Our Parish: Yesterday and the Future
The early Greek Orthodox immigrants came to Dayton, Ohio, individually, not as a group. It is hard to fully comprehend the faith, courage and strength of these immigrants, who, with the blessings of their families, left war torn Greece, and came to America to start a new life. They were coming to a new land without knowing the language. Chris Politz came in 1880, followed by Thomas Caroompas, Charles Zonars moved to Dayton in 1902, and Harry Chakeres in 1903. They wrote back home that Dayton was a good and beautiful place with plenty of jobs. Caroompas brought his son, Sam whose peanut stand in front of the Dayton Courthouse, became a favorite stop for downtown business people. In 1900, Dayton had the 45th largest population in the nation and 33rd in highest wages paid.
By 1910, there were more than 15 families. These immigrants found strength in the friendships developed and shared faith. As their numbers increased through additional immigrations, marriages, and births, their religious needs were provided for by a monthly visit of itinerant mission Greek Orthodox priests who were assigned to Southern Ohio. These visiting priests were paid by individual donations. Their numbers grew, and religious services were held in a space over the William Hanes Restaurant on South Ludlow. By 1921, there were over 65 families, many of whom lived in the Robert Blvd. neighborhood. The area is now the campus of Sinclair College. Bound and determined to preserve and perpetuate their faith, language, customs, and traditions they turned their attention to establishing their own church. A fund drive amassed $5,000 so they were able to purchase an existing small church at 15 South Robert Blvd.
It is impossible to individually recognize all parish members who through the years contributed their prayers, time, talent and finances to make possible the incredible growth and progress of the parish. Some names are noted because of extraordinary efforts in achieving milestones. Of course this parish like every other experienced some hard times, the Depression, losing family members in the wars, constant maintenance of the buildings and economic ups and downs of the region.
With the facilities in place, the community grew with worship, schools, programs and activities. Along with Sunday School, the Greek School for children grew to include an adult program. Greek Orthodox Youth of America (GOYA) continues to sponsor very popular Metropolis-wide basketball tournaments. The parish has hosted Clergy Laity Conferences and the Choir has hosted Mid-Eastern Federation of Greek Orthodox Church Musicians (MEFGOX) conventions. Philoptochos maintains a full lending library focusing on the Greek Orthodox faith. The St. John Chrysostom Oratorical contest has many participants as do the Metropolis summer camps. A fund is established to focus charitable donations, special education programs and on a scholarship program for students from this parish. The Greek Festival is now a major Dayton event, and Philoptochos charitable works have touched people and agencies throughout the region, nationally and internationally.
Today, we are made up of Americans, Greeks, Arabs, Romanians, Slavs, and other nationalities. Around 95% of the marriages throughout the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America are between an Orthodox Christian and a non Orthodox Christian. Our future will be one where we as Christians practice unity in essentials, diversity in non-essentials, and charity in all things for the glory of God and his One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Orthodox Church.
May 12, 1921
The Greek Orthodox Community was officially formed and a charter signed under the laws of the State of Ohio. Charter signers were: George Z. Lambesis, Spiros Pandely, George Steffens, Otto Zavakos and John Zonars.
Father Germanos Papayioanous named the first full-time priest. The regular worship began at the Annunciation Greek Orthodox Church on Robert Blvd.
Aug. 12, 1932
The local chapter of Philoptochos is founded. Penelope Zonars is appointed president.
The choir is organized. Daphne Thomas Zonars is named director and Angeline Make is the organist.
The first Sunday School classes were organized and lead by John Zonars. Working with him were Xanthippi Floridis, Melpo Nickolas, Chrisoula Stamatakos and Helen Caras.
Families and business had flourished to the point that the community had outgrown its present location. The General Assembly voted to explore expanding or moving. A building committee was established.
The 1910 Keys mansion, sitting on 3 1/2 acres at 500 Belmonte Park North, was purchased with expense to the parish of $34,157.00. The purchase was accomplished mainly through the efforts of Louis Preonas, Apostolos Gelep, William Stoycos, Louis Zavakos, James Thomas, Harry Zonars and many others. The house served as a temporary church with classrooms and social center from 1945 to 1951.
Dayton is a unique community in that it has Wright Patterson Air Force Base and the Air Force Institute of Technology. During World War II, many engineers came to the Base, many of whom were Greek Orthodox. These people joined the parish and became involved, adding professional expertise to the building programs and activities. In the later years, professors who came to teach at Sinclair Community College, Wright State University and University of Dayton also added to the caliber of the community.
Ground breaking for our present church. Apostolos Gelep worked with the architectural company, the Alexander K. Eugene Bros, Inc., and oversaw the construction that cost $450,000. Extensive delays were encountered because of scarcity of materials due to WWII.
Jun. 26 1949
The cornerstone ceremonies took place following the Divine Liturgy.
Sep. 9, 1951
Full time use of the undecorated edifice begins. Philoptochos commits to purchasing the pews and individual families donated different icons.
The Dayton community was the first in Southern Ohio to establish a youth program now known as Greek Orthodox Youth Association (GOYA) and Young Adult League (YAL).
Iconographer Stelios Maris, who trained at Mt. Athos completes the icons in the interior of the church. He was originally from Athens and resided in New York City.
The annual parish picnic, held on the grounds of the Keys Mansion, was expanded to invite guests and becomes our first Greek Festival. There were some years in the late 1960s that the Festival was not held. In 1973 the Festival was reinstated in the format that we know to this day.
Mar. 29 1959
Kick off for the new community center. A fund drive was launched for a three phase program for the new community center consisting of 13 classrooms, meeting rooms, offices, and a multipurpose ballroom with kitchen facilities. The records show number of children up to the age of 17 in the community was 400.
Jun. 6, 1961
The Keys Mansion was razed to make room for the future Phase I and II of the Community Center. Paul Zonars was appointed chairman of the building committee and architects Brown, Head and Associates were chosen. They completed their work five months later. The Board of Trustees, a separate body from the Parish Council, were responsible for the finances. Phase III (the multipurpose room and kitchen) architect was Richard Levin and Associates.
Apr. 26, 1969
Completion of the Community Center's third phase. The dream of a completed church and community center was a reality.
Oct. 6, 1985
The Consecration of a church is the most significant event in its history. The word “engainia” means renewal thus the building is pledged and dedicated to Christian worship forever. The soul-stirring liturgy lead by His Eminence Archbishop Iakovos, assisted by Bishop Timothy and Fathers Dorozenski, Hiotis, Tasikas, Payiatis, Gigicos, and Nick remains as the high point in the life of this parish. James Morris chaired the weekend with the assistance of the priests, past presidents of the parish council, presidents of the various organizations and a most talented committee.
The Parish Council has talented members who can pursue new technology for updated communication with parishioners in and out of town.