By: Catherine Tsounis, Contributor
“Never Discourage Anyone Who Continually Makes Progress No Matter How Slow”
This is the key of educator Timoleon Kokkinos success as a teacher of generations of Greek American students of Astoria, New York. Mr. Kokkinos is an immigrant from a volcanic island, Nisyros. He grew up under Italian and German occupation. Under the governorship of De Vecchi (1936–40), whose Italianization efforts became brutal. The Italian language became compulsory in education and the public life, with Greek being only an optional subject in schools. The Italian authorities also tried to limit the power of the Greek Orthodox Church without success by trying to set up an autonomous Dodecanesian church. Fascist youth organizations such as Opera Nazionale Balilla were introduced on the islands, and the Italianization of names was encouraged by the Italian authorities.1 This was the background of Timoleon Kokkinos” childhood.
Nisyros islanders began a mass immigration to the United State in the 1960’s, when the quota was eliminated on Eastern Europeans. Astoria began a rebirth. Nisyrians, who suffered to keep their Greek language, culture and Greek Orthodox Church, helped to create a strong education system. Timoleon Kokkinos was an immigrant educator who helped make this happen. “Mr. Timoleon Kokkinos, assisted me in the building of St. Demetrios High School in Astoria, NY.,” said President Demosthenes Triantafillou of the Greek Teachers Association “Prometheus”. Educator Kokkinos was one of several educators with Principal Triantafillou who created a kindergarten book for the Greek program of St. Demetrios in 1979. At the time materials did not exist. The book is entitled “Mathaino Ellinika” (I Learn Greek): First Book for Kindergarten. It was part of a series of three books.
The educator was the fourth of six children of Demetrios and calliope Kokkinos. He was graduated from the elementary school of Nikaion, Nisyros. The family moved to Rhodes. The Kokkinos six brothers attended the Middle School of Venetokleion. He graduated with honors. Competition to enter college is fierce. Mr. Kokkinos was accepted to the Pedagogical Academy of Rhodes. The motivated student graduated with Arista (Top) honors. Military service is mandatory in Greece, where young men receive a marine training. He served as an officer in his birthplace (Nisyros). The young teacher worked as an educator for four years in the elementary schools of Cephalonia, Greece
In 1962, he immigrated to America for post education. He is a graduate of Columbia University with a Bachelor of Science degree in curriculum and teaching. His first school was the Greek-American day and afternoon schools of St. Spyridon of Washington Heights. Afterwards he instructed students at the Cathedral School of Manhattan, New York. The educator began his service at St. Demetrios Day Afternoon Schools of Astoria in 1974. Mr. Kokkinos served as Principal of the Greek Afternoon School of St. Demetrios of Astoria from 1996 till 2017. He worked as Principal of the Nisyrian Greek School for over 25 years.
“I continue working for the advancement of the cultural and educational life of the Greek-American community,” he said in a recent interview. “Laboring in the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese is a rewarding and enriching experience. The faith of the parents in my work is gratifying. I will continue to do everything in my power to be of service. I will use my wisdom and skills to carry out my responsibilities in the largest Greek American community of New York outside of Greece.”
Mr. Kokkinos is a founding member of the Greek Teachers Association “Prometheus”. He served as President of “Prometheus” in 1985-86. The organizations he is an active member included: founding member, secretary for 8 + years of the Federation of Greek American Educators; two terms as secretary of the Nisyrian Society “St. John the Theologian”; secretary of the Federation of Dodecanese Islands; member of the committee for Curriculum writing of the University of Crete.
“Our children are our most cherished possession,” he explained. “They are our joy and hope for the future.” His awards are the following: January 1985 Greek Orthodox Archdiocese award for service to the Schools of New York; June 2008 Federation of Greek American Educators; 2008 Greek Teachers Association “Prometheus; February 1991, March 1997 and May 1991 St. Demetrios and Day and Afternoon Schools Parents Association; 1975 St. Spyridon Afternoon School Parents Association; October 2010 the Council of the Overseas Greeks SAE Association: February 1994, January 1998, February 2004 The Federation of Hellenic Societies of Greater New York, Astoria; June 2007 The Greek American Homeowners Association of New York; March 2003 Ionian Cultural Association of America; 2008 Nisyrian Society of New York and “Father of the Year” June 2004 by the St. John the Theologos Nisyrian Society.
“Hellenic culture has stressed paideia from time immemorial,” he believes. “This ancient paideia (education) was the foundation of the greatest civilization the world has ever known.” New York politicians have honored Educator Kokkinos. They are the following persons: March 2006, Mrs. Helen Marshall, Borough President of Queens; May 2005 and March 2006 Office of former Assemblyman and current Senator Michael Giannaris; 2005 Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney; March 2009 Comptroller William Thompson Jr. for his contribution to the education of New York City students; 2007 Teacher of the Year by the Ethniko Kirika newspaper and June 2011 newspaper magazine dedicated to his education career by the Ethniko Kirika as “Teacher of the Community”.
“My late wife Anastasia inspired my work,” he said. “She was a very good woman who stood by my side. We have two daughters, Eleni and Calliope. We were blessed with four grandchildren, Theologos and Timoleon Tiliakos and Anastasia and George Tsopelas.
Timoleon Kokkinos has an exceptional gift. He inspires persons of all ages to attend Greek-American socials and education events. I have seen several hundred persons attend Astoria events that Timoleon Kokkinos organized. He is an outstanding fundraiser of journal books and Hellenic causes. His support comes from the strong Dodecanesian organization of New York and New Jersey and generations of students who were honored to pass through his hands. He appeals to middle Americans of Greek descent who are attracted to his Aegean island approach to education and Greek hospitality. “Learn the meaning of Greek,” he says. “Greek language is for everyone.” I did not realize the Nisyrian islanders suffered persecution from a Western, not Middle Eastern power to hold on to their heritage. Loyalty, commitment to the Greek language, culture, Greek Orthodox church and island of Nisyros describes Timoleon Kokkinos life work in Astoria, New York.