Friday, August 11, 2017

Public Monuments Dedicated to Greek-American Public Servants



PUBLIC MONUMENTS DEDICATED TO GREEK-AMERICAN PUBLIC SERVANTS
Published in The National Herald, July 29 - August 4, 2017 Issue
Authored by Steve Frangos
TNH Staff Writer
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I am excited to announce that The National Herald has given Hellenic Genealogy Geek the right to reprint articles that may be of interest to our group. 

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Even a causal consideration of Greek-American monuments reveals they fall into distinct patterns. Obviously, the type of monument, reason for the dedication, person or persons for whom the monument is intended, and/or the person/organizations involved with establishing/building the monument all influence the final public object. Outside of the material cost involved with the construction and placement of any such physical object, local politics always plays a role.

Following this last line of thought, numerous monuments around the nation have seen dedication to local Greek-American politicians and/or (what used to be called) public servants. Obviously, the very existence of these public monuments are daily reminders of the persons/events/ideas they are meant to represent. Just as obviously, we most often walk past these same structures absorbed in our own concerns with little thought to the reasons, let alone the persons, these public tributes are meant to immortalize.

No complete listing of Greek American politicians exists let alone one that includes the broader considerations of public officials. Given the tentative nature of any such compilation I will present here only those Greek-American public servants who worked on the city or state levels.

Let me begin with an enduring mystery. I have often heard that there is/was a public school in Louisiana named in honor of Alexander Dimitry (1805- 1883). But I have never been able to find any concrete documentation on the existence of an Alexander Dimitry public school. True, Prof. Dimitry was the very first appointed state superintendent of public education in Louisiana and by all accounts was a superb administrator and innovator in that position. But I have no evidence of any public building named after this esteemed gentleman, politician and renowned scholar.

Helen Boosalis (1919- 2009) began her political career in 1959 as a three time member of the Lincoln City Council becoming in 1975 the first woman mayor of Lincoln, NE. After her tenure as mayor, Boosalis was appointed director of the Nebraska Department of Aging until 1986. Today, a number of areas and buildings are dedicated to the memory of this dedicated public figure. The Helen Boosalis Trail is a 3.6 mile preserve that extends from S. 17th St. and Burnham St. and State Route 2 along Old Cheney Rd. in Lincoln that serves as a connective link to a wider network of such set-aside paths. The Helen Boosalis Park Indoor Range in Lincoln is a practice range for both archery and firearms.

Adeline Jay Geo-Karis (1918-2008) was born in Greece and brought to the United States when she was four years old. Geo-Karis “was a Republican politician and a member of the Illinois Senate for the 31st District, where she served for over 25 years. Prior to her election as Senator, she was in the Illinois House of Representatives from 1973 to 1979. Known simply as "Geo" to her constituents, she was a popular politician in Lake County, IL for many years. Known for her nononsense attitude and her ability to work across party lines, she also served for a time as Mayor of Zion.” Today, the Adeline Jay Geo-Karis Illinois Beach State Park a 4,160 acre park in Zion honors memory.

Nicholas J. Melas (1923- March 15, 2013) was elected in 1962 to the Board of Commissioners of the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago. Melas was reelected five times, serving for 30 years; the last 18 as President of the Board. The Nicholas J. Melas Centennial Fountain and Water Arc is located on the north bank of the Chicago river (near the intersection of East River Drive and North McClurg Court in what today is the River North neighborhood). Every hour the fountain shoots a "cannon" of water across to the other side of the river.

Another type of memorial area is named in honor of Melas. Between the two Illinois communities of Arlington Heights and Mt Prospect is a 70- acre site off Central Road between Busse Road and Northwest Highway. An agreement between these two communities and the Metropolitan Water Reclamation Dist. of Greater Chicago (MWRD) has resulted in a complex of buildings and public facilities which contains a large storm water detention basin and pumping structures as well as four baseball and softball fields in an area, now, known as Melas Park in Mount Prospect. Mt. Prospect village trustees recently extended a lease with the MWRD over maintenance of Melas Park until the year 2051.

John P. Rousakis (1929- 2000) was the first Greek-American mayor of Savannah GA. Rousakis was first elected in 1965 to the Chatham County Commission and eventually became Vice-Chairman of that institution. Rousakis is Savannah's longest-serving mayor, whose tenure extended from 1970 to 1986. Rousakis is credited with saving the Savannah river front. Aptly enough, then, today the John P. Rousakis Riverfront Plaza is “located right along the shoreline of the Savannah River next to the heat of the old town Plaza offers one of the most pleasant of leisurely strolling areas along with exception views of the river. It is also the location of the Savannah City Docks equipped with over 300 linear feet of public floating docks, and nearly 800 linear feet of public bulkheads (yelp.com)."

George Soumas (1915- 1994) was three-time mayor of Perry, IA. Two memorials have been established in his honor. The George Soumas Memorial is a “life-size bronze statue of George Soumas is located in Soumas Court, in downtown Perry, Iowa, near the old Hotel Patee...The downtown courtyard is situated between two buildings on Willis Avenue. Both entrances to the courtyard have archways of metal sculptures by Albert Paley. In the middle of the courtyard is located the lifesize statue of George Soumas, three-time mayor and war hero, seated at one of the cafe tables. The piece was sculpted by Christopher B. Bennett (waymarking.com).”

Next is the George P. Soumas Memorial Highway “Joining together, the cities along Iowa 141 between Granger and Perry petitioned the Iowa Department of Transportation to rename the roadway after George P. Soumas. The request was granted and the highway was renamed The George P. Soumas Memorial Highway in early 2013...Soumas worked as chair of the community volunteer project to encourage the widening of Iowa 141 from a two-lane highway to a four-lane highway, which was completed in 1997. He was involved in many community organizations and activities (iowa.gov).”

I was surprised to learn that each one of these monuments can be seen on YouTube. All of these monuments dedicated to the accomplishments and memory of its designee can be seen, sometimes more than once, by name. Only with Soumas' statue do you have to search for Perry Iowa to see his court and monument included with those others of this Iowan town. No one knows the full roster of American public servants who are/were of Greek descent. And so it very possible that there are more monuments dedicated to other Greek-American public servants than I have cited here.