AHEPA History is The History of Greeks in North America!
AHEPA Palm Beach Chapter 18
Did you know that the AHEPA Palm Beach Chapter was established in 1923 as the 18th Chapter in the United States? What a difference four score plus years of history makes! AHEPA, nationally and locally, was organized as a “civil rights” organization to help immigrant Greek families find there way within the social, economic, political and civic life of their new county. It helped them realize the value of citizenship and the power of the vote.
AHEPA became the voice of the Greek American Community and articulated the interests of this dynamic community as it struggled to succeed within the American Way. To this day one of the most unique spring events hosted by AHEPA – NATIONAL is the evening that honors the Congress of the United States in Washington D.C. In the 1950-60’s AHEPA had a membership of over 24,000 members. Today these membership numbers are in transition. The challenge is to attract a newer generation. Appreciating the history of the organization is a way for generations to relate and hopefully for a new generation to get involved.
Early History of Palm Beach AHEPA Chapter 18
From the beginning, the wives and children of the AHEPAN’s assisted them in presenting cultural and educational programs locally. Nine years after the founding of AHEPA the Daughters of Penelope Leda
Chapter 59 was established and AHEPA was there to help the Daughters in its formal institutionalization. The two groups functioned like a family, sometimes more harmoniously than other times, just like our own real life families. As the extended family of the Greek-American Community in Palm Beach County they participated
in community life. They marched up Clematis Street in ethnic costumes on Labor Day, Memorial Day and the 4th of July. On Columbus Day AHEPANS celebrated together with a picnic. Through these activities they projected and preserved the values of the Greek-American Community in Palm Beach County.
AHEPA programs and activities in the 20’s and 30’s included bringing together the pioneer business community and representing their interests to the local government and business leaders. Members
networked together and socialized, sharing stories about business and family life. It encouraged the Greek-American community to participate in civic affairs and to vote. Archie Zapatis got the vote out to elect Mr. Beecham to the senate. Phil O’Connell Sr., a local political leader and state attorney was a member of AHEPA. Joseph Farish, a prominent attorney is a life time member.
Serving the Needs of Our Community
As the needs of the community changed the programs and activities of AHEPA and the Daughters changed. They became more cultural and family oriented in the late 1930’s and 1940’s. They matured as an organization to the point where they needed a home to meet and celebrate so that as a community they could have a sense of place. The wives of AHEPANS encouraged them to purchase the synagogue that was for sale on Broward Avenue in West Palm Beach. This was accomplished in 1946 when Temple Beth Israel was purchased for $19,000 with a $6,500 down payment.
Many celebrations, gatherings, picnics, dances were organized in this AHEPA multipurpose community hall. It was in these times that both organizations were truly a partnership. Greek school classes were held here at no cost to the student. AHEPA paid a small stipend to Mrs. Eleftheria Pensos, the first Greek school teacher. Mrs. Aphrodite Karatinos also taught Greek school for many years. Greek Independence Day celebrations were especially festive. Eventually Sunday school classes were held here too. Mrs. Maria Elertis was the first Sunday school teacher. Eventually monthly Orthodox Christian religious services were held here and the AHEPA Hall became the informal home of the first Orthodox Christian Mission/Church in Palm Beach County. Finally the present St. Catherine sanctuary was dedicated in 1957 and AHEPA was and remains her dedicated benefactor. With the establishment of a formal church community with church organizations, the sense of AHEPA and the Daughters as an extended community family waned.
For many years AHEPA and the Daughters participated in the Annual KALEIDOSCOPE Festival sponsored by
the City of West Palm Beach to celebrate the many cultures that make the City of West Palm Beach a community. AHEPANS and friends would adopt a public school in the area and for about a six week period
offer an enrichment program to students in Greek history, culture, foods and dancing. The students would create a showcase that brought together their learning experiences and host an exhibit downtown West Palm Beach at Centennial Square. The Heart of Greece and other dance groups associated with them would
perform as part of the program activities. Greek foods were offered by AHEPA members and friends at the international food festival. KALEIDOSCOPE is still an annual program but AHEPA does not participate because of a lack of “peoplepower” willing to share time and talent.
Philanthropy and More!
A new era began for Palm Beach AHEPA Chapter 18 in 1993. In that year AHEPA 18 INC was incorporated
and the chapter voted to purchase the land at 4370 Community Drive. The HUD grant was awarded October 1994. A ground-breaking ceremony took place February 1995 and the first tenants occupied the apartments December 20, 1995. Similar projects in the community built through HUD programs and sponsored by church agencies include Villa Madonna, Villa Francisco, St. James and St Andrew Apartments.
Palm Beach Chapter 18 AHEPA Inc. is one of 80 properties managed with the assistance of AHEPA National Housing Corporation. Palm Beach AHEPA Chapter 18 provides and supports many activities for the residents of AHEPA 18 Housing. Every Labor Day, Thanksgiving, Memorial Day and Fourth of July AHEPANS and Daughters and their families’ host, cook and serve barbeques and full course dinners to the residents who in turn organize fellowship programs of singing and other performances.