American Hellenic Educational Progressive Association
Stephen F. Austin Chapter 312 - Delta District 16 - Austin, TX
The tracing of our Chapter's history began with a quest to discover our roots and to identify individuals who unselfishly gave of themselves to further the cause of Hellenism. With the passing of time, and the absence of individuals directly connected with our chapter’s chronicles, the task to document its founding and subsequent continuity, became extremely difficult.
However, newly discovered information from many sources, likened to the shards of an ancient relic, began to emerge. Contact with the relatives of those who were part of the organization during its formative years also contributed greatly in unearthing our chapter’s partial history.
The beginning of the Austin chapter, presumably in 1938, was initiated by a group of immigrant Hellenes whose interest was to establish ties with individuals having similar religious and ethnic backgrounds. They realized the importance of perpetuating their culture and traditions in the new land, while at the same time fulfilling their obligations as American citizens.
The small congregation of Austin’s Greek-American population left little evidence of their political or social activities except what is exhibited at the Institute of Texan Cultures located in San Antonio and from their descendants. The charter that linked them to the AHEPA national organization at the time of its inception was also nowhere to be found.
The search for proof, which would ascertain when the chapter had its beginnings, commenced with inquiries directed to AHEPA headquarters and to officers of Delta District #16. AHEPA headquarters reported that "Unfortunately, we do not have the copy/record of the chapter charter at headquarters. Our records show that the chapter was established on 12/01/90."
On the other hand, an inquiry to PDG of District #16, Dr. Steve Kirkikis, yielded the following:
"I have uncovered old records of minutes of the District Lodge Meetings dated December 3, 1939 and other dates here and there throughout an old ledger book with thick covers that have preserved the pages very well. It was reported on December 3, 1939, the Austin chapter 312 was active and officers were installed. But, it does not say who were the chapter officers. On March 3, 1940, it was reported that the Austin chapter President was George Pappas.
Also, the Lodge minutes state that ten reinstatements were made when the chapter was reorganized in November 1939. Eight new members have been added since then, and four applicants who are to be initiated this month. In the September 22, 1940, Minutes, Administrators from Austin for the year 1940-41 were appointed by the names of Dan Stathos and John Francis."
Contact with Richard Stathos, the son of Dan Stathos, produced very interesting information relative to our Chapter’s beginnings during the pre-World War II period. It was learned that a Government Bond was purchased in the name of the Austin Chapter in 1941.
Richard Stathos also recalled seeing a carton box in his home containing AHEPA documents and publications. The carton was given to brother Paul Hatgil who proceded to explore the contents. He wrote to a friend: “My feelings at the time of opening the carton could be described with those of Henry Schliemann when he came upon the Treasures of Troy.” Fliers, program books from AHEPA conventions, correspondence to and from District and Headquarters, and documents attesting to the founding of Chapter 312 were part of the find.
In addition, a batch of 32 photographs depicting formally attired individuals in attendance at a banquet were items of the greatest discovery. A few of the photos appeared in an August 1951 edition of SCOOPS accompanied by the byline "First Annual Banquet a Great Success." The article described the auspicious affair as being a District banquet held in Austin. Among the many luminaries present were: the Governor of Texas, Allan Shivers; the Past Supreme President, Harris Booras; His Most Reverance Archbishop Michael, and Supreme Vice-President Leo Lamberson.
The news article continues in describing some of the events. The highlight of the banquet program was a presentation of the Lone Star flag and a scroll to Brother Booras by Brother Shivers to be presented to His Majesty King Paul of Greece on behalf of the people of Texas. In return, the Governor of Texas received an honorary membership in the San Antonio Chapter which seemed to indicate the Austin chapter was merged with San Antonio or the event was a combined effort.
The mention that 400 Ahepans were in attendance at the banquet is quite remarkable considering the members were accompanied by their spouses. Also found among the treasures from the Stathos box, were several issues of SKEPSOU, the official organ of the 16th District.
Featured on the cover of one of the issues was an announcement of a District 16 convention to be held in New Orleans and included photographs of AHEPA pioneers from Houston; James Petheriotes, Nick Asprodites, Jim Theo, Elias Gatoura and John Pappadas.
Another document from the Stathos treasure titled: Comparative Statement of Paid-up members lists eighteen Chapters in Texas with a combined total of 817 members in 1950. Another item shows the Austin chapter in both 1950 and 1951 as having 6 paid up members. In 1952 it is listed as having 8 paid-up members.
Therefore, according to the document, the Austin chapter during 1950, 1951, and 1952, was active and listed on the Headquarter’s rolls and not merged with the San Antonio Chapter. Among other items of importance found in the Stathos box was a roster dated April 9, 1953. It itemizes the names, addresses, and the membership paid-up status of Chapter 312 and dated: April 9, 1953. The officers at that time were Brother Dan Stathos as President and brother Richard Stathos as Secretary.
Another piece of evidence of our existence prior to 1990 was mention of Brother Jim Gratis, brother S. N. Gratis and brother Louis Lelempsis as paying their dues in 1938. It is interesting to note that at the bottom of the flimsy paper, on which the roster is typed, members are advised those members who delay in paying their dues to the chapter and delay in remitting per capita Headquarter’s tax tend to jeopardize their rights to the Death Benefit Fund. The fund was discontinued in the late 70's.
The following was noted from documents found in Houston. In a roster of Chapter presidents and secretaries for District #16, labeled "with corrections through February 1961," the roster states that Dan Stathos, Sr. was both chapter president and secretary, and the Austin Chapter was merged with the San Antonio Chapter.
