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Going Beyond the Horizon with Xenophon Verginis
On Tuesday, June 14, at 7:30pm, NEO magazine co-hosted a special book signing event, an initiative led by Nikos Katopodis, President of North Shore Farms, at Limani Restaurant in Roslyn, NY. The event honored the life and work of Dr. Xenophon Verginis, President and CEO of Eurofood Quality S.A., Former member of Greek Parliament, and former president of the Agricultural Insurance Organization. His biography Pera Ap’ Ton Orizonta (Beyond the Horizon) was written by author and journalist Justine Frangoulis-Argyris, who hails from the Greek island of Lefkada, where Dr. Verginis was also born. She has been living and working in Montreal, Canada since 1989 and has worked as a correspondent for the Athens News Agency, a collaborator for local Greek-Canadian and Greek-American radio stations and publications, as well as a contributor to newspapers, radio and television programs, and Greek magazines.
The Master of Ceremonies, Dr. John Frankis, gave a brief introduction stating that “Dr. Verginis has achieved success on multiple fronts. He’s a professor, politician, and businessman. He has accomplished at the highest levels that we can accomplish.” He then introduced Fr. Gerasimos Ballas of St. Anargyroi Church in Greenport, Fr. John Lourdas of Archangel Michael Church in Port Washington, Fr. Panteleimon Papadopoulos of the Church of the Holy Resurrection in Brookville, and Fr. Nicholas Paros of St. Demetrios Church in Astoria. Together they delivered the opening prayer and invocation.
Then it came time to introduce the evening’s speakers which included Fotini Takvorian, principal of the Greek School at the Church of the Holy Resurrection in Brookville, Justine Frabgoulis-Argyris, author and journalist, Gogo Politi, personal assistant to Dr. Verginis, Nikos Katopodis, President of North Shore Farms and organizes of the event, and finally the man of honor himself Dr. Xenophon Verginis.
The opening speaker, Fotini Takvorian praised the accomplishments of Dr. Verginis, noting that he comes from a small village in Lefkada with not many means and was able to achieve the highest of goals, stayed in his own country, and was able to do remarkable things in academia, politics, and business. Justine Frangoulis-Argyris, the author of the biography, was called up next to speak and elaborated on his life. In her comments, she expressed how far his determination to succeed went, so much so that he became a professor and economist almost in secret: “When I heard that Dr. Verginis would sit under an olive tree and walk six kilometers downhill and uphill to finish high school, I was moved with compassion. He grew up in a poor family of eight children who overcame the difficulties he endured. He would go to the fields and help his parents feed his family so they could survive, and then would sit in the shade in secret to read and study for his exams – exams that he took in secret in high school. He went on to be become a teacher and economist almost secretly.” She also noted that he was bullied and called a “kokkinoplites” (a derogatory term for a man with red soil on his feet). He literally went to school with no shoes, wet from rain, with red soil on his feet, but he didn’t care nor let that stop him. He was determined to win. As an educator at the American College, he taught some of the biggest names in politics and in journalism, notably names like Antonis Samaras, George Papandreou, both former prime ministers, and Alexis Papahellas, director of Kathimerini newspaper. As a politician, he helped a lot of Greeks and fellow Lefkadias who came from poor rural areas retire comfortably. He never forgot where he came from and understood the hardships. He is not just a politician but a man of the people.
Co-host and organizer of the event, Niko Katopodis commented on how his journey is one we can relate to as Greek-Americans and children of immigrants who came here to make a better life for themselves and their families: “As a Greek-American born in Greece and living here, reading his book, we live through him. We live through his experiences, and we apply what we read in the book to our own life growing up and coming to a new country here that made us who we are, and we are proud of who we are. In our quest to do better, we are all seeing Beyond the Horizon, as is the name of the book.” On a humorous note, he admitted that he only set out to read two pages at the time, and instead he found himself glued to the book, reading 200 pages the first time. The story of Xenophon Verginis, he added, is compelling and beautifully written.
Echoing similar thoughts, George Maragos, former Nassau County Comptroller, and the event’s co-sponsor, said that “this is more or less the story of all of us.” Mr. Maragos was also born in Lefkada and went through his own hardships to get educated and move forward.
Dr. Verginis ended the evening’s addresses with heartfelt words of his own: “I am so moved by all of your love here tonight. I stand before you all with respect. In my lone journey, I carried two big blessings in my suitcase – those of my father’s and my mother’s.” He gave profound credit to the author of the book, Justine Frangoulis-Argyris, who found a way to turn what he thought would be a causal chat into a significant unfolding of his life story. Hour upon hour, without him realizing it, she brought out the depths of his thoughts, his dreams, and his efforts – firstly his efforts for his own survival and secondly his dream to help his fellow countrymen in his village. He not only experienced WWII, but the ultimate devastation that came after that with the ensuing Civil War. Overcome with emotion, his voice could not conceal the tears caused by the pain of seeing brother against brother. As he looked beyond the horizon, he knew that he had to overcome the challenges and limitations brought forth by his station in life, even if he had to leave his village to go further in life. He recalled how his own father came to the US to try and achieve the American dream briefly in 1912, but abandoned that dream as a result of an accident, and found himself going back to Greece to fight for his country. Like his father, Dr. Verginis knew he too could never abandon Greece or his people. For Dr. Verginis, the book signing event also represented a special tribute to his father who stepped on the very same soil he stands on now many, many years ago: “This was a night of few in my life that with so much love moved me. It brought to memory my father who came here and went back to fight for Greece. Whatever I wrote down I disregarded and just spoke from the heart. I felt a warmth and kinship here with all these people. I especially want to thank Niko Katopodis and NEO Magazine.” All present were deeply moved by his humbling and inspiring words.
The evening ended with a book signing. Dr. Verginis took the time to personally address each person with a hand-written note in his book. Musical entertainment was provided throughout the evening by acclaimed jazz guitarist and composer Spiros Exaras and singer Yanna Katsageorgi, the late Manos Hadjidakis’ protegee.
NEO Magazine would like to thank all the sponsors who made the event possible. Proceeds from this event will also support NEO Magazine and its mission to educate and inform readers, and to highlight the people and faces of the Greek diaspora who continue to make the journey a newsworthy one.