A big, fat, Greek festival

The annual Greek fair celebrates family, food and dancing.
Sunday, February 8, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 10:06 p.m. CDT, Saturday, July 19, 2008

John Pardalos wears blue scrubs — and a huge smile. Always up for a chat, he juggles a busy family life with two children and his job as neonatologist and medical director of Columbia’s Children’s Hospital Transport Service.

But caring for newborns and their mothers hasn’t been the only thing on Pardalos’ agenda lately. Pardalos is highly involved in Columbia’s St. Luke the Evangelist Greek Orthodox Church, and after three months of labor, he will help deliver My Big Fat Greek Dinner & Dance, a fund-raiser for the church where he serves as council president. Pardalos has delegated the community effort that went into organizing, among other things, location, live music and food.

“When I was growing up we didn’t have a church here. We had to go to St. Louis, so I never got to know so much about my religion,” Pardalos said. “It’s important for me and my children to attend church services and Sunday school on a regular basis.”

Today’s dinner and dance, set from 5 to 10 p.m. at Peachtree Catering & Banquet Center, will be another way for Pardalos and others to celebrate Greek traditions. The event features Greek food, wine and dance. Bouzouki Pete’s Orchestra of St. Louis will provide music with mandolin, organ and keyboards. Proceeds from a silent auction will benefit the church’s building fund.

George Kardon, a regular churchgoer, said members of the parish are looking forward to the event — even the younger generation.

“(My generation) came from Greece; we know what our religion is all about. It’s important to pass that on,” he said. “That’s why we worry so much about keeping the young people involved in church activities such as the dinner dance.”

St. Luke’s is raising money to buy land, preferably in south Columbia. The idea is to first build a community center for offices, eight classrooms and a hall to accommodate 250 people. Later, the church council wants an expert to design the church building.

“It’s a very unique style of architecture,” the Rev. Dean Panagos said. “Orthodox churches are usually built in the shape of a cross, with domes, basilicas — very ornate.”

St. Luke, the only Orthodox church in mid-Missouri, rose in membershipfrom 35 to about 75 families since Columbia became an independent parish in 2001. The church owns two adjacent buildings in west Columbia, but the facilities remain insufficient: At last week’s service, all 60 seats in the former day-care center were taken, while late arrivals sipped coffee and listened from a kitchen area. Orthodox Christians of American, Greek and east European descent come from as far as Boonville, Jefferson City and Kirksville to attend services.

St. Luke’s members hope the dinner dance and silent auction will raise enough money to begin the costly endeavor.

“I hope we’ll raise $15,000. We can do it,” Alex Terzopoulos, co-owner of G&D Pizza & Steak, said.

Besides shish kebab, dinner rolls and Greek salad, the buffet will include food you won’t find anywhere else in Columbia, Terzopoulos said. Some women will bring homemade Greek desserts: shortbread cookies called Kourabiedes, Baklava (crushed nuts in a thin pastry topped with syrup), and Ravani, a golden yellow cake made with farina or semolina.

The dinner dance is one of several public events the church organizes. It sponsors a golf tournament each spring, and a food festival in October. Despite bad weather, around 300 people — about half non-Greek — attended last February’s first dinner dance.

Stephanie Panagos, who helped publicize the events, said she expects a fund-raiser that is “nice to be at.” She looks forward to passing Greek traditions such as the dancing along to her two children.

“There’s no opportunity for Greek dancing here in mid-Missouri,” she said. “It’s uplifting music. Everyone can participate, you don’t need a partner.”

Georgia Kaouris, a council member who has attended church services for 25 years, hopes for good weather, many attendees and lots of fun.

“Once you go to the dance floor, you don’t want to stop — even when your feet want to,” she said.

Church activities such as the dinner and dance help foster a sense of community among the many people of Orthodox faiths scattered around mid-Missouri. For Kaouris, the church is like a family.

The few Greek families that lived in mid-Missouri 20 to 30 years ago, Pardalos said, used to get together for Christmas, Thanksgiving and other holidays.

But as families grew, they started spending holidays with their closest relatives only.

“So this event replaces that,” Pardalos said. “There’ll be people at the dance this year that I haven’t seen since last time.”

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