By Leslie Krowchenko, Special to the Hellenic News of America
What’s in a tagline? For the PanHellenic Scholarship Foundation, “Beyond A Scholarship” says it all.
The organization, dedicated to promoting Greek values, higher education and leadership, has given in excess of $4.6 million to more than 650 college students. The 2023 class will be introduced on June 17 during their Awards Ceremony and Gala at the Hilton Chicago.
“I’m not Greek, yet founder Chris Tomaras selected me to be one of the three original trustees to run the foundation,” said PanHellenic Chairman Robert Buhler. “My involvement has allowed me to see his vision and, I believe, greatly add to it.”
Tomaras embodied the organization’s goals. A native of Piraeus, Greece, he completed his studies at the Athens Graduate School of Economics and Business Sciences before immigrating to America in 1957. He applied his academics to create Kronos Foods, the largest Greek food product manufacturer in the United States, and Tomaras Investments, with holdings in real estate, money markets, and several operating companies here and abroad.
Tomaras’ success in business was surpassed only by his philanthropy, activism for Hellenic causes, and desire to support higher education, and the foundation, created in 1998, was the outgrowth of that commitment. The $250,000 awarded annually recognizes and rewards college students of Hellenic descent who have demonstrated both exceptional academic performance as well as extraordinary Hellenic values and beliefs.
“My daughter received a scholarship in 2007 and I heard Chris speak eloquently at the gala,” said Buhler. “I wrote him a letter about the impression he made on me and he invited me to become a member of the foundation’s advisory board.”
Upon his death in 2015, Tomaras endowed the foundation and structured it with three permanent trustees – Buhler (President & CEO, Open Pantry Food Marts of Wisconsin, Inc.), treasurer John Manos (President, BankFinancial) and secretary Athan Tom Sotos, Esq., (Sotos Law Firm, greater Chicago) – who oversee the management through the Board of Directors.
Tomaras coordinated every aspect of the foundation, from the academic committee to the gala (“It was a Chris Tomaras event,” said Buhler), and the board has incorporated and expanded upon his model. Forty awards are offered each year – 20 awards of $2,500 based on academic achievement and Hellenic values and 20 awards of $10,000 based on academic achievement, Hellenic values, and financial need. To date, recipients represent more than 225 schools and 45 states.
Scholarships are available to full-time undergrads of Hellenic descent with a minimum GPA of 3.5 enrolled in an accredited college/university in the United States. Students submit their transcript, two letters of recommendation from professors or instructors, a personal reference letter, and essays addressing the significance of Hellenic values in their lives. Need-based applicants also provide tax financials.
“These young adults are different from other kids – they were raised in a Hellenic community and have a keen appreciation of their culture,” said Buhler. “In college, they feel the strength of their culture helping them and are proud of being Greek.”
Beginning in 2022, the foundation added a video interview to the rigorous application process.
“People can be different in person than on paper,” he added. “This gives the 13-member academic committee recommendations and an added review process.”
This year’s candidates are indicative of the scholarship’s historic academic and geographic diversity. The 195 completed applications (of 408 opened) included students from the Midwest (90), east (63), south (25), and west coast (17); 47 of those considered were need-based.
The group was outstanding, with five additional $2,500 scholarships awarded to a class of 15 men and 30 women. Their majors (including chemical and molecular engineering, early childhood education, environmental and urban studies, finance, government, landscape architecture, nursing, vocal performance) are as diverse as their schools (Bryn Mawr, Dartmouth, Johns Hopkins, Juilliard, Northwestern, Penn State, Purdue, Stanford, University of Central Florida,).
PanHellenic’s $5.2 million endowment is augmented through its Scholarship Society, which helps provide the additional amount for students with financial needs. The added funding is accomplished through the generous support of many repeat donors, who provide a named $10,000 scholarship. The giving program is comprised of Scholarship 50, Scholarship 100 and Scholarship 200, with commitments for five, 10 or 20 years, respectively. The scholarships provide a life-changing award for the students, as well as a meaningful personal connection for the donors.
Three of the endowed scholarships are indicative of the importance of education in Greek family life. The Paterakis/Mitchell Endowment Fund for Music & Arts Scholarships finances two gifts for students pursuing studies in those fields. The Varlan, Man, and Anderson Family Scholarship is awarded to a student residing or attending college in the southeast who has demonstrated outstanding academic achievement, community service, and involvement in the Greek Orthodox church.
“Greeks have always valued academics, as many of those who came to America were unable to complete higher education and wanted the best for their children and grandchildren,” said Buhler. “Scholarships are often given in memory of one’s Yiayia and Pappou (grandmother and grandfather).”
As each generation tries to improve upon the previous one, Buhler has evolved the dinner into part of a two-day celebratory series of events. Current and past recipients join Friday night for a welcome reception, followed by Saturday’s Mentorship Luncheon, where students and alumni are introduced to leaders in various fields. The occasion culminates that evening with the Awards Ceremony and Gala.
“Chris wanted the scholars to come to an elegant dinner in a sophisticated setting,” said Buhler. “That is still an important part of the weekend, but now it also includes a more informal setting where the kids get to know one another and meet other successful Greek American young professionals. They have a great time.”
The gala also awards the lifelong achievements of a distinguished Hellene whose career and accomplishments exemplify the foundation’s mission and serve as an example for the scholars. This year’s honoree is Stellene Volandes, editor-in-chief of Town and Country magazine, joining a list including Dr. George Yancopoulos (co-founder, President and Chief Scientific Officer, Regeneron), George Pelecanos (award-winning novelist and TV/film writer and producer) and Matina Kolokotronis (COO, Sacramento Kings).
“Stellene will be attending the Friday night reception,” said Buhler. “Our scholars will learn how her Hellenic values, religion, and family helped to drive her in her career.”
Some students will also have the opportunity for additional funding. Those involved in the PanHellenic Leadership Fellows Program, sponsored by The Renaissance Fund, receive a $30,000 renewable scholarship throughout their college careers. The recipients are paired and meet semi-annually with a leader in their field of study, participate in alumni initiatives and report quarterly to the foundation to share their achievements.
The program is part of PanHellenic’s commitment to go “Beyond the Scholarship.” Since 2017, the foundation has teamed with partner organizations and corporate sponsors to provide students with summer internships, pairing scholars with leading companies, universities and foundations, and year-round mentorship. Young Leaders unites Greek American professionals for regional events and the chance to make meaningful connections throughout the community.
“Our scholars and alumni become part of a very special group,” said Buhler. “Being a PanHellenic scholar will always be part of their resume and the networking professional exposure we provide will always also be helpful… ‘Beyond A Scholarship.’”
PanHellenic Scholarship Foundation Awards Ceremony & Gala will be held June 17 at the Hilton Chicago. For information about event sponsorships or tickets, visit https://www.panhellenicsf.org/.