, to the late 1930's, there were many disagreements between the council and the priests, which resulted in a great turnover of priests at both the St. George and the Holy Trinity parishes.
The Greek Orthodox Church was still being organized in the 1930's. In 1931, Demetrius Steven Zades, a musician who sang on the radio in five languages, organized the first Greek choir in Springfield.
By the later 1930's, the Greek population had outgrown the church on Patton Street. With the hard work of Reverend Joseph Xanthopoulos, a church was then purchased by the Greek community at Memorial Square in 1940. It was renamed St. George Greek Orthodox Memorial Church, and located at 2309 Main Street. It was originally a Gothic Church built for Congregationalists in 1866. The continuing growth of the Greek population led them from their obscure meeting hall at Stearns Square to the present site at Memorial Square. The acquisition of such a beautiful landmark was a fitting testimonial to the first sixty years of Greek immigrants in Springfield.
Better than three hundred young men and women, members of St. George, had served in the U.S. Armed Forces during World War II. They served in all branches of the service, and many distinguished themselves more than honorably.
In 1948 a Greek-American parade was held to protest against Communist abduction of Greek war orphans. The contingent left from Memorial Square and then returned there after the parade.
In 1952, St. George helped to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the city of Springfield with a special program, "We are all Greeks," conceived by the Greek Community Centennial Committee. An outstanding booklet was produced in coordination with the program which included not only Greek history but accomplishments of individual Greeks in Springfield.
The year 1955 saw the first Greek-American to be accepted as a policeman on the Springfield Police Department. Andrew Spanos had been with the department for twenty-three years.
On November 29, 1957 the Highland Hotel in Springfield was the site of the 50th Anniversary Ball held in honor of the founding of St. George Church on Auburn Street. Thames Pagos served as General Chairman for the evening's events. The other ceremonies for the 50th Anniversary of the founding of the church were held on December 7, 1957 at the Parish House, where the founders and charter members of the church were honored.
On February 8, 1959 St. George presented its "Greek athlete of the year award" to Baltimore Oriole catcher Gus Triandos, who had thirty home runs during the 1958 season for the Orioles.
The Drum Corps was organized first as a parade corps in 1958 and then later became a mainstay in the community for many years. It had the distinction of being the only Greek Orthodox Drum Corps in the entire United States.
The Drum Corps was founded by Michael Kafantis, and in 1961 came under the enthusiastic and capable leadership of manager George Parakilas. New uniforms and instruments were purchased, and shortly after, the ÒOlympians,Ó a competitive corps, traveled extensively over the next few years.
In 1964, the "Olympians" performed at the Democratic National Convention at Atlantic City, New Jersey. The corps was personally greeted by President Johnson. The highlight for the "Olympians" came in the summer of 1966, when they placed tenth as a World Open finalist. 1966 also saw the "Olympians" as Yankee Circuit Champions. A few years later, the corps ventured as far as Ohio. The Olympian Color Guard was, and is still, known nationally. The Guard had taken many trophies in competitions over the years. Other managers of the corps were Eddie Allard, Charles Bonatakis, Al Lapie, and Mario Kacoyannakis.
Plans for expansion of facilities were evolved by the early sixties. A building fund campaign loyalty dinner was first held at Springfield's Municipal Auditorium on October 18, 1966. This was in support of enlarging facilities at the Church in the future.
Reverend Stephen Papadoulias was with the St. George Greek Orthodox Memorial Church in Springfield for twenty-three years. He is a native of Newport, Rhode Island, and a graduate of Holy Cross Theological School, Pomfret, Connecticut. Father Stephen was twenty-two when he was ordained by the late Patriarch Athenagoras in Southbridge, Massachusetts. He served parishes in Stamford, Connecticut and Manchester, New Hampshire before coming to Springfield. Multi-talented, Father Stephen received degrees from St. Anselms College in 1956 and a psychology degree from Westfield State College in 1966. A testimonial dinner was held by the community in his honor on Sunday, December 10, 1972. The dinner was in honor of the Priest and man who had served his community faithfully and diligently for so many years.
In July of 1972, the Springfield Greek Community was advised of the death of the Patriarch of the Greek Orthodox Church. Athenagoras I had died in Istanbul. The altar at St. George was draped in black during special memorial services. Reverend Papadoulias eulogized Athenagoras I, saying that "the whole Christian world is deeply saddened by the loss of such a great spiritual leader."
In August of 1974 there occurred an invasion of Cyprus by Turkish forces, which convulsed much of the Greek community to action. The Western Massachusetts Greek-American Committee for Cyprus sent letters and telegrams in protest of Turkish atrocities perpetrated on the Greek-Cypriot civilian population. The use of American made weapons by the Turks became the most disheartening factor when speaking to local Greeks at that time.
During September of 1974 the Hellenic Senior Citizens were organized in Springfield. The group took the name meaning all together. The Senior Citizens later merged with another group known as the Over 60 Club. Still in existence today, they have a Senior Council and Advisory Board.
In November of 1974, a fire in the church caused by an overheated boiler did extensive damage to the church. Because of this, much of the church was done over.
By 1975, the church was studying new sites for their community center. Michael P. Pagos, chairman of the church's building committee, claimed that sites were being examined all over - "even outside Springfield." Pagos admitted that the church at this time was far from deciding where to build its center.
By June of 1977, it was decided that St. George Church would remain in Springfield by a 2-1 vote. It did, however, signal the beginning of the St. Luke parish which eventually settled in East Longmeadow, MA. Approximately two hundred families, many of whom lived in the East Longmeadow area did leave St. George. Still, there were about seven hundred families left at St. George which vowed to move forward in its present location.
A general assembly approved plans for a $1.4 million parish center using the old Memorial Square library building. The Springfield Redevelopment Authority granted approval for the expansion as Mayor William C. Sullivan worked hard to appropriate this land for St. George. Architect Chris Kamages, who grew up in the parish and was of the Cannon Partnership, was chosen to commence this project.
Fr. Stephen Papadoulias, who began his ministry at St. George in 1955, retired in 1985 and moved back to Rhode Island where he was raised. He was succeeded by Fr. Peter Atsales along with Fr. Peter (Petros) Gregory as his assistant. Both Fr. Atsales and Fr. Gregory left in 1992 at which time they were succeeded by Fr. Kyriakos (Kerry) Saravelas. He remained until 2001 at which time the present pastor, Fr. Christopher Stamas, took his position.