By Elena Saviolakis, DOP
WASHINGTON, DC – The Daughters of Penelope (DOP), a leading international service organization comprised of women of Hellenic heritage and Philhellenes, celebrated International Women’s Day via a zoom webinar which also live streamed on Facebook on March 8th. Women from around the globe attended the webinar to hear the journey, inspiration, and legacy of empowering Greek Women – Cookbook Author & Celebrity Chef Diane Kochilas, Soprano Eleni Calenos, Author, Painter, Politician & Sculptor Marina Vamvakas, and Professional Artist Katerina Mertikas. Moderators of the panel included Daughters of Penelope Grand President Celia Kachmarski, Daughters of Penelope Grand Vice President Kathy Bizoukas, Daughters of Penelope Grand Secretary Georgette Boulegeris, Grand Treasurer Marianthi Treppiedi, and Daughters of Penelope Executive Director Elena Saviolakis.
Diane Kochilas is one of the world’s foremost experts on Greek and Mediterranean cuisine. She is the host, creator and co-producer of My Greek Table, the award-winning 13-episode per season cooking-travel show about Greece that airs nationally on Public Television. Kochilas hails from the Blue Zone Greek island of Ikaria and New York City and brings a combination of innate Blue-Zone wellness and result-oriented NYC spirit to everything she does. She is an award-winning author of more than 18 books on Greek-Mediterranean Cuisine and runs the Glorious Greek Kitchen on Ikaria Cooking School every spring and fall on the island. Kochilas also organizes culinary excursions and walking tours in Greece and cooking classes throughout the United States. She has been on the forefront of bringing healthy Greek and Mediterranean cuisine to an American audience for more than 25 years. When asked what advice can you offer to those looking to follow in your footsteps she stated, “stay steadfast and plow ahead. Don’t give up. Take no prisoners, and don’t be afraid. Stay true to yourself. If you believe in what you’re doing, the universe will help you. But you have to work!”
Katerina Mertikas is a self-taught artist who was born in Tripoli, Greece. She and her family (Patrinos) immigrated to Canada in 1960; first to Montreal and then to Ottawa. For the last 23 years, painting impressionist and naive art has been the real joy in her life after her family. “When I wake up each morning I can’t wait to start on a new painting or finish one on the go. Painting brings me joy not only because I truly love to paint, but also because owners of my artwork all seem to love the blend of colors and the feeling of youthful freedom they get from my style of art. To excel in the arts you must be prepared, be disciplined, take constructive criticism, and work hard.” Mertikas added, “being part of the Daughters of Penelope International Women’s Day panel was very rewarding and an honor for me not only because we are women, but also women trying to make a difference in the paths we cross, and to pave the way for younger generations. We are united in a sisterhood and share our Greek roots.”
Greek soprano Eleni Calenos is capturing admiration from critics and audiences for the clarity, warmth and beauty of her voice, and for her dignified characterizations. Of her performance as Tosca, Opera News said: “Eleni Calenos gave a performance for the ages, both vocally and dramatically”, and The Wall Street Journal: “The real standout, however, was soprano Eleni Calenos’ searing performance as Tosca–passionate, mercurial, heart-on-the-sleeve, with all the necessary vocal range, stamina and fire.” In Madama Butterfly, the Houston Press said: “The phenomenon was the Cio-Cio San of Greek soprano Eleni Calenos, whose nuanced characterization was a true wonder to hear. She sailed through
her dramatic arias as if buoyed by the stirring music.” Calenos shared her journey and inspiration to becoming an opera singer and stated one must, “discover, understand, accept, embrace and love your own nature. Only then you can do the same for others. Only then you can truly listen. Only then change can come.”
Marina Vamvakas has written a best-selling historical novel and is also an artist, sculptor, and politician. When asked what inspired her to excel in numerous fields, she stated, “my husband believes in my talents and has supported me every step of the way. He inspires me every day. However when I paint or write, I do it for me, for the joy I get out of making something new.” Vamvakas added that young women everywhere should be encouraged, “to discover your talents and abilities, to incorporate them in your life and take advantage of them, to choose and set priorities between them, to focus your studies around those talents and support them with science and many diplomas and of course, to not forget or neglect people in need, because charity nourishes the soul and satisfies human conscious.”
“The first International Women’s Day more than a century ago celebrated the achievements of women. It was also a call to action for women’s equality. As Grand President of the Daughters of Penelope these past two years I have been privileged to host many firsts in our history. This is one such occasion. This International Women’s Day webinar is a special celebration of the accomplishments, the resilience, the passion and the beauty of women. All the women in my life have been and continue to be strong, determined and dedicated to family, community, church and building a good foundation for those who follow them. One definition of happiness is to love what you do and do what you love. We certainly discovered that about our empowering panelists on this International Women’s Day,” said Daughters of Penelope Grand President Kachmarski.
Daughters of Penelope Grand Vice President Bizoukas offered closing remarks and thanked, “Diane Kochilas, for sharing her stories of greek cuisine, Eleni Calenos, for the beauty of her voice that melts the hearts of everyone who listens, Marina Vamvakas, for her imagination and creativity of books and sculpting, and Katerina Mertikas, for bringing joy to all who see her paintings. Here’s to strong women – May we know them. May we be them. May we raise them!”