The MoMA – The Museum of Modern Art in the heart of Manhattan – gleamed from the presence of so many distinguished Greek-Americans from across the country – and abroad.
It was a summit gathering, one that amounts to a measuring of the tremendous economic progress made by the members of the community – mainly the children and grandchildren of those immigrants that just a few decades ago passed through the gates of Ellis Island or JFK , frightened and tired, but with their souls filled with hope spreading throughout the country in pursuit of a decent life and to help their families in Greece.
They came temporarily, but by most estimates two-thirds of them stayed permanently, many of them realizing the American Dream.
All three honorees, George Behrakis, John Pappajohn and Pete Peterson started from humble homes, but with principles and love and with discipline and hard work they exceeded their dreams.
Behrakis’ brief, concise speech made a big impression. A low-key Greek-American with very high economic achievements and substantial philanthropic activity here and in Greece.
“My name is Yiannis Pappayianis. I’m the son of Yiorgos Pappayiannis who came from Greece to Mason City, Iowa, and in a short time managed to open his own store,” said the excited 86 year-old multimillionaire and pioneer venture capitalist John Pappajohn.
Many applauded. Some eyes shed tears.
And finally, Peter Peterson, who could not attend, was represented by his granddaughter, who spoke with obvious love and admiration for her grandfather and his Greek origins.
It was indeed a night to celebrate Hellenism, its success and potential. An evening to praise Greece despite its current serious problems.
An evening to commit one self to helping those in need in the motherland. An evening which brought in more than $ 2 million.
The question, of course, is what will they do with that money. It’s the same one that applies to the “Leadership 100”.
The Hellenic Initiative has the potential to develop into an important international organization that can provide outstanding services in Greece and America.
People are waiting for more concrete and impactful actions, a specific THI, beyond presenting great social events. THI Chairman Andrew Liveris referred to this directly. He spoke about the missteps of youth. That is understandable, to a degree.
And now with a new, capable and motivated Executive Director, I hope that it will adequately define its mission and do more. I confess that I expected to hear more on these matters from Liveris, who admittedly gave an impressive speech.
I expected him to announce that Dow Chemical, the huge, international firm he heads, would make an important beginning by opening a factory in Greece, or a research center – something.
Something that could be touted and that would attract other investments.