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Parish History - Page 2

The Greek-American Community of the Annunciation

The founding of the Annunciation parish in Little Rock was typical of the establishment of the vast majority of Greek Orthodox parishes in the United States. At the turn of the century thousands of young Greek men, many in their early teens or even younger, left the beautiful but poor country of Greece to seek a better life in the New World. They brought with them not only youth and ambition, but also the culture and the Greek Orthodox religion of their homeland. Thus wherever they settled in sufficient numbers, a Greek “community” was formed, a call was made for a priest, and a parish was established.

It appears that the first Greek to settle in Little Rock was Anastasios Stathakis in 1892. He was closely followed before 1900 by Joe (John) Stathakis, Peter Stathakis, George Lianos, Pelopida Kumpuris, and Basil Peters. The late Pete Peters was the first child born of Greek immigrants in Little Rock, in 1902. Others who came before 1905 were Sam Stathakis, George Stathakis and Harry Hronas.

Each immigrant sought a livelihood in whatever field was available to them, sometimes in manual labor, or more often, as entrepreneurs. Peter Stathakis operated the concessions at White City at the end of the street car line about 1905. They had a dance floor and lived upstairs over the business, according to one of their sons, Bill Stathakis. Peter’s wife, Stavroula, was the sister of Theo Polychron. Later during World War I, the Stathakis brothers operated the Faust Cafe where the Excelsior Hotel now stands, doing very well feeding the soldiers from Camp Pike.

By 1905, enough Greeks had arrived to be able to create an organization called the “Homer Society.” Visiting priests came by way of Memphis, Tennessee, where a larger group of Greeks had established a parish. Through the efforts of the Homer Society, (which included P.G. Johnson, Pelopida (Peter) Kumpuris and Joe Stathakis) Father Kallinikos Kanellas was brought to Little Rock on a permanent basis in 1913, and services were held in an upstairs meeting hall near 9th and Main Streets for the next eight years. This hall included a small chapel for Liturgies and Sacraments such as weddings, baptisms, etc., as well as a place for social gatherings. Incidentally, research indicates that Father Kanellas probably was the first Orthodox priest of Greek ancestry to come to the United States. When Father Kanellas became seriously ill, young Theo Polychron visited him daily, bringing soup from his little café. Father died in 1921 and is buried at Oakland Cemetery where most of the early Greek immigrants were also interred.

Angelo Stathakis arrived in 1907 and went to work for his cousin at a hamburger place on Sixth and Louisiana. After about two years he opened his own hamburger place on Washington Avenue in North Little Rock. Then Angelo was able to send to Greece for his wife, Diamando, and son John, in 1912. During World War I he opened a cafe called the English Kitchen at the foot of the Main Street Bridge in North Little Rock. Their other two children, Bessie and Christina, were born in North Little Rock. About this same time Theo Stathakis operated a nice restaurant, the White Eagle, at Third and Main Streets in North Little Rock.

John, George and Pete Kumpuris arrived early also. The story of young Pete’s departure from Greece is quite touching. Due to a host of socio-economic issues, Pete’s father came to school one day and literally plucked his startled eight-year-old son from the classroom in Andritsaina, Olympias, Greece. His sad mother quickly packed a small bag of belongings, and a tearful Pete found himself embarking on a lifetime journey in which he would never see his father again, and would see his mother only one time, thirty years later, when he was able to visit his homeland in 1937. Pete shined shoes for a living and slept in a bare room with other Greek boys and young men, including his Paschalinos cousins. He grew to a handsome, strapping, young man who sometimes wrestled at the Main Street ring. Although he spent most of his life operating the Majestic Shine Parlor on Main Street, along with his wife, Lois, and had little opportunity for a formal education, it was his nature to be a kind gentleman through and through.

