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Posted on Thu, Jun 3, 2010 : 8:10 a.m.

St. Nicholas' Ya'ssoo Greek Festival celebrates congregation's 75th anniversary in Ann Arbor

By Ronald Ahrens

A few second- and even third-generation St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox parishioners got together Monday to reflect on the church’s 75th-anniversary celebration, which will be highlighted Friday through Sunday during the Ya’ssoo Greek Festival.

The festival offers performances by the St. Nicholas Dancers and the Kyklos Hellenic Dancers of Detroit. The church is at 3910 Scio Church Road.


Celebrating the 75th: From left, Father Nicolaos Kotsis, John Kokales, Eleni Banos, Helen Garris, George Kokales and Penny Bekiares display a banner of shoes, representing the St. Nicholas' congregation's journey from the old church (far left) to the new.

Between 6,000 and 7,000 guests are expected for the Ya’ssoo. The word is an all-purpose greeting, which among other things means “Health to you.”

“We’ll have a moment of silence for good weather,” Penny Bekiares, co-chair of the 75th-anniversary festivities, kidded with the group.

Bekiares’ father William served as parish president in 1952.

Tours of the beautiful chapel that fuses together three classic designs are another festival highlight. The original St. Nicholas parish at 414 S. Main St. was built in 1935 to serve 34 families. Today’s congregation numbers at least 350 families.

The first service at the new church was held in March 2003. William and Lambrini Lagos donated the 10 acres of property in the northwestern corner of Pittsfield Township.

“It’s a very diverse congregation with a substantial number from Greece itself,” said Father Nicolaos Kotsis. There are also members from Russia, Romania and Eritrea. Services are conducted in an even split between English and Greek.

Kotsis succeeded Father John Paul in 2005. Of the 12 priests who have led the St. Nicholas flock, Paul was by far the longest-serving, with more than 30 years in the pulpit.

Paul died in 2007. He’s especially remembered for the music he composed for performance by the congregation.

His widow Eva remains an active member.

St. Nicholas “has always had a good choir,” said John Kokales, co-chairman of the festival for the past four years.

Kokales’ late wife Chrystine directed the choir for about 25 years.

Baptismal 01.JPG

Since 1956, this font, hand-formed of copper, has served for the baptisms of many St. Nicholas parishioners.

One of Kokales’ own claims to fame is participating in the Ann Arbor Civic Theatre’s musical productions of the 1950s.

Other notable St. Nicholas members include:

• Constantin Papadakis, the University of Michigan-trained engineer who went on to become president of Drexel University, in Philadelphia, from 1995 until his 2009 death.

• Nick Mellos, crew member of the United States Navy plane that was forced down in 2001 after a collision with a Chinese military jet over the South China Sea, an episode known as the Hainan Island incident.

• Michael Kapetan, the creator of abstract, religious, and solar sculptures.

• Costas Kleanthous, the medical doctor who has led several missions in Africa.

The new church offers the latest in features, such as live-streaming video at its website. The video is uniquely useful in bringing baptisms and weddings to members, or their relatives, who happen to be in Europe or elsewhere on the globe.

Yet along with the new, there are cherished keepsakes from the old. A stained-glass panel, a bishop’s throne and the old pulpit are among the irreplaceable items displayed in the sanctuary.

Greek school during weekdays remains a continuing emphasis. Children from the age of 5 receive weekly, 90-minute lessons in the Greek language.

And some things never change.

“I’m having a tough time making my grandson do his Greek lessons,” John Kokales said.



Thu, Jun 3, 2010 : 8:25 a.m.

The Festival is quite an event! Last year my wife and I went on Saturday around dinner time (probably the busiest period!) and it wasn't easy to find a seat to sit down and eat. But, the food and entertainment are great, and the church members are excellent hosts. I'd recommend going to anyone.