Elegant, Bridal Themed 50th Anniversary Celebration of the Novato, CA Philoptochos Chapter
By Giuliana Harris
The Philoptochos Society of the Novato Greek Orthodox Church, The Nativity of Christ, celebrated 50 years of their chapter in March 2019. The celebration was an elegant luncheon, titled Bridal Gowns Through The Years, hosted by Philoptochos President Rose Kamages Hunter (serving her second year as their President) and her fellow event chairs Vicki Kalabokes (current Vice President), Pat Kamages (past Vice President), Anthonia Kosmas, and Irene Meehan as their Philoptochos Advisor. Each of the women have been fully immersed in their Philoptochos Chapter: Kamages Hunter has served as their President in the past as well as having served as one of the Vice Presidents of the Metropolis Philoptochos Board; Pat Kamages is a past Vice President for Novato’s Philoptochos plus an active member for 30+ years; Kalabokes has served as a member since 1981; while Kosmas has served in various capacities for nearly 10 years.
In keeping with the bridal theme, the room was beautifully decorated as if it were an actual wedding! Beautiful table settings, with décor of white and silver, and centerpiece arrangements of hanging wisteria, filled the room. The day started with hors d’oeuvres and mimosas. Upon arriving at your table, each guest found a little box of koufeta wrapped in white tulle and blue ribbon. The servers and bartenders, in crisp formalwear, were the men of the parish (many are Philoptochos members as well).
A delicious meal was served by Yvonne Stamatakis’ catering company, with traditional desserts such as heart-shaped kourambiedes from Glyká-Sweets, cupcakes from Sprinkles by Sophia, and a beautiful wedding cake present. Truly, it felt at any moment a bride and groom would be announced and burst into the hall!
The inspiration from the event came from what comes to mind when one thinks of an “anniversary.” In speaking with Philoptochos President Rose Kamages Hunter, she described: “2019 is the 50th Anniversary of our Parish and our Philoptochos Chapter. When you think of an Anniversary, you most often think of a wedding anniversary. We wanted a celebratory event that would showcase the ladies of our parish. What better way than to celebrate their wedding day.” Kosmas had experience in this exact arena, as her mother, Georgia Lagouvardos put on a similar event for the Daughters of Penelope in Modesto, CA, over 30 years ago.
Prior to the meal and the fashion show, Father John Kocolas gave an invocation and welcome to the guests. Noah Griffin, who is a renowned vocalist as well as the Founder/Artistic Director of the Cole Porter Society of San Francisco, performed a set of romance standards. Griffin’s vocals are full and refined; as soon as he started his performance, the room was still and captivated. The romance standards he sang were a wonderful tribute to “First Dances” of brides and grooms throughout the years. Adding to the sentimentality of Griffin’s performance was the personal stories he interwove in between songs, bringing even more authenticity to the songs’ meanings.
Following the vocal performance, the Mistress of Ceremonies, Effie Fourakis, first welcomed the attendees, and in her opening remarks, she touched on the history of Novato’s Philoptochos Chapter, and the many women who paved the way. Fourakis warmly recalled, “Today we celebrate the 50th Anniversary of the establishment of our parish chapter of the National Philoptochos Society. Thinking back to my years with this parish, Philoptochos is synonymous with names like Cathie Banks, Betty Christo, Vasiliki Halikas, Demetra Johnson, Joanne Kambur, Diane Kavantjas, Stella Papadopoulos, and Sophia Stathis. And, of course, the chapter’s first president, Stella Mamalakis.” Furthermore, Fourakis also gave recognition to these women by asking for anyone in the room who was a Philoptochos President to stand up, along with those who were officers, served on the board, or if they provided a wedding gown to be modeled at the day’s event. Many attendees in the room joyfully stood up as the room applauded their contributions.
In honoring the efforts of many in making the chapter thrive, Kamages Hunter stated, “Our event incorporated the talents and efforts of the Philoptochos Ladies past, present and future. It was a very emotional day for many as they watched their wedding gown, and in many cases, the gowns of their mothers and grandmothers modeled, bringing back beautiful memories of a very special day in the life of each of their families.” Furthermore, she said, “The event was truly a tribute to the ladies of our parish.”
