They may have been marginalized, frowned upon as being part of an immigrant ghetto and received so suspiciously before World War II that they were often forced to hide their origins but the Greeks of Boston, who emigrated to America early last century in search of a better life, have come a long way. So far in fact that, today, some of their names adorn the walls of the city's storied Museum of Fine Arts, having taken their place amongst its most vaunted benefactors.
The couple of Eve and Leo Condakes were instrumental in funding the restoration of the Classical Antiquity Gallery while George Behrakis provided the financial resources for the new "George D. and Margo Behrakis Art of the Ancient World" wing. Opened last September, it marked the first time that the museum has named a multi-gallery wing after a major donor since 1915 and led to Behrakis being honoured as one of the seven "guardians" of the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, a title reserved for those that have contributed in excess of $25 million. A true masterpiece, the wing is crowned by a showcase gallery featuring some thirty pieces from the museum's collection of Greek and Roman sculptures.
Strolling through the majestic corridors with the ever-charming Eve Condakes at my side, I am filled with pride as I spy the names "Eve and Leo Condakes" prominently displayed above the Antiquity Gallery and listen attentively as she begins to narrate in a most eloquent, fluent Greek:
My father was the publisher of the first Greek newspaper here in Boston and, along with my mother, taught us the Greek language and instilled in us the obligation to honor the country of our origin. I remember that we visited the museum when we were very young and how devastated my father was when we were shown the museum's collection of ancient Greek sculptures on display, down in the basement. As such, when the opportunity arose many years later, my late husband, Leo, and I jumped at the chance to fund the marvellous gallery that houses many of those very same works of art today. I am very proud to witness our national treasures being admired by visitors from around the world in one of the most famous museums in the United States.
Born and raised in Boston and the mother of two prominent professionals, Nick and Ted Koskores, Evanthia Condakes rose to a senior level executive position with a major international cosmetics company but, following her father's teachings, never forgot her roots.
Our parents and grandparents were conscious of their great responsibility towards their history when they began their long journey to the blessed land of America. They may have come here with very little means in the quest of a better future but they arrived full of pride in their history and traditions.
A much decorated and highly beloved former president of the National Philoptochos Society of the Archdiocese of America, a longtime benefactor of Leadership 100 and the Greek Orthodox Community of Boston to name but a few, Eve Condakes has also become an outspoken advocate for the reopening of the Chalki Greek Orthodox Theological School in Turkey.
A long friendship connects me with his Holiness Patriarch Bartholomew. Together with many other Greek Communities in the Diaspora, we support all his efforts for the re-opening of the historical Theological School in Chalki. We demand protection for the human and religious rights of the people in Turkey and we hope that the status of our historic Patriarchate in Istanbul will be respected and that the country begins to adopt a more pro-European stance. Our prayers are with his Holiness, our Patriarch and leader of the Orthodox around the world.
Eve, along with her late husband, Lycurgus (Leo) Condakes, may symbolize the "American Dream" but she is also a shining example, as was he, of an individual with a deep sense of being and respect for her heritage. Their gallery at the museum houses an important series of sculptures and vases that date from the 4th century B.C.
As we walk down the gallery named after the Eve and Leo Condakes' Foundation, she notes, head held high:
I am proud of my cultural and religious origin. Here in Boston, I feel full of Greece and Orthodoxy and I am trying to pass these values on to my grandchildren. My late husband and I invested in the Classical Antiquity wing at the museum so that future generations of the Hellenes could explore and admire the beauty of our culture and experience the eternity of the Hellenic spirit.