Title: Leonidas Polopolus
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Interviewee Dr Leonidas Polopolus
Interviewer Larry Odzak
January 30, 1991

Dr Polopolus is a professor of food resource economics at the University of Florida and is codirector for
public relations and fund raising of the UF Greek Studies Center In the interview, Dr Polopolus discusses the

In 1978 Dr Karelisa Hartigan, nowthe center's codirector for academic programs, wanted to bring the Greek
culture to the UF campus At her urging, Professor Pangratios, a postdoctoral fellow in physics, taught a course in
modern Greek Polopolus and several others met with Vice-President for Academic Affairs Robert Bryan to secure
funding for the center He agreed to provide half of the funding necessary to open the center Polopolus then went to
Jack Pappas, owner of a Greek restaurant in Tarpon Springs, and other area businessmen and secured the
additional funding Paperwork was filed with the University and the Board of Regents, and the Greek Studies Center
was officially dedicated in March 1981 Polopolus describes the event The center is located in Manning Dauer Hall

There are presently thirty-nine courses offered through the center, including language, literature, art, ancient
religion, philosophy, mythology, and a multidisciplinary course called Greek Yesterday and Today Students that
complete the required course of study receive a certificate Enrollment is from 1,000 to 1,500, which is very good
considering the number of Greek students on campus There is an exchange program with the University of
Thessaloniki and a summer program at the Aegean Institute on the island of Poros, as well as a lecture series
Polopolus is presently working on securing funds to endow a chair

O This is an interview with Dr Leonidas Polopolus, a professor at the University of Florida and
codirector of the Center for Greek Studies The interview is being conducted at the University of
Florida campus in his office, room 1130 of the McCarty Building, at 9 00 a m on January 30,

Good morning, Dr Polopolus I understand that you are one of the prime movers behind the
University of Florida's Greek studies center and that you are its present codirector I wonder if you
would be kind enough to tell me a bit about how the center started

P Yes, I would be happy to, Larry The center started in approximately 1978, when Professor
Pangratios Papacosta, a Cypriot who had his Ph D from the University of London in physics,
came to the University of Florida as a postdoctoral fellow in physics [He] came to the classics
department, and Dr [Karelisa] Hartigan asked him to teach modern Greek She had had a dream
that we needed to bring modern Greek to the campus on a regular basis So Dr Papacosta did
teach, I believe in 1978 or 1979, a course in modern Greek

In the course of that, Dr Hartigan and I decided that we would go ahead and try to make a center
out of this We knew we needed funds Dr Papacosta, Dr Louis Galtanls, who is a professor of
business administration and real estate, and myself, Leo Polopolus, had a meeting with Vice-
President for Academic Affairs Robert Bryan to see whether or not the University would help fund
a Center for Greek Studies The upshot of that was that Dr Bryan said he would be happy to help
us, but we would have to get private funds He would go in on a joint venture, and he would
match our private dollars with public dollars If we could attract interest in the community at large
in Florida for this program, then we would have a center funded

O You would start, I guess, with the Americans of Greek descent in the community, because those
would be the ones most interested in the promotion

P Well, yes It was a real problem for us because the community of Gainesville had only
[something] like twenty Greek families--and no millionaires in the group--so it was not likely that
we would get a funding base from Gainesville We knew we had to go elsewhere Actually, Loule
Blizlotes helped us here

We had a former student who had been on the Gator football team and had been very successful
in business, Jack Pappas, one of the co-owners of the Pappas Restaurant in Tarpon Springs, a
very famous restaurant In any event, I had known Jack, too, a little bit, so I made contact with
Jack Pappas [and asked him] if we could have a meeting of some Greek leaders and
businessmen in the Tarpon Springs area to discuss this dream of ours, or plan, to create a Center
for Greek Studies funded in part from funds from the Greek-American community in Florida He
was gracious enough to invite us to his home, and he had five or six Greek men there Dr
Papacosta, Dr Galtanls, and I went to that meeting This was somewhere in 1978 or 1979

O So that is the beginning

P That was the very beginning of the funding I explained, I think, the last time we met about this
film that we made We took a 16mm projector, and a 16mm film that was made by a professor
and chairman of anthropology here [at the University] His name is Dr Russ [Russell] Bernard,
now a famous anthropologist That film was on the sponge diving [industry] off the island of
Kallmnos and what happens to the families that are left behind and the men who actually do the
diving It was a great piece of work He had Swiss camera men who had equipment to go
underwater and film the sponge diving under the ocean, on the floor of the Mediterranean It was
a very exciting film

We went and we made our presentations and told them about our plan and showed the film In
the process of that film there was one gentleman there who started crying [He had] tears coming
to his eyes because he recognized some of the people He was from the island of Siml It is in
the Dodecanese group and is very close to the island of Kallmnos, and he recognized some of the
sponge divers and some of the merchants on the island as relatives