Harry Hronas, about the age of 20, arrived in Little Rock after a three-week voyage and a three-day train journey from New York in about 1904. He knew that there were Greeks from his part of southern Greece (Andritsaina, Olympias) in Little Rock, including some cousins (by marriage), the Kumpurises. He got off the train at Union Station with all his earthly possessions in a tiny bag, and slowly walked east on Markham, which in those days was a bustling business area. (West Markham was the main business street from the Missouri Pacific Railroad on the west to the Rock Island station on the east. It was lined with businesses and hotels, and there were several dozen Greek eating places in the downtown area.) He stopped at the first little cafe, and found a Greek owner who directed him to relatives on Main Street. He worked for several of them, and by 1918 he had his own fruit stand at the corner of Markham and Main where the Wallace Building now stands. He also operated a small hotel above the fruit stand. In 1919 he traveled to Chicago with his cousin, John Paschalinos, to find a bride. There he met and married Katina Karavakis, and they returned to Little Rock where their sons, Jimmy, Nick and George, were born in the early 1920’s. Harry was very proud of his sons, and once entered Jimmy’s photo in a baby contest where he took first prize. The proud father displayed the winning photo in a prominent place in his business.

George Lianos’ first job was laying rails with the Iron Mountain Railroad. His daughter, Helen Lianos Helmich, relates that her father had deep scars on both shins which came from this hard work. George went to Chicago in 1914 where he married Victoria, and returned to Little Rock. About 1912, he worked at a chili wagon at West Fourth and Louisiana Streets, which was owned by Theo Polychron, another early-comer to Little Rock. Helen relates that the wagon looked like a caboose with a counter. In the early 1920s their home was at the northwest corner of Seventh and Spring Streets and Helen attended Peabody School. Among her vivid childhood memories, she recalls that across the street from their home a mule and horse stable caught on fire. Later they moved to 210 West 12th Street and her father operated a series of small cafes on the block around 10th and Main Streets.

Helen also recalled that one of the biggest thrills of her young life came when their neighbors, Dora and John Seaser, carried her along with their own children to City Park via the Seaser’s fruit and vegetable wagon, drawn by two horses! (Dora and John were the first Russian Orthodox immigrants to the Little Rock area. Their daughter, Helen, remained a member of Annunciation Parish until her death a few years ago.)

It is interesting that there were very few eligible young ladies of Greek extraction in the Little Rock area in those early years, so the young men often traveled to Chicago and other cities for the customary introductions (matchmaking).

Twelve priests served the parish from 1913 through 1965: Fr. Kallinikos Kanellas, Fr. Arsenios Priakos (whose son, Tom, and family of Pine Bluff, are still Annunciation parishioners), Fr. Nicholas Sakellarides, Fr. Spyridon Vasilas, Fr. Kallistratos Glavas, Fr. John Tsapatsaris, Fr. Constantine Vouvounas, Fr.Anastasios Vlamidis, Fr. Napoleon Karambelas, Fr. Damian Zikakis, Fr. Kalliopios Kotsonis, and Fr. George Scoulas. Fr. Scoulas was the first American-born, English-speaking priest to serve Annunciation Parish.

Priests who have served since Fr. George Scoulas are: Fr. Steve Vlahos, Fr. Dan Zeatas, Fr. James Cleondis, Fr. George Philippas, Fr. Emanuel Panos, Fr. Alexander Anastasiou, Fr. Jeremiah Monios, Fr. Pierre Delfos, Fr. Andrew Clarke, Fr. John Angel, Fr. Elias (Louis) Scoulas, (brotherof Fr. George Scoulas), and now, Rev. Dr. Nicholas J. Verdaris.

On June 8, 1920, the Annunciation community received a state charter, and a church building at 1500 Center Street was purchased for $28,000 from the Winfield Methodist Church congregation. This purchase included a two story Victorian home immediately south of the church. (This home was sold during the Great Depression for approximately $2,000 to help the parish survive financially during that difficult period. The home was repurchased in the late 1970’s and removed to make a parking area.) The Winfield Memorial Methodist Church building was built in 1889 on a site which that congregation had purchased or exchanged with a Negro Methodist congregation in 1884 at the southwest corner of 15th and Center Streets. It is a brick Gothic structure with a tall spire topped by a copper cross. The Greek Orthodox congregation purchased the edifice around 1919 from the Winfield congregation, which had moved to 16th & Louisiana.

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