The Hellenic Civic Club, a group formed in Fort Lee about 40 years ago, will host its annual Greek Independence Day celebration Saturday, with a guest list that includes a U.S. Senator, a U.S. Congressman, many other local and county dignitaries and the Metropolitan Evangelos of New Jersey.
Hellenic Civic Club board member and Greek Independence Day celebration chairman Alex Floratos of Fort Lee said the mission of the club is to promote Greek heritage, culture “and certainly the language.” He called this year’s event “extraordinary.”
“This event has always been well represented by politicians,” Floratos said. “You’re going to get the mayor annually. You’re going to get the police chief; you’re going to get several of the Councilmen. But we’ve never had a U.S. Senator come, and Congressman Rothman will also be there.”
Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ) and Rep. Steve Rothman (D-9) are indeed on the guest list, as are Bergen County Executive Kathleen Donovan; Bergen County Sheriff Michael Saudino; and Freeholders Joan Voss of Fort Lee, John Driscoll and David Ganz, among many others. The Metropolitan Evangelos will be the principal speaker, which Floratos said is a great honor.
“He is basically the spiritual leader of the Greek Orthodox for New Jersey,” Floratos said. “He also has Greater Philadelphia, Delaware, Maryland and Virginia so he’s pretty high up. He will give the invocation, and he had indicated through his aides that he also wants to be a speaker.”
The annual Greek Independence Day celebration commemorates Greece’s independence from the Ottoman Empire on March 25, 1821. Floratos said the theme speakers at the event on Saturday will likely deliver is that the struggle for Greek independence sent a “worldwide message” against tyranny and oppression.
“Back then it was really supported outside of Greece by many of the intellectuals of the day and many here in this country—Thomas Jefferson was a big supporter and Lord Byron, for example,” Floratos said.
Fort Lee once had a larger Greek community than it has today, but Floratos said there are still a lot of people of Greek heritage in the area.
“Many people of Greek descent had moved many years ago when they started to come over into the Washington Heights neighborhood of Manhattan,” he said. “In the 1950s and 1960s they started to move out of that area, and many of them just came over the bridge. They bought homes here and raised kids and so forth.”
But he also said that as people of that generation grew older, their kids married and moved away. Still, he said, many remain.
“They may not be in Fort Lee, but they’re certainly in and around,” Floratos said, noting the presence of large Greek Orthodox churches in nearby towns like Tenafly, Fairview and Paramus.
In recent years, the Hellenic Civic Club has provided scholarships to students who completed four years of Greek language studies, although Floratos noted that the high school discontinued admitting new students to the program about a year ago.
“They were instrumental years ago in getting the Greek language into Fort Lee High School, [and] it wasn’t just kids of Greek background that used to attend,” Floratos said. “There were a lot of people that wanted to go into medical-type professions or science because a lot of that language is derived from the Greek language.”
Another part of the Hellenic Civic Club’s mission is to encourage voter registration, Floratos said, but it’s the Greek Independence Day celebration that the group considers its “main event” each year.
“We have a lot of food, and then either during lunch or right after lunch, there’s going to be traditional Greek dancing,” he said. “And then annually on Fifth Avenue, there is a parade independent of this. But it celebrates the same.”
The parade takes place on Sunday, March 25, the actual anniversary of Greek independence.
One of the highlights of Saturday’s program however is an appearance by Dimitris Nannas, a recent Fort Lee High School graduate who is also the founder and president of the Hellenic Association at William Paterson University.
The complete program for the Hellenic Civic Club’s Greek Independence Day celebration, which takes place Saturday, March 24, at 3 p.m. at the Fort Lee Recreation Center at the end of Stillwell Avenue, appears in the PDF posted with this article. The program also includes a list of sponsors, board members, invited guests, clergy and more.