When the whole program was over, we did not even ask if there was anyone who would like to
contribute to the program A Mr Michael Cantonis stood up and said, "I pledge $15,000 to this
program" Mr Pappas, embarrassed, matched the pledge with $15,000 There was a Mike
[Michael] Bilirakls there who had graduated from our law school and was a businessman-attorney
in Tarpon [Springs] and now is a U S Congressman in the Ninth District of Florida We are very
proud of Mike The group that was there was high quality, and we came out of that meeting with
pledges totaling, I think, $46,000 That was the start So we knew we had a base for fund raising

Dr Hartigan, then, did all of the paperwork through the University of Florida and to the Board of
Regents so that we would be an official center approved by the Board of Regents

O The approval took place in 1979 according to the papers that I have

P [In] 1979 Then we laid the plans We did some fund raising in 1980, and in 1981 we launched
the [center with a] dedication [ceremony] The official dedication of the center took place in March
of 1981 For that we had a gala celebration We had the Greek ambassador to the United States,
Mr John Tzounis We had the then-governor of Florida, Robert "Bob" Graham [1979-1987, U S
Senator from Florida, 1987-present] We had a professor from Princeton in Greek studies,
Edmund Keeley, a famous professor whose brother was U S ambassador to Greece under
President Reagan [It was] a very distinguished group of people We had dancers from Tarpon
Springs We had bands It was a huge celebration Anyway, the official dedication occurred in
1981, so we have been in operation now approximately ten years

O Were the Levendla [Dancers] operating at that time?

P Yes, John Lulias, the choreographer for Levendla, graduated from the University of Florida So
we have always had a close tie to Levendla, and, yes, they brought their dancers and performed

O I understand that Dr Marston was also officiating at the opening

P Yes, Dr Robert Q Marston, the president of the University of Florida [1974-1984], was one of the
dignitaries and officials at our dedication We also had Bishop John [of the Diocese of Atlanta]
representing the archbishop of the Greek Orthodox Church in North and South America So it
was quite an occasion

O And then the classes started, I think

P Yes, then the classes started Basically, what the center did was bring together a coalition of
faculty on campus with expertise in Greek studies, both classical and modern The primary new
things that came as a result of the center were the courses in modern Greek, which we did not
have--a sequence of beginning modern Greek, intermediate modern Greek, and advanced
modern Greek, [and] courses like [modern] Greek literature Then we added a multidisciplinary
course called Greece Yesterday and Today That is a seminar course that is very popular on the
campus Half of the course is Greece Yesterday, which is the classical period, and it is taught by
different scholars from different fields Greece Today is the modern period, where we have
people like myself that provide lectures on the economy of modern Greece We have others that
do the politics of Greece [and] the sociology and anthropology, like Russ Bernard's village life and
so on and so forth, of Greece We add modern Greek literature to that component So Greece
Yesterday and Today is a new course We brought together the faculty on campus Much to our
surprise we have approximately thirteen faculty with expertise, and they participate in various
[aspects] The mother or the home of the courses is, of course, classics, and [the] classics
department does teach both modern and classical Greek

O The center is located at [Manning] Dauer Hall, I understand Has that always been its home?

P Yes, that has always been the home We have an official office for the center, [and] we have a
part-time secretary If we had better funding, we probably would have a full-time secretarial
situation All our communications go through Dauer Hall Dr Hartigan is the codirector in charge
of the academic program, and I am the codirector with responsibilities for the public relations and
fund raising

O I understand that you have also been able to arrange a situation whereby students from here can
go to Greece--in fact, to the University of Thessalonlkl--and study there and actually get the
credits for a summer's work

P Yes We have two exchange programs One is in the formal universities of Greece Our official
ties are with the University of Thessalonlki We selected that university because that is the only
major university in Greece that has modern Greek studies They have a vast library collection It
is a major center for research for people who want to carry out research in modern Greece They
also provide language training for non-Greeks from all over the world that want to learn Greek So
they are well equipped, and we have sent a delegation Dean [Charles H ] Sidman [dean, College
of Liberal Arts and Sciences] and members of our faculty went to the University of Thessalonlki in
1982, and we developed official relationships

In addition to that program there, we also have a summer program at the Aegean Institute on the
island of P6ros, Greece That is a very popular program

O I betl

P The difference between the program at Thessalonlki and the one at P6ros is [at] the one in
Thessalonlkl, one has to be completely fluent in reading, writing, and speaking modern Greek in
order to compete and participate in the university, whereas at the Aegean Institute the courses are
taught in English We do have modern Greek language and classical Greek and Greek civilization
courses there, but one does not have to be examined in the Greek language in order to be
successful So Greek-Americans or non-Greeks can go to the Aegean Institute and take courses
in modern Greek or Greek history or various other courses related to Hellenic culture and transfer
those credits back to the University of Florida They meet our humanities requirements or
language requirements, so it is a very popular thing

Also, a number of our faculty rotate Professor [Lewis] Sussman [associate professor of classics]
has taught there Professor Hartigan was one of the originators of that program We have had
other faculty members I think Dr [Barbara] Barletta [associate professor of art history] has taught
there in Greek art So we have faculty that rotate at teaching at P6ros, and then we have many
students--as many as maybe ten students--[that] might attend in the summer

O How many students would partake in the programs and courses offered by the Greek studies
program? In fact, how many courses would the center offer?

