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Move Over Rockefeller, Astoria Gets Its Star!
We aren’t comparing Rockefellers to Astors here, but if the spirit of John Jacob Astor were floating through Athens Square Park, we could say that Astoria, the Queens community named after the famed wealthy businessman, has gained a very big star. It takes a village. In this case, it took a lot of love for community and a very big tree to put this historical tree lighting ceremony together on Tuesday, December 2 at 6:00pm at Athens Square Park. The Norway Spruce, born and bred in Pennsylvania, is the same breed as the Rockefeller Center tree, but about half the size. It stands at 30 feet tall and 16 inches wide. It is still a very big tree which became the king of queens that night.
This project was the brainchild of Elias Fillas of Sacco Fillas LP and Gus Lambropoulos of Agora Asset Management, both with roots in Astoria. Together they formed the Athens Square Tree Committee as Co-Chairs in an effort to bring hope and unity to our community. Elias Fillas noted that this tree is especially significant now with the Covid pandemic: “The importance of this tree is a symbol of community and more importantly the unity of all the various diverse and ethnic backgrounds that exist here in Astoria. Our goal is to bring joy and hope to this community, which, like most of the rest of the world has experienced a year filled with sadness, fear and loss. It is very gratifying to see all the faces here, and it gives us hope that there are better days to come.”
With the support of George Delis, President of Athens Square Inc., they approached Kirk Karabelas, Chairman of Alma Bank, and other members of the community including Costas (Gus Antonopoulos) of Farenga Funeral Home, Luca Di Ciero of NY Space Finders, Maria Markou, President of Markou Global Legal Group LLC, Ari Tsatsaronis and Andrew Latos of Rock Health and Fitness, and Tonino Sacco, Managing Partner of Sacco + Fillas LP to make this first event happen, and give us a little taste of “Christmas Spectacular” with fewer crowds and more community spirit.
Kirk Karabelas, Master of Ceremony, offered a few words of hope: “I hope that the mission is accomplished that this tree spreads happiness and hope and it allows people to feel a sense of normalcy in their lives until we can get back to normal again.” He gave a special shout out and welcome to St. Basil’s Academy and St. Michael’s Home who were watching the event virtually.
Maria Markou led a moment of silence for all the people that were lost during Covid, and for those lives and businesses that continue to suffer during the pandemic.
The tree lighting ceremony was preceded by a countdown to the lighting and closing thoughts by Jospeh Di Pietro, President of the Italian American Federation, on what the tree symbolizes: “In the spirit of the holidays, to promote peace and love throughout the community, to honor the healthcare and frontline workers in their fight against Covid, in memory of those who we have lost, and to inspire hope. We thank you all for coming to express your support.”
Also present were the 30th Ave Business Association, the NYC Department of Parks and Recreation, Community Board 1, AHEPA District 6 Governor Lou Katsos, City Artists, George Alexiou, VP of Athens Square Inc., Bishop Apostolos who lead a prayer service, and Rita Syntilas, the wife of the late Stamatios Lykos who designed the park.
The ceremony was followed by music, singing, and dance performance of holiday classics by the artistic team of Cyprus New York Productions, led by Phyto Stratis, who is also the Artistic and Music Director of the Pancyprian Choir. Performances were given by Louis Panayiotou, Ariadne Panagopoulou, Aggeliki Psoni, Demetris Michael, and Phyto Stratis.
Co-Chair Gus Lambropoulos summed it up best: “It’s the tree of Hope. Astoria finally got its star.” He credits his wife Maria Markou for the inspiration to move forward with this beautiful event that brought much needed hope to a community that has been hearing the sirens of despair, with a spike in Covid, a lot more often. Athens Square Park and the tree are located a block away from Mt. Sinai Hospital.
Gus and Elias look forward to bigger and greater things to come in the future, born out of this newly established tradition in Astoria. We are looking forward to next year’s festivities.
Uptick Multimedia videotaped the project and tree lighting ceremony, from inception to completion, and George Malonoukos oversaw security.