This information from the roster adds to the belief the merger was probably true sometime in the 60's. An inquiry regarding the merger was sent to the San Antonio Chapter, but no further information was forthcoming. Although some records indicate the Chapter was active in the late 30's and into the pre-WW II era, an absence of information from the mid 50's and into the early 90's poses an enigma.
During the early 90's, and on the last Thursday of each month, a small group of Hellenes would meet at Ted’s Greek Corner to dine and share comradeship. It was at one of such meetings in 1995 when the group decided to reactivate the Stephen F. Austin AHEPA Chapter 312. At the time, only a few members were officially enrolled in the organization, and the group agreed the small Greek-American community in Austin needed to have its presence felt and to have a vehicle in which to further Hellenism.
In an unofficial ceremony at their usual meeting spot, the group took the initiative by inducting brother Paul Peter Hatgil as President of the Chapter; brother Marcos Sivitanides, Vice-President; brother Michael Hitt, Secretary; and brother Chris Ioannou, Treasurer. The top priority involved contacting Hellenes living in Austin and environs and to embrace them into the organization.
One of the obstacles facing the future fledgling chapter was the absence of a suitable meeting place. Although space in the small restaurant would suffice until suitable quarters could be found, the dining area lacked the privacy and ambience for their needs. If the chapter was to expand, the group would have to find a meeting place to accommodate the anticipated growth of the chapter.
The new officers approached the Transfiguration Greek Orthodox Church Parish Council and requested permission to meet at the Church holdings. The council graciously allowed them to hold their meetings at the rear of the Sanctuary following the services on Sundays. The new site was more than they anticipated, because, in addition to having privacy for their meetings, their presence would attract future members from the congregation.
At the first official meeting held at the Church in the Fall of 1995, Gus Mylonas, District #16 Governor, performed the initiation ceremony swearing in the officers and members of the reactivated chapter. Thus the Stephen F. Austin AHEPA Chapter 312, like the ancient Phoenix from ancient time, had risen to youthful freshness from its own ashes.
During the first year of its reactivation, membership grew to thirty-three members - a remarkable achievement considering the chapter’s short activated existence. The chapter was now a viable force in the community and was soon recognized by leading officials in the State. The Governor of Texas presented the chapter with a proclamation honoring OHI Day and a declaration honoring Greek Independence Day. It was indeed, notable beginnings for Chapter 312.
The chapter agreed to conduct the first District #16 conference ever to be held in Austin. The attendance at the conference, held at the Red Lion Hotel in Austin, was the most successful event in the history of Delta District #16. Brother Paul Peter Hatgil was honored by a plaque in recognition and grateful appreciation for motivation and leadership of Stephen F. Austin Chapter #312. Co-chairman brother Tom Suehs and brother Nick Voinis, were cited for the event’s success.
Among some of the activities the chapter initiated included a lecture series, conducted mutual programs with the University of Texas Pan-Hellenic Association and held family outings on the banks of Lake Austin. In addition, the chapter donated funds towards the educational needs for the Transfiguration Greek Orthodox Church, assisted in Church-related functions, awarded a chapter scholarship, and sponsored dignitaries at the bequest of the Consul of Greece.
Elections were held and the new slate included: brother Paul Peter Hatgil as President; brother Marcos Sivitanides, Vice-President; brother Chris Ioannou, Secretary; brother George Roumas, Treasurer; brother Michael Hitt, Skepsou Editor; brother Mike Glaros, Warden; Board of Governors; brother Tom Suehs, and brother Nick Voinis, Scholarship; brother Paul Peter Hatgil, brother Tom Suehs, brother Nick Voinis and brother Michael Hitt; Membership; brother Michael Daskalantonakis.
In 1997 the chapter was called upon to host the 1998 Mid-Year Convention in Austin. The District Convention, chaired by brother George Roumas repeated its huge success. Brother Paul Peter Hatgil and the membership were honored with a District #16 Award in recognition of outstanding dedication and contributions toward the progress of the Order of AHEPA.
In June of 1998, a new slate of officers under brother Michael Daskalantonakis was elected to continue the legacy of Chapter 312. The departing President, Paul Peter Hatgil, was presented with the President’s Award by Chapter 312 with deep appreciation for distinguished and unselfish service giving while serving as its leader.
Chapter 312 was recognized by Delta District #16 as the Chapter of the Year in 1999 attesting to the pursuit of excellence by its membership. Presently, 90% of the members are connected to on-line services allowing for more access and expedient contact with the national organization and its links.
The City of Austin is a Mecca for high-tech industries that attract many young professionals who operate in the cyberspace arena. Chapter 312 has recruited some of these highly motivated, and community-conscious young people and they have become an integral part of the organization. Their youth, their incentive for excellence, and the willingness to participate in the chapter’s activities represents a promising and assuring future for the organization.
The Stephen F. Austin Chapter is now enjoying its place as a viable force in the community and continues to proudly serve and promote the cornerstones of the AHEPA family. In seeking to discover our beginnings as a chapter, the assistance of Richard Stathos, the son of Dan Stathos was extremely important. It brought to light the tenacity and dedication by one man to retain the heritage and culture of his ancestors in a new land.
Dan Stathos, founder of our chapter (pictured below), was not only content in retaining his customs and traits from his ancestral homeland that lay a half continent and a vast ocean away, but he dedicated part of his life in establishing an AHEPA chapter in Austin in order to assist others. Brother Stathos, a family man with business interests that demanded a great deal of his time and energy, managed to dedicate a segment of his adult life in pursuit of an ideal. Prior to the compilation of information to determine the origins of our chapter, only family and friends knew of Dan Stathos. Because later generations of Hellenes were interested in knowing the origins of Chapter 312, he became a familiar icon in our chapter’s history. We thank him posthumously for making us aware of how one man’s vision can make a difference.