National Hellenic Society Heritage Weekend & Classic: Enlightenment, Parea, Fun, and Inspiration

By Art Dimopoulos

Nevada Congresswoman Dina Titus and Clark County Chair of the County Supervisors and Gubernatorial candidate, Steve Sisolak, attended the National Hellenic Society (NHS)’s annual event, Heritage Weekend and Classic, and thanked the NHS for the resolve and example set to host the event to celebrate the countless good things and noble pursuits in life that NHS members and the organization are dedicated to embody. The County Commissioner, a Milwaukee native, was touched with the presentation of an official autographed Milwaukee Bucks Giannis Antetokounmpo jersey presented by the former co-owner of the Milwaukee Bucks and Heritage Weekend and Classic Chairman, Dr. George Korkos.

Heritage Weekend and Classic is the successor of the Telly Savalas Golf Classic, and a memorial golf tournament is still hosted in Savalas’ name and honor. Heritage Weekend is now so much more than just a golf tournament, and it has evolved into a celebration of Hellenic heritage and culture. It features a host of leisure and sports activities to substantive panel presentation sessions, showcasing many themes presented by experts who are world renowned authorities and leaders.

Every year, the NHS honors various Greek Americans who have contributed to the community. This year’s honoree was NHS co-founder and chairman, George M. Marcus. He was presented with the inaugural George M. Marcus Award of Excellence, heretofore honoring exceptional individuals who have demonstrated long-held Hellenic values and ideals as embodied by the namesake of the award. Marcus and his wife, Judy, are active philanthropists, to which their largess have benefitted countless faith-based, civic, cultural, and Hellenic organizations.

During the weekend’s corporate governance sessions, George Marcus passed the baton of leadership of the NHS as chairman of the board of directors to Drake Behrakis and to Mike Galanakis as vice-chairman. Three distinguished individuals also joined the NHS Board: Doretta Mistras, a Managing Director at Goldman Sachs; Dr. Corina Gerontis-Stratakis, a leading child ophthalmological surgeon, practitioner, and professor; and Nancy Papaioannou, the President of Atlantic Bank.

Substantive panel presentations included a session on Hellenic heritage and culture, moderated by NHS member, George Orfanakos, Executive Director of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens. He was joined by Dr. Fred Hiebert, the principal archeologist of National Geographic; George Washington University archeologists and professors, Drs. Eric and Diane Cline; and world renown archeologist, Dr. John Camp, who oversees the Agora excavations and has been onsite at the Acropolis for the past 52 years.

In addition, the science and medicine panel was moderated by NHS member, Dr. Tom Foster, Chair of the Family Medicine Department at Scripps Medical Center. It featured Dr. George Cotsarelis, Chair of the Department of Dermatology at the University of Pennsylvania; Dr. Menas Kafatos, a physicist, author, and professor at Chapman College; and Dr. Nikolaos Bourbakis, a professor at Wayne State University and leading research scientist on robotics and artificial intelligence.

The NHS featured an incredible forum highlighting women and the challenges that women faced in the workplace. It was moderated by veteran news anchor on Fox 5 News in Washington, DC, Laura Evans Manatos, who led the discussion about the opportunities, challenges, and triumphs that the panelists have experienced. Panelists included Kelly Vlahakis-Hanks, CEO of Earth Friendly Products (a manufacturer of over 200 environmentally friendly consumer products that replace harmful home cleansers, detergents, and related products); Doretta Mistras, one of the youngest Managing Directors at Goldman Sachs overseeing a robust health care portfolio of clientele; Niki Leondakis, CEO at Equinox Hotels and former CEO of Kimpton Hotels; Dr. Corina Gerontis-Stratakis, a surgeon, practitioner, and professor specializing in pediatric ophthalmology; and United States Olympian and gold medalist, Helen Maroulis, the first American woman to win gold in women’s wrestling. The audience was riveted by the personal stories and anecdotes of their respective journeys through life.

The Democracy Forum was a first on many levels, co-moderated by Bill Antholis, University of Virginia Miller Center President and Managing Director Emeritus of Brookings, and Dr. Josh Ober, a leading classical historian and professor at Stanford University. The panel featured participation by former Congressman Mike Bilirakis and his son, Congressman Gus Bilirakis, former Senator Paul Sarbanes and his son, Congressman John Sarbanes, and former Governor and presidential candidate, Michael Dukakis. The compelling discussion was a non-partisan exploration of the need for a new direction for democracy to continue to flourish in what has become a quagmire of inaction and partisanship that wears away at the trust of the American people and the integrity of our nation.

The Saturday luncheon keynote speaker was Dr. Gregory Lavender, the Chief Technology Officer at Citigroup, a pioneer in computing and philhellene. Dr. Lavender’s incredible presentation traced modern computing back to the philosophy and science of the ancient Greek world with many of the players in the timeline of science and technology directly influenced by the cast of ancient Greek personalities. The Friday dinner keynote speech was presented by Dr. Deepak Chopra, world-renowned author, speaker, and alternative medicine advocate, who was introduced by his co-author of You are the Universe, Dr. Menas Kafatos.

Entertainment featured the Philadelphia-based band, Seizmos, led by NHS member, judge, and bouzouki player, The Honorable Harry Karapalidies. The Saturday night headliner singer was Harry Varthakouris, the talented son of the legendary Yiannis Parios. Celebrity George Hamilton, was donned an “honorary Greek” by George Marcus, who spent the entire weekend with his Greek parea. Actor Yannis Anastasakis, known as John Aniston, the star of Days of Our Lives and father to one of Hollywood’s most successful stars, Jennifer Aniston, was in attendance, along with his wife, actress Sherry Rooney Aniston.

NHS member and Board of Advisor member, John Calamos, who serves as Chair of the National Hellenic Museum in Chicago, was presented with two original oil paintings of George Marcus and John Aniston by master artist Euripides Kastaris to accession in the permanent collection of the Greek American story at the Museum. Two additional paintings of Marcus and Aniston were commissioned by artist Tabitha Nicholas, an alumna of the NHS’ signature Heritage Greece Program. Heritage Weekend also serves as a reunion to participants of the Program. This year, 45 alumni of the Heritage Greece Program attended the reunion.

Weekend activities included a cooking demonstration and discussion hosted by master chef and author Diane Kochilas, who is starring in the currently airing 13-part series and PBS hit, My Greek Table, sponsored by NHS along with several NHS members (see page 12). Thanks to Steve and Judy Padis, owners of Padis Vineyards and Padis Jewelers, NHS members were treated to a rare presentation by Debeers/Forevermark President, Charles Stanley, along with his team, who presented the story of Forevermark’s diamonds through a demonstration with millions in rare gems.

Chris Skenteris, the former head of accessories for Chanel, led a trunk show at the Wynn Chanel boutique, providing a history and context of Chanel’s extensive line of signature favorites. Vicki Georges, NHS’ talented Executive Assistant and member of the Byzantio Greek Dance and Cultural Arts Program in the Washington, DC area conducted a Greek dance workshop for members and guests to learn a variety of Greek dances in preparation for the evening’s celebration. George Hamilton joined the fun and participated in the workshop.

Heritage Weekend and Classic is the culmination of the efforts of several dedicated members of the NHS Classic Committee that dare to showcase and celebrate Hellenism’s many nuances and dimensions of a rich heritage, culture, traditions and spirit to be shared and enjoyed by all.  Two thousand, six hundred years ago the poet Sappho declared: “…That later on, Even in an age unlike our own, Someone will remember who we are.”   We do indeed Sappho!  We remember, honor, celebrate and pass on the glory that was and is Greece.

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Email the author: The Hellenic Journal

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