Thursday, June 25, 2015

Reading/Berks AHEPA Chapter Featured in The Pottstown Mercury

Check out this photograph and article published in The Pottstown Mercury on the chapter's successful Scholarship Banquet by clicking here.

Monday, June 15, 2015

A Brief History of the AHEPA in Reading, Pa.

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

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

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 (and the 61st chartered in the United States.) The official charter for Chapter No. 61 was dated March 16, 1925.

In 1926, the first major banquet was sponsored by the Reading AHEPA Chapter and among the dignitaries attending were Reading Mayor William Sherman, Berks County Judge John D. Shaffer, and Berks County 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, The Rev. Miller, and Congressman Charles J. Esterly.

In 1933, the Reading Chapter was host to the Pennsylvania AHEPA District Convention, and just prior to the Convention, the Reading Times newspaper published a glowing editorial on July 10, 1933, praising the work of 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 Parade Patrol was organized, and under the leadership of the late Peter Eleftheriou, won many awards including first prize in Easton, Pa.'s, 50th Anniversary Parade.

Also, 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 Greek Orthodox Church purchased the building at 8th and Court Streets in downtown Reading, 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 at 1001 E. Wyomissing Blvd. was built in 1970, that Iconostation was taken apart, brought over to the new Church and re-assembled, and was used until the present newer 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 Berks County President Judge H. Robert Mays and Judge Marks on their retirement that year. Charles Alvin Jones, the Chief Justice of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court was the main speaker.

In 1959, the Chapter entered in an agreement with Sts. Constantine & Helen Greek Orthodox Church to rent the old Greek School building at 734 Walnut Street in Reading for $500.00 per year for its chapter 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 under the leadership of Michael Firilas, and many new members were initiated, old members re-instated, and became very active. Michael Firilas was elected to the office of District Governor of Power District No. 4.

In 1978, the Chapter hosted the District Convention again, 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 of the Order of AHEPA. Michael Firilas was also named 1991 AHEPAN of the Year by Power District No. 4.

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

As financial scandals rocked the national AHEPA during the mid-1990s and criminal charges were brought against its top leadership, membership declined significantly and the Reading Chapter, like many others across the country, fell into a period of dormancy.

In 2010, a new effort was put forth to bring the Chapter back to its glory days, spearheaded by Gust C. Kraras. Many new members were initiated, and 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 Sunday includes a Memorial Service for all our departed Brothers, a meal served after Church, 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. The event has continued every year, with proceeds going to charity.

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 Ernie Orphanos, who organized the first tournament and chaired the event for several years as Athletic Director.

The Reading AHEPA Chapter, under the leadership of President George J. Giovanis, was recognized as Chapter of the Year in Pennsylvania in 2012, 2013, 2014 and 2015.

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

On June 1, 2015, the chapter was renamed in honor of Gust C. Kraras during a 90th Anniversary Banquet. Brother Kraras is a 70-year member of the Order of AHEPA and was a Past District Governor of District No. 5 in New Jersey. Brother Kraras was instrumental in reviving the Reading AHEPA Chapter and guiding it over the past five years.

-- History Compiled by Gust C. Kraras and Tony A. Phyrillas

Monday, June 8, 2015

Past Presidents Honored at 90th Anniversary Banquet for Reading AHEPA Chapter

William Sianis, a Life Member of the Reading AHEPA Chapter, holds the distinction of being the longest continuous serving member of Reading AHEPA Chapter 61. Brother Bill was initiated into the Order of AHEPA in 1954. He served two terms as Chapter President.
Spiro Phyrillas served two terms as Chapter President and also held every other chapter office since joining the AHEPA in 1986. He also served on the District Lodge of Power District No. 4 in the 1980s.
Tony Phyrillas served as Chapter President for 11 years. He also served as editor of The Power Line for five years and served many years as Convention Secretary and Parliamentarian at District Conventions. He joined the AHEPA in 1986.
Gust C. Kraras, a Life Member of AHEPA, is pinned with a flower by daughter Tula.In addition to being honored as a Past President, Brother Gust received the biggest honor of the evening - having the Reading AHEPA Chapter named after him.

