George Argyros
Chairman and CEO
Arnel & Affiliates

Arthur Cheliotes
CWA, Local 1180
Greek-Americans Honored at Ellis Island Awards Gala

On Saturday, May 12, 2001, the National Ethnic Coalition of Organizations, Inc., awarded 139 Ellis Island Medals of Honor to deserving Americans at a black-tie-only gala at Ellis Island park in New Jersey, capping a weekend of special activities and celebrations. Each year a selection committee reviews submissions for a large number of candidates representing a diverse cross-section of our multicultural society. Awardees are selected for their “outstanding professional and patriotic contributions,” as well as their efforts to preserve the values of their ethnic group and its ties to its land of origin.

These distinguished Greek-Americans join more than 100 other past recipients of Hellenic descent. Together they constitute a significant percentage of the total number of all honorees, nearly fifteen percent. With more than 250 organizations participating in NECO represent approximately 50 separate ethnic and national groups, these figures suggest that Greek-Americans more actively engage in and express the kinds of actions and ideals exemplified by the award. And qualitative examinations of the Greek-American experience seem to bear out this cursory analysis. For Americans of Hellenic descent strive at every opportunity to maintain ties with their heritage and culture, always mindful of the sacrifices and difficulties borne by immigrant ancestors. The proliferation of Greek-American day schools, church-sponsored Greek-language programs, and a nationwide plethora of ethnic festivals, Hellenic Studies programs, and other cultural events testify to the interest among Hellenic communities in maintaining cultural traditions and ties to Greece.

Formed in 1984, the National Ethnic Coalition of Organizations, Inc. (NECO), with over five million member families, is the largest group of its type in the United States and “serves as an umbrella group for over 250 organizations that span the spectrum of ethnic heritage, culture, and religion.” Its principal goals are humanitarian in nature. NECO strives to “preserve ethnic diversity, promote equality and tolerance, combat justice, and bring about harmony and unity among all peoples.” With that broad mandate, NECO has created and sponsored a number of programs to combat ignorance and ethnic misunderstanding, and to raise funds for restoration projects on Ellis Island, the quintessential symbol of diversity and democracy.

It is best known, however, for its annual awards which “pay tribute to the immigrant experience, remarkable individual achievement, and, above all, the spirit that makes America unique among nations.” The United States Congress has sanctioned these prestigious and coveted awards, entering the names of recipients into its Congressional Record. Former Presidents, US Senators, archbishops, and other noted, distinguished individuals have received this medal. Among the Greek-American community there are many readily recognized national figures, such as Antigone Agris, Ernie Anastos, Andrew Athens, Dr. John Brademas, William Chirgotis, Evanthea Condakes, Olympia Dukakis, Hon. Marina Souretis Horner, Archbishops Iakovos and Spyridon, Andrew Manatos, Sen. Paul Sarbanes, Telly Savalas, Alex Spanos, and George Tenet. Furthermore, New Englanders will recall the names of George Behrakis, George Chryssis, George Kokalis, and Arthur Koumantzelis—all active and generous participants in Hellenic and Orthodox activities.

In recognition of the ideals embodied in the symbolism of the medal, Col. William S. McArthur, Jr., a NASA crewmember of the 100th shuttle mission, brought with him one of the medals. “The crew exemplifies the rich immigrant culture and diverse ethnic heritage celebrated by NECO through its Ellis Island Medal of Honor,” explained Col. McArthur who had also been a recipient of the award. “We are extremely grateful for the opportunity to include NECO and all of its honorees as part of our mission.” NECO Medallists reacted to this historic event with pride and increased appreciation for the universality of the hope and freedom represented by the medal. According to Nasser J. Kazeminy, Chairman of the Board and principal owner of NJK Holding Corporation, the medal evokes a “great frontier to arriving immigrants. As the Medal is launched [during the shuttle mission], perhaps outer space may be viewed as a further frontier for generations to come. If so, it is my hope that by bringing this Medal to space, we can begin to set a tone to continue that unspoken responsibility which good fortune will bear on that ultimate form of immigration, to share of yourself to make it easier for those who will follow.”

For more information about the Ellis Island Medal of Honor or about the National Ethnic Coalition of Organizations, Inc., visit the organization’s website at

Related Story: Vice-Adm. Michael Kalleres First Navy Flag Officer to Receive Ellis Island Medal of Honor

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