The Philhellenes of Maine devote their lives to the promotion of Greece and Hellenism

The town of Mytilene on the Greek island of Lesvos is partnered with Portland, Maine under the Sister Cities program. Irwin Novak and Mary Snell, two Philhellenes from Maine, helped make this a reality. Credit: Koutrolm /Public domain

Irwin Novak and Mary Snell, Philhellenes who live near Portland, Maine, have devoted much of their lives to making their beloved Greece better known and appreciated.

From the creation of the Hellenic Society of Maine (HSoM) to the creation of the sister city twinning of Mytilene, the capital of Lesvos, and Portland, Maine, they are tireless campaigners promoting the country.

Snell tells Greek journalist in a recent interview that she and her husband created the Hellenic Society of Maine with the aim of preserving and promoting Hellenic heritage and culture in the state. The Society is affiliated with the University of Southern Maine (USM) and its Hellenic Initiatives program, and supports Sister City’s official relationship between Portland and Mytilene.

Grecian Delight supports Greece

Philhellenes dedicate their lives to promoting appreciation of Greek culture

Although neither of them are of Greek descent, the love affair with Greece began a long time ago for Snell, who lived in the country from 1973 to 1975, during which she calls “a very heady period” as it emerged from the years of the junta. the domination and invasion of Cyprus that followed.

These dramatic years were very formative for Snell, who learned the Greek language by immersion; she says Greek journalist that she quickly “fell in love with the country and the people”, eventually buying a house on the Greek island of Lesbos.

Now, having stayed in Lesvos every year since 1989, Novak and Snell can look back on their decades of service to the Greek people, and to Lesbos in particular. Now in the process of starting an archive for all Greek immigration records in Maine, they spearheaded the Portland and Mytilene twinning.

Last year, the couple were honored by the mayor of the North Aegean governor in a ceremony in Mytilene. This recognition was awarded because of the many educational, cultural and charitable initiatives undertaken over the past 30 years that have both helped the island and promoted Hellenism in Maine.

“Your contribution to the Sister City initiative between Mytilene and Portland, the establishment of the Hellenic Society in Maine and the collaboration between the University of Southern Maine and the Aegean University are invaluable,” said Christiana Kalogirou, Governor of the North Aegean region. .

“In addition, the material assistance and medical supplies that you [and HSoM] provided to the Mytilene hospital was essential to its operation during the refugee and migrant crisis, ”Kalogirou added.

The sister cities project links two maritime cities with many points in common

Snell and Novak thank the individuals and organizations who have been partners in many projects including the Hellenic Society of Maine, USM, the City of Portland, as well as various citizens, officials and organizations in Mytilene and Lesvos.

While at first glance may not seem exactly twins of each other in many ways, Snell recounts Greek journalist that there were many reasons that prompted her and her husband to work on the twinning of the two maritime towns.

Some of the similarities, Snell says, are that they are located in the northeast of their countries and are historically centered around the sea. These are two important ports in their regions and are known for their longstanding environmental efforts. Additionally, she adds, the people of Mytilene and Portland are similar in that they tend to be more taciturn and inward-looking in nature.

After immersing themselves in the life of Lesvos and becoming involved in the city’s thriving arts and culture scene, Snell and Novak began a series of cross-cultural exchanges.

Over the years at USM, the Society has supported University of Southern Maine events / University of Southern Maine Cultural and Artistic Exchanges and academic programs between USM and the University of La Aegean Sea in Lesbos.

The Hellenic Society of Maine promotes cultural exchange between Lesbos and Portland, Maine

In supporting the Sister City relationship, since 2003, the HSoM has organized five different visits by mayor delegations to Maine and Mytilene, Snell said. greek journalist, adding that the programs included tours and cultural events in both cities.

In 2007, the Company collected and shipped over 80 hardcover books in English on the subject of American culture to the Mytilene City Public Library.

Five years later, he collaborated with Tetra Projects to send Mytilene the exhibition called Portes (Doors), showcasing the work of 50 Portland artists. That same year, HSoM installed an oak display case at Portland Town Hall that featured Mytilene as a sister city.

In 2016, the Society raised over $ 20,000 through Lesbos Hospital Aid to send a 40ft long container filled with over $ 250,000 of reused medical equipment and new medical supplies to the hospital. Municipality of Mytilene – which was overwhelmed by the refugee crisis that began in Lesvos. in 2015.

The HSoM was also instrumental in the creation of the art exhibition titled “IXNOS”, at the USM library, which explored the ongoing refugee crisis on the island of Lesvos and in Greece in his outfit. The week-long exhibit was part of the statewide initiative “Making Migration Visible”.

Presentations, language courses, dance lessons are part of the Company’s offers

The Hellenic Society of Maine also presented special events for Philhellenes, such as a Greek Cultural Bus Tour in Boston in 2014 in conjunction with the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at USM. It included a visit to the Greek Consulate, the Art Museum, a Contemporary Art Exhibition, and a stop at St. Demetrios Greek Orthodox Church in Saco.

In the fall of 2016, the HSoM presented a talk by Ifigenia Kanara, the Greek Consul General in Boston at the time. In the spring of 2019, they sponsored a presentation by the current Consul General, Stratos Efthymiou. A talk by former Ambassador to Greece David Pearce was presented by the company in late 2018.

Although he has now switched to online activities, this has not hampered the Company – quite the contrary, as Snell puts it, who explains that they have many more attendees at their Zoom presentations than they do. had them in person in the past.

The Hellenic Society of Maine regularly presents a number of special events, including lectures on topics such as Greek history, Orthodox mysticism, the Olympian gods, modern Greek poets, ancient Greek engineering and modern, icons, ancient Greek music, the Olympics and Greek genealogy.

Book club, Greek film series, concerts for members of the Society

Topics such as the monasteries of Mount Athos, traditional folk painting, archeology, the Antikythera Mechanism, the rescue of Greek Jews during WWII and the Greek Revolution of 1821 were also the subject of sponsored discussions. by HSoM in the past.

The Company hopes to organize in-person classes on Greek dance, the language and culture of modern Greece as soon as possible. Meanwhile, their well-received annual Greek film series continues. Participants are expected to watch the films on their own, and then they can discuss them together. There are six films per year (in Greek and English) on classical and contemporary subjects of Greek culture, including documentaries, old and recent films by Greek filmmakers, as well as popular American films with Greek themes.

Since Greek is a fairly difficult language for many English speakers, HSoM also hosts the ‘Greek Table’, which consists of three different one-hour sessions (open conversation, grammar class, and advanced speakers) that come together weekly via Zoom to speak and learn modern Greek.

Snell recommends attending the Open Conversation course for those who do not yet have advanced Greek skills.

Another way to spread Hellenism in Maine is Biblia Mazi, a book club for HSoM members. Participants read three books on Greek per year and meet via Zoom to discuss them.

The HSoM also helped create the “Archives of the Greeks of Maine” at the Maine Historical Society; it encourages holders of Greek heritage to donate material to these archives, thereby helping to preserve the history of the Greeks in Maine.

In the future, says Snell, the HSoM will feature other cultural and artistic events, as they have done in the past, including public dances; concerts of Greek music including the Rembetika; Greek wine tastings with silent auctions; USM planetarium shows focused on Greek mythological figures in the constellations; a children’s theater production on Greek myths
and a round table on heritage and cuisine on the Greeks of Maine

All interested persons are encouraged to join the association via its website.

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