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Monday, January 13, 2014

A Brief History of William Penn Chapter No. 61

The William Penn Chapter No. 61 of the Order of AHEPA was organized by one of the founders of the Order, the late George Polos.

Mr. Polos came to Reading in the early months of 1925, and spent several weeks talking to Reading-area Greeks about the AHEPA and initiated the first group into the Order. On March 16, 1925, he initiated another group of 18.

Twenty-five of these brothers signed the petition on May 2, 1925, asking the "Supreme Council of AHEPA," as it was then known, to grant them a charter. The Reading AHEPA Chapter was the sixth one organized in Pennsylvania.

In 1926, the first major banquet was sponsored by the Chapter and among the dignitaries attending were Reading Mayor William Sherman, Berks County Judge John D. Shaffer, and Superintendent of Schools E.M. Rapp.

Another banquet was held in 1928 with Robert Birch as toastmaster, and among those attending were Mayor J. Henry Stump, Rev. Miller, and Congressman Charles J. Esterly.

In 1933, the Chapter was host to the District Convention, and just prior to the Convention, the Reading Times published a glowing editorial on July 10, 1933, praising the AHEPA.

Now came the Chapter’s golden years.  With capable men assuming the leadership, the respect for the AHEPA grew, many activities of all kinds were held, and many more joined the Order.

The AHEPA Patrol was organized, and under the leadership of the late Peter Eleftheriou, won many awards including first prize in Easton’s 50th anniversary parade.

The AHEPA Greek Award was established and was given every year to a student of Albright College who excelled in the studies of Greek.

Then came World War II.  Many members of the Order served in the U.S. Armed Forces. Some were wounded in combat, but all eventually returned with honorable discharges to rejoin their Chapter. The Chapter participated in the AHEPA drive to sell War Bonds and, as a result, the entire Order was commended by the U.S. Government for the millions of dollars of War Bonds that they sold.

In 1946, when Sts. Constantine & Helen Church bought the building at 8th and Court Streets, and moved the Church facilities there, the Chapter donated the cost of the Iconostation (Icon Screen). The cost of the Iconostation was $1,835.00, and this was at a time when Chapter dues were $6.00 per year, and Church dues were $12.00 per year.

When the present Church was built in 1970, that Iconostation was taken apart, brought over to the new Church and re-assembled, and was used until the present new Iconostation was installed in 1995. Some parts of the old Iconostation are now in the church’s Heritage room.

On May 5, 1957, the Chapter hosted a banquet honoring President Judge H. Robert Mays and Judge Marks on their retirement that year. The Chief Justice of the Supreme Court was the main speaker.

In 1959, the Chapter entered in an agreement with the Church to rent the old Greek School building at 734 Walnut Street in Reading for $500.00 per year for its headquarters.

Although this was a commendable effort to provide a home for the Chapter, it later proved to the downfall of the Chapter and almost caused its extinction. Of course, the division of the church that took place about that same time aggravated the situation.

In 1974 the Chapter was re-organized and many new members were initiated, old members re-instated, and became very active. One of the members, Michael Firilas, was elected to the office of District Governor of Power District No. 4.

In 1978, the Chapter hosted the District Convention with many city, county and state officials attending the formal District Banquet on June 17th.

The Chapter enjoyed another renaissance from the mid-1980s to the mid-1990s, hosting another successful District Convention in 1988, establishing the first Chapter Scholarship Fund and winning recognition from Power District No. 4 for the initiation of most new members and reinstatement of past members. Chapter membership peaked at 80. The Chapter sent full delegations to District and National AHEPA Conventions throughout this 10-year period. Several chapter members served on the District Lodge and one member, Michael Firilas, was elected Supreme Governor. Michael Firilas was also named 1991 AHEPAN of the Year by Power District No. 4.

The Chapter also held several successful Banquets in honor of U.S. Congressman Gus Yatron (a longtime member of the AHEPA) and the two pastors who served the Greek Orthodox Churches in Reading.

As financial scandals rocked the national AHEPA during the mid-1990s, membership declined and the Reading  Chapter, like many others, fell into a period of dormancy.

In 2010, a new effort was put forth to bring the Chapter back to its glory days. Many new members were initiated, and many old members were reinstated. A new set of officers was  elected, who are worthy successors to their illustrious predecessors and who are working very hard for the Chapter today.

The Chapter re-instituted the Annual AHEPA Day in our Church. The day includes a Memorial Service for all our departed Brothers, a Social in the Church on that day, and also a Booklet with all the names of the departed Brothers, the present Chapter Officers, and the present membership that is handed out to all Parishioners.

In collaboration with the local St. Xenia Philoptochos Society, the Chapter organized a very successful Christmas Party for the children of our community in 2011, with about 250 children and adults attending.

Also, a new idea was put into practice of holding regular dinner meetings at Reading-area restaurants, where the Brothers can enjoy each other's company socially, as true AHEPANS.

An annual AHEPA Golf Tournament was organized, bringing the brothers together for a game of golf, and their families joining them for a casual picnic social afterwards. The event was eventually named in honor of our late Brother AHEPAN Ernie Orphanos, who organized the first tournament and chaired the event for several years as Athletic Director.

The Reading AHEPA Chapter was recognized as Chapter of the Year in Pennsylvania in 2012 and 2013.

By the end of 2013, chapter membership topped 100, making William Penn Chapter 61 one of the largest AHEPA chapters in Pennsylvania.

-- Compiled by Gust Kraras and Tony Phyrillas

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