Philadelphia, PA – An action-packed welcome awaited the Evzone contingent of 16 soldiers which came to Philadelphia in preparation for that city’s Greek Independence Day parade. It’s the first time in about 20 years, that the Evzones – the Hellenic Presidential Guard – came and visited Philadelphia.
“The Federation of Hellenic Societies of Philadelphia was informed with a month’s notice that we would have the honor of having the Evzones for our parade,” said Dena Verikakis, President of the Pan-Macedonian Society of Philadelphia’s women’s chapter ‘Amalia’. “Our society was asked to pull together a plan to assist in hosting and welcoming the Evzones to our city.” Dena, along with the other board members of the organization quickly pulled together a two-day itinerary meant to provide the visitors a taste of the city, a perspective of the Greek community, and some time for enjoyment.
Events began on Wednesday evening when members of the Pan-Macedonian Society of Philadelphia treated the Presidential Guards to dinner at Valanni, a premier restaurant in Philadelphia. “It was an honor to have the Evzones at our restaurant,” said restauranteur George Anni. “As a Greek-American, it made me very proud. I’m also thrilled that the Pan-Macedonians chose to support our restaurant with their business.”
The entertainment was just beginning, however. Agnoula Marcantonis, Corresponding Secretary of the Pan-Macedonian Association, and Teddy Siouras, a well-known Greek-American restaurant and bar owner, organized a “Greek Night” at U-Bahn, a bar owned by Siouras. The collaboration between the Pan-Macedonians and U-Bahn was extremely successful, bringing between 400 to 500 for the Wednesday night event, including most of the board members of the Federation of Hellenic Societies.
The Greek band Neo Kyma Orchestra, under the leadership of Agnoula Marcantonis’ husband George, as well as DJ Makis Melissaratos provided music that kept the crowd dancing through the night. The attendees even saw the Evzones join into a tsamiko later on in the night. Many generations of proud Greek-Americans were in attendance at the establishment, which has become the de facto “Greek bar” in Philadelphia due to its ever-popular bouzouki nights. A disproportionate number of single twentysomething and thirtysomething Greek-American women at the event could only suggest that some were secretly hoping to meet their future Evzone husbands.
Early the next morning a group gathered to tour the Evzones around the city. The group included Dena Verikakis and Agnoula Marcantonis, along with Yianna Yiantsos (Pan-Macedonian President of the Youth Chapter ‘Alexander the Great’) board members Philip Voutsakis, Maria Kotopoulos, Angie Karakasidis (with her young son Dimitri), as well as the Pan-Macedonian former District Governor and current President of the Greek American Heritage Museum, Nick Yiantsos and Veronica Crisp, who graciously volunteered the services of her and her bus and driver from Step by Step Learning Center. The group led the Evzones on a tour depicting the multi-dimensional nature of the city of Philadelphia. Beginning at the newly opened Observatory at Liberty Place, the group got spectacular views of the whole of Philadelphia from the 848 ft. tower; the second tallest in the city.
After which, the Evzones were taken to Independence Mall and the Liberty Bell museum. Many were thrilled to learn about the importance that Greek ideals had on America’s founding fathers. One particular example was the excitement that a few Evzones had when discovering a painting depicting the word “Ελευθερία” superimposed on the Liberty Bell.
The third stop centered around a 40-year-old movie series that almost all of the 16 Evzones have watched; Sylvester Stallone’s Rocky. After a few photos in front of the Rocky statue and an essential dash up the Philadelphia Museum of Art steps, the group walked around the back of the building to enjoy the view of the Water Works and Boathouse Row. This walk also included a stop at the Armenian Genocide Memorial Statue “Young Meher”, and also, a stop to admire a hidden treasure of the Philadelphia Greek Community; a replica of a Charioteer at Delphi. The statue was donated by the Greek Government to the people of the United States in 1977 in commemoration of the continued reverence to Democratic ideals. Judge Gregory G. Lagakos a leader in the Greek Community was instrumental in having the statue placed in its place of importance at the foot of the Art Museum.
To end the tour, the group had a lunch which included their first taste of Philadelphia cheesesteaks at Cleavers, a restaurant recently opened by siblings Dimitri and Electra Poulimenos and brothers Ted and Sav Bouikidis. The Evzones and their hosts seemed to thoroughly enjoy the fare; even the most critical Philadelphia cheesesteak critics among the hosts were very impressed with the new restaurant’s take on the classic Philadelphia sandwich.
All in all, the events organized by Greek American community are a testament to how successful the community can be when working together for a greater good. The hospitality to the Evzones was due to a perfect collaboration between Greek-American owned businesses, Greek-American civic associations, and hard-working individuals in both groups.