A Woman Who Shaped the Lives of Youth: Maria Athanasiades
by Catherine Tsounis

“Costas Athanasiades could not achieve so much without the full support, cooperation, help, love and encouragement of his devoted wife, Maria,” said Christos Tzelios, businessman/philanthropist of the Athanasiades Cultural Foundation, Inc. “She has been taking care of her husband, especially his diet, cooking healthy only. Mrs. Athanasiades was working while her husband was publishing the non-profit Cambana newspaper. She is a fair and just person. They do not come like her anymore. A patriotic, courageous woman, she comes from the Pontos. Mr. and Mrs. Athanasiades live a frugal life and are environmentalists. They care for the people and the earth.”

“It is with great sorrow that we announce the passing of MARIA ATHANSIADIS on 7/7/09,” said Mr. Tzelios with deep emotion. “Mrs. Athanasiadis was a co-founder of the Athanasiades Cultural Foundation, Inc. and dynamic patriot.She was active to the last minute of her life and passed away in peace. Her memorial service was held at Antonopoulos Funeral Home, Ditmars Blvd at 38 Street, Astoria, NY, on Thursday, July 9, 2009. The visiting hours were from 2 to 8 p.m.”

The Athanasiades Cultural Foundation has awarded scholarships to outstanding students for sixteen years. Their elegant Awards Ceremony held every Thanksgiving weekend has promoted a positive self image among participating college students.

Vivi Tzelios, a close friend says, “Maria lived her entire life religiously. The athanasiades’ helped persons obtain their American citizenship papers and green cards so they could contribute to American society. They never asked for anything in return. They gave with their heart.” The folk proverb from the Aegean islands is “Do good and then forget it by throwing it into the sea”(Kano to kalo and petaxe to sto gialo). Stelios Panagopoulos, a neighbor said “Maria performed many philanthropies. I deeply admire her and Kostas for speaking the truth of all injustices.”

Maria Athanasiades roots were from the Black Sea coast of Pontos. She grew up in Thessaloniki, fluent in Pontiaka, an ancient Greek dialect. She immigrated to Australia. In 1959, she married Kostas Athanasiades. She was an educated woman in the Health Care Sciences as a nurse. She continued to practice this skill when she immigrated to the United States.

I personally heard about the Athanasiades as I grew up in Astoria. They were folk heroes to the first and second generation Americans. Everyone felt a celebrity walked the street of 37 Street between 31st and 30th Avenue, when Kostas Athanasiades and Acrchimandrite Germanos Polyzoides (the founder of St. Demetrios Cathedral) appeared. I personally became friends with Kyria Maria through Christos and Vivi Tzelios, who adored the Athanasiades couple. They literally gave away a fortune to college students in the United States, Greece and Greek Epirus, Albania.

She particularly loved the Modern Greek St. John’s University scholar Keily Abreu, a Caribbean-American student, who delivered a speech in Modern Greek at one of their socials. She aided many, middle class students, who are forgotten in society, because they are neither rich nor poor. They changed the scope of Greek-American scholarships by not looking at the income of the students, just academic record and their dedication to Modern Greek language and culture. Today, the middle class is suffering, paying taxes and receiving little assistance from the government and college institutions. Maria and Kostas understood the injustice of all governments from the left and right. Their Athanasiades Foundation is a beacon of light to students. Elegant, aristocratic, a woman of few words but monumental works, Mrs. Maria Athanasiades will be remembered by the college youth she aided and are taking their place in society.

(Posting date 17 July 2009

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