One of the many highlights of the 90th Anniversary Banquet for the Reading AHEPA Chapter was honoring the living Past Presidents of the chapter. Current Chapter President George Giovanis (soon to be a Past President) presented gifts to four Past Presidents who were able to attend the banquet. President Giovanis noted that in the past 90 years, with thousands of members, only 33 men have served as President of AHEPA Chapter 61. Those honored at the Banquet included Gust C. Kraras, William Sianis, Spiro Phyrillas and Tony Phyrillas. Other surviving Past Presidents unable to attend the Banquet were Stratton Marmarou, Stanley Theodossiou, Michael Firilas and Christ Ganas. President Giovanis was also presented with a token of appreciation from the chapter for his service as President over the past five years.

Friday, June 5, 2015

Highlights From 2015 AHEPA Scholarship Banquet

Chapter President George Giovanis, Scholarship Recipients Jessica Craciun, Anastasis Phyrillas, Stavanna Donahue, Scholarship Chairman Athan Dialectos and President-Elect Christopher Wagner
Spyros and Margaret Phyrillas with son Anastasis Phyrillas
Tula, Stavanna and Bernie Donahue
Jessica Craciun wither her father, Ion Craciun
Anastasis S. Phyrillas
Stavanna C. Donahue
Jessica Craciun

Entertainment for the evening was provided by the Boyertown Area Senior High School Show Choir

Phil Macaronis has a photo gallery with more than 75 photos. To view additional photos from the Scholarship Banquet or if you're interested in purchasing any of the photos taken by Phil Macaronis, click here.

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Reading AHEPA Chapter Wins 'Chapter Of The Year' Honors For Fourth Consecutive Year!

James E. Gregorakis, Immediate Past District Governor of Pennsylvania Power District No. 4, attended the 90th Anniversary Celebration of Chapter No. 61 on June 1, 2015, to announce that the Gust C. Kraras Chapter No. 61 has been recognized by the District as "Chapter of the Year" for the fourth consecutive year.

A major reason the local chapter has been such a success over the past five years is President George J. Giovanis, who was presented with a plaque on behalf of chapter members by President-Elect Christopher Wagner for Brother George's service to the chapter.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

AHEPA Chapter in Readiing-Berks is now the Gust C. Kraras Chapter No. 61

In conjunction with the 90th Anniversary of Chapter No. 61 in Reading, Pa., the local AHEPA chapter was renamed the Gust. C. Kraras Chapter in honor of longtime AHEPA member Gust. C. Kraras, a 70-year AHEPA member and Past District Governor in District No. 5. The new banner was unveiled at the June 1, 2015, 90th Anniversary Celebration and Scholarship Banquet. Pictured above, from left, Scholarship Chairman Athan Dialectos, Gust C. Kraras, Chapter President George J. Giovanis and President-Elect Christopher Wagner.

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

3 Students Receive 2015 AHEPA Chapter 61 Scholarships

Anastasis S. Phyrillas, Stavanna C. Donahue and Jessica Craciun are the recipients of 2015 AHEPA Scholarships from the Gust C. Kraras Chapter No. 61 in Reading. The winners were announced at the chapter's Annual Scholarship Banquet, held on Monday, June 1, 2015, at The Hitching Post. The event was attended by 100 people.

Monday, June 1, 2015

New Name for AHEPA Chapter No. 61

On June 1, 2015, during a banquet celebrating the 90th Anniversary of William Penn Chapter No. 61 Order of AHEPA, a new banner was unveiled renaming the chapter after longtime AHEPAN Gust C. Kraras. Starting today, the chapter will be known as the Gust C. Kraras Chapter No. 61. Check back soon for more details and photos from the banquet.