P Some of the courses are offered by the respective departments In [the case of] Greek art, that
would be offered by the art department [and taught by] Dr Barletta In [Greek] philosophy, a
course in Plato, Aristotle, or something like that would be offered by a professor in the philosophy
department When you sum up all the courses that have Hellenic content and could be a part of
our Greek studies certificate program, there are thirty-nine courses representing a large number
[of subjects]

O Yes, I counted quite a number of them

P That is a very spectacular list The number of students in any given year [in] the number of areas
[is] dependent on when mythology is taught I have to tell you that of all those thirty-nine courses,
the most popular is Greek mythology

O Everyone wants to know about Juno [laughter]

P Right And Dr Hartigan teaches that, she is our distinguished alumni professor The reason, I
think in part, why she obtained that honor is because 700 students take that course each time she
offers it So if she offers it, then the center's numbers are large, if she does not offer it, the
numbers drop But even if she does not offer it, a course like the Glory that was Greece, taught
by Professor Sussman, attracts 300 students every time it is offered

Our language courses do not have large enrollments, but relative to universities like Harvard,
where we have compared numbers, [they are similar] They have a program at Harvard, [and]
Harvard University's [courses] in modern Greek might attract eight students to Beginning Modern
Greek and maybe five students to Intermediate Modern Greek [At] the University of Florida last
semester, where Dr [Robert] Wagman is our new professor of modern Greek, we had something
like thirty students that took beginning modern Greek And this semester, the second semester,
even though they changed the course hours and the time of day and the days of week in which it
is offered--there was a big rescheduling between semesters--I think we have twenty-three
students taking the second semester of beginning modern Greek So in the modern Greek
sequence, in a given year--[that] would be intermediate, advanced, and beginning [modern
Greek]--we may have fifty students take it

In classical Greek we now have added a new section for honor students Our best merit scholars
are now given the opportunity to be challenged by the most difficult course at any university,
[which] is classical Greek, believe it or not [It is] more complicated than calculus or chemistry or
physics or something like that And it turned out, in talking to our professor who taught that

[course], Dr David Young, that those honor students have really had difficult times with classical
Greek language and that the students who are language majors or interested in classics in the
other sections have turned out to be better students in classical Greek than the merit scholars

O Is there a predisposition to language?

P Well, there may be a predisposition to language, but a tremendous effort is required It is not all
brain power There is effort in addition to this

But when we sum it all up, we say--in some of our written materials--that at least 1,000 University
of Florida students per year are taking courses in Greek studies, and sometimes that goes as high
as 1,500 in a given year

Let me compare that to Jewish studies We have only about 150 Greek-Americans at the
University of Florida out of 35,000 students, and we know that there are between 3,000 and 5,000
Jewish-American students on the campus There is a Center for Jewish Studies, a well-
developed center [at that] According to the numbers that we have, we believe there are more
students that take courses of Hellenic content at the University of Florida than [there] are students
who take courses of Hebrew or Jewish content

O That is interesting

P I do not know what that means except that our courses are popular, [and] we have excellent
professors that teach them We offer a new class now in ancient religions, the Religions of the
Greek and Roman Period, taught by Dr [Robert] Wagman The first time it has ever been taught
is this spring semester The class has seating capacity of sixty, [but] there was a demand for
maybe one hundred students We just simply had to cut the enrollment to sixty That is what is
happening to our classes They are filling, and there is competition to get in That is in contrast to
the general notion that "classics/humanities courses are to be avoided" and "they are dying" and
"stay away from them" and all of that We are very pleased

O Do have any specific future plans for the center?

P Yes Our plans are to elevate our program from a certificate stage that we now offer to the
student who has a "B" average and takes a prescribed sequence of courses--at least a language
sequence plus several other courses We hope very soon to be able to offer a minor in Greek
studies If we can add one more position in modern Greek, then we believe that we will be in a
position where we can offer a major in Greek studies If we do that, then we will be one of the
very few universities that can do that

O Of course, it will take some more money to be able to hire another professor

P Yes We have been working at fund raising Of course, one way to assure that is to have a
sufficient endowment that could employ a full-time faculty member In these days that takes an
endowment of at least $600,000 in order to do that What we are hoping to do is to raise the
endowment but for other purposes We would like the endowment, which is now $200,000, to be
increased to $350,000 over the next five years We hope that we can do that The interest from
that would be used for bringing in visiting professors and distinguished lecturers and would permit
our faculty to carry on research in Greece

O You have already had some quite significant [accomplishments]

P Yes The center fully sponsored the services of Visiting Professor Lars Baerentzen [professor of
history] from the University of Copenhagen in Denmark Professor Baerentzen is an expert on
modern Greek history He taught courses in the history department [and] in the classics
department [He is a] fantastic professor, and we thought he was a tremendous addition We

hope to bring people of that world-class calibre in [to the center] from time to time as well as [to]
our lecture series We have a lecture series that is sponsored in large part by the center, and we
have had some very eminent scholars from Cyprus, from Greece, from various places in Europe,
and [from] all over the United States and Canada [that] have come to lecture in our program

0 Well, I really thank you for your time, and I wish you a good morning

P Thank you

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