Prior to the fashion show beginning, Fourakis highlighted the theme of traditions in the Greek Culture. She gave some wonderful insight and history into the brides of Thrace and Pontos, as two mannequins were displayed with traditional wedding dresses/costumes to their respective regions. In following tradition and the wedding theme, the Fashion Show began just as a Greek Orthodox wedding would! With a fully equipped runway, built to provide visibility to both sides of the room, the first model was a young boy in a custom-made, Little Lord Fauntleroy style velvet tuxedo, while young girls acted as candle lighters on-stage. Next, young flower girls took the runway to introduce the first decade of the fashion show, the 1940s. Continuing, each decade was introduced by the flower girls as they cheerfully threw petals in the air to introduce each decade from the 1950s to the 2000s. Of special note, a wedding dress from 1929 (Anastasia Sipsa Cosmos’ gown) was present, though it was too fragile to be worn. Thus, it was displayed on a mannequin near the beginning of the runway.
As each model walked down the runway in the gorgeous gowns, Fourakis announced who the model was and whose gown they were wearing. The models walked out with bouquets that were hand-made by Cathy Selmi. Additionally, she provided the name of the respective groom, the location of the wedding, the Priest who presided over the ceremony, and what year it took place. On each side of the runway, there was a projected slideshow that displayed a photo of the bride and groom from their wedding while the model walked the runway.
Fun and sweet trivia was included by Fourakis, touching on any of the following: information about the gown, a memory from the respective wedding, if the gown was worn by multiple family members, and so forth. Fourakis’ own dress was in the fashion show: “My wedding gown was hand made by my mother-in-law, Loula Fourakis. She also made her dress, my mom’s dress, and the bridesmaids’ dresses,” Fourakis detailed. As Kamages Hunter described, it was “A day of much reminiscences.”
Adding to the theme of tradition and special memories, was the fact that a few of the models were related to the owner of the gown that they were modeling. Event co-chair, and past Vice President of the Novato Philoptochos, Pat Kamages said, “Our granddaughter, Alexis Kamages, honored her Great YiaYia modeling her wedding dress from 1946; Alexis then modeled my wedding dress which is 50 years old as we are celebrating our 50th Anniversary this September.” Kamages continued, “It brought back so many beautiful memories. Noah Griffin sang ‘When I Fall In Love.’ That was my husband and my wedding song. It was a very emotional moment for us.”
To commemorate the 50th Anniversary for the Novato Philoptochos, Fourakis also included trivia from the year of 1969, interweaving it throughout the fashion show. What fun it was to learn of celebrities born that year, the fashion trends, and music hits that rounded out the year their chapter was founded.
In total, there were 16 models and 30 gowns. With the multiple generations crossing over, it provided a unique, and beautiful camaraderie. When I asked about a special memory from the event, co-chair Vicki Kalabokes shared, “The Saturday before the event, we had many of the original brides with their dresses, including Presvytera Evelyn Adams. We had young models coming to try on the dresses so we could have models for each dress. The interaction between the generations was priceless and emotional.” Kalabokes further stated, “The faces of the models and the original brides, when they came out in their dresses, was also priceless. Everyone let us know how much fun that day was.” When it came time to model the dresses, Kalabokes also commented, “Again, watching grandmothers seeing their granddaughters in their dresses was emotional and beautiful.” Kalabokes participated in the fashion show as both a model and a contributor. A model wore her wedding dress from 1970; Kalabokes’ mother passed away five years ago and she wore the gown her mother wore to her wedding. Describing the moment, she said, “When I came out it was very emotional and when I got backstage, I was crying.” In putting on such a special event, it brought up much nostalgia. As event co-chair Anthonia Kosmas stated, “When our ladies saw their wedding dresses removed from boxes and once again come alive on models, there were tears and wonderful memories. A woman and her wedding dress, such a special and intimate relationship.” Truly, it was a beautiful day of not only décor and gowns, but generations coming together to celebrate the Novato Philoptochos’ 50th Anniversary.
Photos on this month’s cover: Models from Novato’s 50th Anniversary Celebration featuring parish members’ bridal gowns (Photo Credit: John C. Mellas).
Email the author: Giuliana