Monday, June 17, 2024

The American Hellenic Educational Progressive Association

by Erin Doane, Senior Curator

In June 1955, nearly 1,000 people attended the 19th annual district convention of the American Hellenic Educational Progressive Association (AHEPA) at the Mark Twain Hotel in Elmira. AHEPA was founded by eight men in Atlanta, Georgia on July 26, 1922 in part as a reaction against the rise of xenophobia and the Ku Klux Klan in the United States. The organization helped Hellenic immigrants and their families build new lives here and guided them in the process of becoming American citizens and responsible members of their communities. Elmira’s chapter of AHEPA was formed in 1926.

Elmira Chapter No. 111 AHEPA fez donated by Mark Greven

AHEPA is a secret Hellenic fraternal, non-partisan, non-political, non-sectarian organization that encourages the emulation of ancient Greek culture and ideals including civic responsibility, reason, moderation, and a focus on education. Its creed, as summarized by District Governor Kimon A. Doukas in 1955, was:

  • to promote loyalty to the United States of America
  • to marshal into active service the noblest attributes of Hellenism
  • to champion the cause of education
  • to instill progress in every one of our members and
  • to keep our Order united and benevolent

At that time, membership was open to any male of good moral character over 21 years old who was a resident of the U.S. and could read, write, or speak English. AHEPA is still an all-male society but there are auxiliaries - Daughters of Penelope for women, Sons of Pericles for boys, and Maids of Athens for girls.  Being of Greek descent was not a condition for membership. Harry S. Truman, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Robert F. Kennedy, Herbert H. Humphrey, Gerald R. Ford, and John H. Glenn, Jr. were all AHEPA members.

President Roosevelt and the national officers of the order of AHEPA Greek American society, 1936, Harris & Ewing, from

Elmira’s Chapter No. 111 of AHEPA began in 1926 with 26 members. It is one of 30 chapters in District 6. The group first met in rented rooms in the Gladke Building on E. Water Street. From the very beginning its members were involved in political and social activism. They supported charitable endeavors, assisted victims of disasters abroad, and offered educational and service programs for both adults and young people.

In 1939, on the precipice of World War II, the local chapter played host to the district convention at the Mark Twain hotel for the first of four times (1939, 1948, 1955, and 1966). At the meeting, past supreme president of AHEPA Dean Alfange of New Yok City urged members to “promote and encourage loyalty to the United States, its flag, constitution and laws.” He added that “Greeks are doing their part in meeting civic responsibilities and fighting the twins of reaction, Communism and Fascism.”  Throughout WWII, the Elmira chapter lived up to this call to action by selling U.S. war bonds - $40,000 worth in just April 1943 alone - and raising funds for Greek refugees.

Officers of Elmira Chapter No. 111, AHEPA, 1955
Seated l to r: James Siotes, John Knapp, Peter Patros, Edward Sindone, Peter H. Theopheles
Standing l to r: George Apostolou, Tom Greven, Perry Vasil, Peter T. Greven, John K. Diveris, Gus Greven

In 1950, Elmira’s AHEPA chapter moved into a new hall at 129 E. Chemung Place. At that time, the group had 102 members from Elmira, Corning, Ithaca, Waverly, Sayre, Athens, Towanda, and Watkins. The hall had a temple, a spacious dining hall for dinners and dances, a reception hall, a smaller meeting hall, and a kitchen. Nearly 500 people attended its dedication on December 17. Not only did the club used the hall for its own activities, such as church services, club socials, and meetings, it also rented the space to outside groups for suppers, receptions, holiday parties, and other private events. AHEPA gave up the hall in the late 1970s and it later became home to the Teamsters Union Local 529.

Elmira Chapter 111 AHEPA hall, Elmira Star-Gazette, October 29, 1950

The Elmira chapter was very active in the 1950s and 1960s, raising money for educational and health programs within the Greek-American community and serving as a social club for its members. Mentions of the chapter in local newspapers decreased throughout the 1970s. While the chapter still exists today, it is inactive except for some members attending regional and national conferences. 

Members of AHEPA (l to r) unidentified priest (non-member), Mr. Steve Anthony, Mr. Mike Labatos, Mr. Pete Greven, and Mr. Constantine (Dean) Pappas.
Photo provided by Christine Pappas

AHEPA is still very active as a national organization more than 100 years after its founding. Since 1922, over 500,000 members have been initiated and there are over 400 active chapters in 11 countries on three continents. It still adheres to its founding values, providing over $1 billion in humanitarian aid to people throughout the world and awarding over $1.8 million in scholarships to Greek-American youth.


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