It’s all Greek to Ruben Diaz Jr. But that doesn’t bother him.
The Bronx borough president made his way to St. Peter the Apostle Greek Orthodox Church at 3245 Kingsbridge Ave., on April 4 for Greek Heritage Night, a celebration of Greek culture in the Bronx.
The eventful night included a performance of traditional Greek songs and dances from students enrolled at St. Peter’s Evdoxia Levesanos Greek Afternoon School. It also honored eight Greeks who have made significant contributions to several communities in the Bronx, some of which include owners of local businesses: Columbia Florist on West 231st Street, Galaxy General Contracting on Albany Crescent, and Dale-Way Auto Body Center on Tibbett Avenue.
Diaz’s annual event also comes weeks after Greek Independence Day, the March 25 holiday commemorating the start of the War of Greek Independence in 1821 from the Ottoman Empire. Diaz reminded attendees the history of their culture hasn’t stopped since then.
“While Greeks and the Greek American community have a wonderful history, let us never, ever lose the fact that history is being made every day,” he said.
For Katherine Kapsis, Georgia Poulos and Connie Dennis, that history fact is true. The three sisters took over Columbia Florist, a flower shop their parents, Nicholas and Helen Dennis, opened 60 years ago.
After their parents passed away, the women never stopped working to give back to the community through fundraisers and sponsorships while also staying open seven days a week.
Growing up with hardworking parents who treated their customers like family is something each sister has been able to take away from running the florist shop, Poulos said.
“I think the key is to really love what you do and to appreciate people,” she said. “And, of course, to ultimately deliver a great product.”
The biggest takeaway of the night for Poulos was not only knowing how proud her parents would be of their daughters, but also feeling right at home with other members of the community.
“All the Greek pride in here, the dancing from the kids,” she said, “it just felt so good.”
Steve Zervoudis came to the United States in 1963 from the island of Chios, started Galaxy General Contracting 18 years later, developing several commercial and residential properties throughout the city. Zervoudis also had a hand in helping the decades-long construction project St. Peter’s set out to complete by building a community hall and a space for the afternoon Greek school.
When he found out he was being honored at Greek Heritage Night, Zervoudis was humbled — and a little skeptical — because he doesn’t like a lot of publicity. “But then I said, ‘I will do it.’”
Other honorees like Costas Papavasilakis also came to the Bronx by way of Chios in 1971, opening Dale-Way Auto Body when he was just 21. He made sure from the very beginning to employ people from the community.
It always felt nice to walk customers through insurance claims on their cars that they don’t understand, Papavasilakis said, or help sponsor things like Kingsbridge Little League.
“We’re proud of what we do, we take good care of all the people that come to us, we treat them like family,” he said. And we’re “very proud of our service that we provide to people.”
Because at the end of the day, Papavasilakis only has one mission in mind when it comes to his neighbors.
“Whenever the community needs our help, we’re here for them.”