From Eliades to Tsongas to Panagiotakos. Lowell has had many memorable moments in the proud political history of Greek Americans in public office. On March 23rd, another addition to that history was made when a Greek American mayor helped raise the Greek flag outside Lowell City Hall in celebration of Greek Independence Day.
March 25th, 1821 marked the beginning of the Greek War for Independence from the Ottoman Empire and the eventual reestablishment of the Greek state. The 25th of March is celebrated annually as Greek Independence Day both in Greece and throughout the Hellenic diaspora.
Upon his inauguration in January, William “Bill” Samaras became the fourth Greek American–and the first in 25 years–to serve as mayor of the City of Lowell, following George Eliades (1951), Ellen Sampson (1964-1965), and Tarsy Poulios (1992-1993). Therefore it was understandable if a bit of additional pride was on display for this year’s event.
“As a city councilor and now as mayor, I have been proud to participate in the many flag raising ceremonies we host here at Lowell City Hall. It truly is a celebration of the diversity that makes our city unique,” Mayor Samaras noted, “But you’d have to forgive me if I’m a little extra proud today to celebrate my culture—our culture—the Greek American story of Lowell.”
That story was encapsulated during the morning’s festivities. Following service at Holy Trinity Church on Lewis Street, the annual parade procession made its way through the Acre led by the Lowell High School marching band–the only band in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts that can play the Greek national anthem. Stopping to lay wreathes at monuments for Greek American veterans and the pioneers of the Greek American community in Lowell, the group eventually made its way to City Hall for the ceremony. Later events included a luncheon at the Olympia Restaurant and a youth program at the Hellenic American Academy.
“We are very proud because so many persons from Lowell are one way or another connected to Greece,” remarked Stratos Efthymiou, the Greek consul general in Boston. In recognition of his standing as the first Greek American mayor in 25 years, Mayor Samaras was presented by the consul general the gift of a necktie featuring the Greek alphabet in the colors of the American flag to “symbolize the ties that bind our countries.” Efthymiou then noted he had to improvise and offered a similar tie–the one around his neck–as an additional gift presented to George Behrakis, who served as the master of ceremonies for the Greek Independence Day event.
President of the Hellenic American Societies of New England, Vasilios “Bill” Kafkas discussed several issues relevant to Hellenes and Philhellenes, including the upcoming Greek Independence Parade in Boston on April 22nd.
Representative Tom Golden was on hand to present a citation from the Massachusetts House of Representatives, recognizing the important contributions of Greek Americans to the Greater Lowell area and the Commonwealth as a whole.
An annual highlight of the Greek Independence Day celebration is the bilingual speaking program put on by students from the Hellenic American Academy. This year, Stathis Stahopoulous provided remarks in Greek, while Eva Antonia Regan spoke in English, each discussing the history of the Greek community and the War for Independence. The Hellenic American Academy is the only Greek Orthodox affiliated day school in New England.
Following the ceremony at the City Hall steps, many of the attendees made their way to the Olympia Restaurant for lunch. Opened in the heart of the Greek Acre on Market St, Olympia has been serving traditional Greek foods to Lowellians of all backgrounds since 1952.
A memento of this year’s event–a miniature Acropolis–now greets visitors to the Mayor’s office at Lowell City Hall, courtesy of the Merrimack Valley Council of Eastern Orthodox Parishes.