The Calliope Papala Politou Student Prize will be awarded annually to a Modern Greek senior concentrator.
Angeliki (Angela) Evangelinos, Professor Emerita of Economics and Business at Monroe Community College, has endowed the Calliope Papala Politou Student Prize in memory of her mother for the benefit of U-M undergraduate concentrators in Modern Greek.
The late Calliope Papala Politou (1912-1980) was never far from Professor Evangelinos’s thoughts when she began auditing Modern Greek language classes at U-M after her retirement. Her mother had taught her to read and write Greek. She set aside her desire to continue that learning during her 40-year academic career. Now in the U-M classroom, Professor Evangelinos observed the efforts of students with little to no background in Greek working to master it as a field of study. She witnessed how the Program, in her words, “brings the Greek language, art, music, history, and culture to life.” She found herself “wishing that my mother could have lived to witness the teaching of Modern Greek studies at this great American university.”
The life of Calliope Politou was full of sharp turns. She was born into a prosperous family in Chios. Her grandfather Captain Miltiades Papalas was a ship owner whose nine vessels ferried goods throughout the Mediterranean. Her father had holdings in Constantinople and Piraeus. She attended a private girls’ school. She visited Paris for exposure to French culture. After the sudden death of her father, however, her mother yielded control of the family’s assets to a male relative. He arranged for Calliope to marry a Greek-American entrepreneur, unaware that the future groom’s boasting of financial success was a well-staged act. In 1929, at the age of 17, Calliope passed through Ellis Island carrying just ten of her favorite books, a gold ring that was her father’s, and an icon of St. Nicholas. When she arrived in Clarksburg, West Virginia, she found not the promised riches but a three-room bungalow in the shadow of the Phillips Sheet and Tin Plate Company.
As if the strain of her suddenly changed circumstances was not enough, six months later her husband died. Her one cousin in the U.S. would not loan her money to return to her mother. So the local Greek Orthodox priest found her a new husband, Mihalis Evangelinos, aged 39, a founder of the local church, whose labor in the steel mills had provided dowries for six sisters. Two months after her first husband’s funeral and nine months after their marriage, Calliope Politou Vanezi, became Calliope Evangelinos.
Mihalis Evangelinos made plans with Calliope to return to Greece to tend a citrus orchard on their native Chios. But several medical emergencies put the couple’s dreams on hold, and soon they found themselves raising a family in America. They traded in their dream of a citrus orchard for a farm near Steubenville, Ohio. Living now in a big old farmhouse with no running water near a wooded lot that needed clearing, they entered the small American farmer’s life of hard work and short-term borrowing. Their six children helped plant, water, hoe and harvest tomatoes, their cash crop.
Greek was the home language, at Calliope’s insistence. She became teacher to her children, as there were no Greek schools in the area. Indeed she was passionate about giving her children every educational opportunity. For Greek she created learning structures from meager resources. A Greek primer with “Taki” and “Eleni” led her immigrant children through the Greek alphabet. Her ten books from Greece held more advanced lessons on patriotic subjects. A fire burning the family home in 1992 destroyed them, but Professor Evangelinos recalls “Το λάβαρο του ́ ’21” (The banner of 1821), a historical novel on the Greek War of Independence and Victor Hugo’s L’enfant, a Phihellenic poem.
Remembering the challenges Calliope faced, recognizing her passion for Greek, and observing how the Modern Greek Program and C. P. Cavafy Professorship contribute to Greek learning, Professor Evangelinos has endowed the Calliope Papala Politou Prize for the best student concentrators in Modern Greek as a living tribute to her mother. Student support is her philanthropic priority, as she received scholarship support as a student.
It is her sincere wish that worthy recipients will actively keep Greek learning alive for generations to come.