American Hellenic Educational Progressive Association

One of Camden's greatest features was its ethnic diversity. For most of the years between 1880 and 1980 one would be hard put to find an ethnic group that wasn't represented here top some extent. Contrary to popular belief, Camden never had ethnically exclusive neighborhoods. There simply were too many different groups and too small a geographical footprint for the ethnic exclusivity that was seen in larger cities such as New York or Philadelphia to take hold.  An examination of census sheets in the the years up to 1930, the last currently available, would show very, very few if any city blocks that were entirely of one ethnicity.

Camden's Greek community appears to have arrived in the city in number at  a somewhat later date than many of the other ethnic groups. About the only thing that Camden never had, now that I think of it, was an Orthodox church of any kind. Laurence Manou, whose family lived in Parkside during the 1930s and 1940s replied when asked he question "Before St. Thomas Greek Orthodox Church was built in Cherry Hill, did people go to Philadephia?" He replied:

Quite so. There certainly was enough money to build one. But it seems that the three existing churches in Philadelphia were enough. The Sosangelis family built Annunciation in Elkins Park (a Byzantine travesty). Macedonian Greeks had St. Demetrios in West Philadelphia, and Center City and prominent South Jersey families had St. George's at 8th and Spruce where I was baptized. It is now the Cathedral Church of St George. I've never been to St Thomas, though I understand it's the premier congregation in southern New Jersey today.

While neighborhoods were diverse, people then as now tended to group together, especially those recently arrived in a new country. Cramer Hill was known for its German organizations, South Camden for the Sons of Italy and similar groups, the Polish American Citizens Club was quite visible in the Whitman Park area. Camden's Greek community had The AHEPA, the American Hellenic Educational Progressive Association. Camden Chapter 69, the Camden chapter, was founded on June 4, 1925. Lawrence Manou wrote about AHEPA in January of 2013:

As I recall, there were scores of Greek families, Stafre, John, Chigounis, Cocosis, Kalogeris, Kouvatas, Manos, Pavle, Shissias, Dent, Gentchos, etc. most of whom were in the restaurant business. 

AHEPA was indeed a community resource. It spawned the Daughters of Penelope for wives, Maids of Athens for daughters and Sons of Pericles for sons. My father was for a time the AHEPA treasurer.

Today AHEPA is by far the largest Greek-American organization. Its scope is international - with chapters in the United States, Canada, and Greece and sister chapters in Australia. AHEPA was founded July 26, 1922, in Atlanta, Georgia, by visionary Americans of Greek descent to protect Hellenes from the evils of bigotry and to help assimilate them into American society in the early 20th Century. Although a majority of the membership is composed of Americans of Hellenic descent, application for membership is open to everyone who believes in the mission of the organization.

While Camden's Greek community is all but completely gone from the city, Camden Chapter 69, which meets in Cherry Hill NJ, remains quite active in 2005.

Camden Courier-Post - February 20, 1936

Chicago Opera Baritone Sings and Hartmann Makes Brief Address

With more than 500 members and guests present, the eleventh annual entertainment and ball of Camden Chapter 69, The Ahepa, was held last night at the Hotel Walt Whitman.

The entertainment featured Jean Fardulli, baritone of the Chicago Civic Opera Company, with accompanying music by Stephen Katsaros. City Commissioner Frank J. Hartmann, Jr., spoke briefly.

The organization is comprised of Greek business men of the city. Anthony Kost is president of the Camden chapter. Other officers are Steve Dent, vice-president; Mike Dendrinos, secretary, and Harry Calogeris, treasurer.

The committee in charge of the entertainment included K. Chigounis, Thomas Manos, George Pappas, Kost, Dent and Dendrinos..

Camden Courier-Post - February 17, 1938


The annual ball of Ahepa, Camden Chapter No. 69, will be held February 23, in Hotel Walt Whitman. Thomas Manos is committee chairman.

Proceeds will be contributed to the association's sanatorium in New Mexico and for the education of Greek boys and young men.

Officers of the Camden chapter are: Thomas Shissias, president; John Manos, vice president; Mike Dendrinos, secretary, and Harry Calogeris, treasurer. Headquarters of the organization are located at 104 South Broadway.

Camden Courier-Post
February 17, 1938

Thomas Shissias

written in 2000

   Camden Chapter No. 69 was organized on June 4, 1925.Thirty-six members were installed that evening. There was such great enthusiasm generated about this new organization, that by the year’s end, this thirty-six had increased to sixty.

   For many years, our Chapter did not have permanent quarters. In 1947, out of the Camden Chapter, grew an organization named “American Hellenic Orthodox Centre”. All their elected officers were Ahepans. A building was purchased in 1954 by the American Hellenic Orthodox Centre in Camden, where the Ahepa was given the second floor for a meeting room and the third floor for the Greek language school. Some years later, the Greek Orthodox Church of Camden County was established and from this came the St. Thomas Greek Orthodox Church. The ground on which our Church and Cultural Center are built was purchased by the American Hellenic Orthodox Centre, whose leaders had the foresight to realize, that for us to grow, we needed room.  The building in Camden was sold to the city renewal program and the proceeds donated towards the erection of our Church and Hellenic Cultural Center. In the Hellenic Cultural Center, we have one of, if not the finest, Ahepa meeting room in all the Ahepa domain.

   The name “American Hellenic Educational Progressive Association” emphasizes education. It is not education as we think of it today, such as high school and college, but rather education about the laws that govern the new country to which the Greeks emigrated. In accordance with the oath and obligation taken as candidates for membership, out chapter instructed them in how to apply for citizenship. The Chapter also realized that the Greek language and heritage needed to be preserved. In 1929, the chapter established a Greek evening school. From that meager beginning, we now boast of having one of the finest Greek language schools in the Delaware Valley area and beyond. Each year, we present the “Ahepa Medal for Scholarship Excellence” to the outstanding student in our Greek language school.

   Higher education is also a high importance to our Chapter. In 1965 one of our members established our first Scholarship Fund. Other scholarships have since been established by families of some of our deceased members. Our scholarship funds have given grants totaling $46,300.00 to date.

   At the District level four of our members distinguished themselves by becoming District Governors. Our chapter has hosted five successful district conventions (’48, ’58, ’67, ’75, ’89) in addition to this year’s convention. One of our members was instrumental in establishing the Ahepa Fifth District Cancer Research Foundation. This foundation raises funds which are donated to be used for cancer research in the hope that some day a cure can be found to eradicate this disease.

   Our chapter has hosted many benefit dances, with all proceeds going to different charitable organizations. It hosted dances to benefit 5th District Cancer Research Foundation, Deborah Hospital, Cooley’s Anemia, and the purchase of a pulse oximeter that is located in the neonatal nursery of the West Jersey Hospital. (This is a care center where the new born child is examined by the surgeon.) Our chapter supported the Cyprus Relief Fund and, for several years, adopted a Greek Cypriot refugee.

   Annually, we host dinner meetings honoring our “Old Timers” and the “Past Presidents” of our chapter. Each year, we conduct a memorial service for our deceased members. In the year 1975, we celebrated the chapter’s 50th Anniversary, where we honored the surviving charter members, with Senator Paul Sarbanes as toastmaster. In the early years, our chapter had an excellent degree team.

   This biography has only touched the surface of our history. Past records will prove that the Camden Chapter No. 69 of the Order of Ahepa will endure and become stronger with age. Its future will be as bright as its past.

AHEPA- Camden, Chapter 69

American Hellenic Educational
Progressive Association