Mary Dimakis, Oldest Greek-American, Dies at 109

by Theo Karantsalis, Special to the Miami Herald

UIn 1903, the year Mary Dimakis was born, the Wright Brothers put the fist place in teh air, Henry Ford rolled out the Model A and the first World Series game was played. Dimakis, teh oldest Greek-American living in the United States, died Oct. 5 at her home off Coral Way. She was 109.

At the time of her death, she was also one of the oldest living Greeks in the world, according to The National Herald, a Greek-language weekly based in New York.

She wa born Sept. 9, 1903 in a Greek community in Turkey, but her family fled to New York in 1920 shortly after the start of the Greco-Turkish War.

She moved to Miami in 1921 with her huband, Nicholas Ponticos, a fruit shipper.

She and her husband hunkered down through the 1926 hurricane and saw first hand the building of the BIltmore Hotel and the Freedom Tower.

She was among the pioneers who founded Miami's first Greek community in 1927, around Northeast First Avenue and 15th Street. Together, they had a daughter, Evelyn. Ponticos died in 1935, and five years later she married James M. Dimakis, a land developer.

Mary Dimakis was a pioneer member of St. Sophia's Greek Orthodox Cathedral in Miami, which was built in 1948. That same year, Dimakis and other Greek families established their presence in The Roads neighborhood by moving near the church.

A housewife her entire life, Mary Dimakis took pride in the traditonal Greek baking she learned from her mother, which meant using lots of olive oil, real butter, nuts and honey. "Aunt Mary baked wonderful koulourakia and kourambiethes," recalled her nephew, Gus Efthimiou Jr. The smell of fresh Greek bread was always wafting from the open kitchen window, he said.

Her baking also was a sign of faith. Dimakis often made the prosforo--communion bread--for St. Sophia's.

The pan she used to make this bread could not be used for anything else.

During Easter, Dimakis would dye hard-boiled eggs a deep red, symbolizing the redeeming blood of Chist. The eggs were used to play a traditional game called tsougrisma, in which church members would tap eggs to see which one held up.

An active member of the local Greek Orthodox Ladies Philoptochos Society, she prided herself on charity work to promote her Orthodox faith.

She had a passion for baking traditional Greek pastries to raise money for the less fortunate.

"Mary embodied teh meaning of being a[n] Orthodox Christian," said the Rev. Spiro D. Bobotas of Saint Sophia's. "I was humbled by her constant desire to attend church services and the witness that she showed others by her incredible faith."

One of Dimakis' most prized possessions was a cross blessed by Archbishop Iakovos in 1960. Iakovos was a civil rights champion who was featured on a 1965 cover of Life magazine walking hand in hand with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in Selma, Ala.

Photos of her family lined the mantle of her fireplace.

Among her favorites, a 2003 photo from her 100th birthday party that showed her nestled between dozens of family members and friends from church.

On teh wall, a personally signed note congratulating her on her 105th birthday in 2008 from President George W. Bush. Efthimiou would often take Dimakis out to lunch and shop. "She pushed her own cart at Publix," said Efthimiou. "She liked to go to Sear's and buy dresses and shoes for church."

She frequented three Greek restaurants near her home. At her favorite, MIlo's on Ponce de Leon in Coral Gables, she would order lamb chops, a baked potato and traditional egg-lemon soup, Efthimiou said.

"We had a surprise party for Aunt Mary at the church a few weeks ago on Sept. 9 when she turned 109," said Efthimiou. Two years ago, the city issued a proclamation honor of her community service, making Sept. 9 "Mary Dimakis Day."

"I believe the city of Miami has lost a beloved resident and a kind human being," said Mayor Tomas Regalado, who lives a few blocks from Dimakis.

When asked her secrets for a long life, Dimakis credited daily prayer, eating Greek food and having a good sense of humor. When asked her age, she would feign seriousness: "I tell people the same thing every year." "I'm 39."

She was predeceased by her husband, who died in 1991 and her daughter Evelyn Helides, who died in 2009.

(Posting date 11 November 2012)

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