Spending two months in Sparta and Agios Ioannis this summer has turned my heart more deeply to this land. I love the vitality of the city and the peaceful nature of the village. This is where it all began for me, as it is the birthplace of my four grandparents. It continues to be the residence of my cousins, and my “home away from home.”
I enjoyed many happy evenings in Agios Ioannis, visiting with family and absorbing the spirit that permeates the stone homes and verdant orchards. Agios Ioannis is nestled in the plains of Sparta, under the towering Taygetos mountains. What appears to be a ribbon across the mountain is actually the road to the village of Anavryti, situated at the very top on the right.
My Kostakos, Aridas and Papagiannakos grandparents hail from Agios Ioannis. These families have had a profound influenced in the village. Some remained and served; others emigrated yet “gave back,” never forgetting their origins.
The Aridas family owned and operated the regional bus line. My granduncle, Aristedes Georgios Aridas, was the proprietor who provided a vital service for the town’s residents. Aristedes lived in Agios Ioannis his entire life, and his descendants continue to live in the beautiful home which he had built.
My second cousin, Grigorios Georgios Kostakos, also remained in Agios Ioannis and did not emigrate. He was very active in village affairs and held positions on the town council. He constructed the municipal building which now has many uses, including a preschool which his Kostakos cousins attend today.
This is the Agios Ioannis municipal building which Grigorios had constructed, and which has served the community for many years.
This room in the municipal building is now used as a preschool, and where the children of Georgios’ extended family now attend.
Dimitrios Nikolaos Papagiannakos, (known as Jimmy Pappas) emigrated in 1914 at the age of 18 with several men (and relatives) from his village: Georgios Grigorios Kostakos, Constantinos Kolokotas, Christos Papagiannakos and Panagiotis Cavouris. Jimmy became a successful restaurateur in Brooklyn, NY. He returned regularly to Agios Ioannis, and had an earnest desire to provide children with a quality education. In 1957, he constructed the Papagiannakos School which continues to serve the needs of children in Agios Ioannis and neighboring villages.
My cousins–Jimmy’s family–attended here, as now do their children. I think Jimmy would be truly pleased to know that his contribution to the community continues, and that his dream is fulfilled.
Every village has a “war memorial,” inscribed with the names of those who died in battle, or in the Greek Civil War. It is sobering to stand in front of these, but even more so when you see your own family names. My first cousin once removed, Panos Kostakos, was killed execution-style by the Nazis in Mystras.
His is the third name from the top.
So we come “full circle,” from my grandparents to my generation, and to the ones continuing forward. Visiting an ancestral village brings me this perspective of beginnings and continuation. It is a comprehension that cannot be experienced virtually–you must go to understand.
In my last post, “Telos,” I wrote that my work of marriage record preservation in the Sparta Mitropolis this summer was part of my desire to offer service, and to “give back” in gratitude for my heritage and ancestral land. This post recognizes a few members of my family for the services they so willingly gave. They have influenced me profoundly. I recognize and honor their examples, and am proud to follow in their footsteps.