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Hundreds gather to toast, roast Giannaris for community support

April 02, 2005|by ANDREW SCHOTZ

andrews@herald-mail.com

HAGERSTOWN - "Ladies and gentlemen of Hagerstown - our St. Nicholas," Joseph C. Tischer said Friday night in coaxing Nicholas A. Giannaris to the podium.

A crowd of close to 550 at Hagerstown Community College's Athletic Recreation and Community Center responded with the first of three standing ovations.

Friday night's event was the sixth annual tribute to a local stalwart.

This was a night to praise and toast Giannaris, 70, for his years of charity and character.

Tischer, the president of Tischer Surety Inc., melded St. Nicholas, Giannaris and the spirit of giving by summarizing the famous "Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus" editorial from the old New York Sun newspaper.

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He rattled off a lengthy list of organizations that benefited from "An Evening With Nick" fund-raising events before they stopped.

The first toaster, Art Crumbacker, said "An Evening With Nick" raised more than $500,000.

A second, parallel fund-raising venture - Dream Come True - "has granted 108 wishes and is still going strong," said Crumbacker, who co-founded the Albright Crumbacker Moul & Itell accounting firm.

The local chapter of Dream Come True, which Tischer and Nick and Tina Giannaris started in 1986, grants wishes to children who are seriously ill or have life-threatening diseases.

Crumbacker amused the crowd by recalling when Giannaris drafted him to help start both nonprofit groups - and gave him a week to work out the details.

Between Crumbacker and Tischer, Charles E. Tiches II briefly chronicled how Giannaris, his father-in-law, came to be where he is.

Growing up with little in Greece, Giannaris and his family left as fascism took root, Tiches said.

At the age of 20, Nicholas Giannaris came to the United States and joined his father in Harrisburg, Pa.

He served in the U.S. Army without being an American citizen and he served in the Korean War, Tiches said.

Eighteen months later, he married his wife, Tina, then bought the Airport Inn restaurant from a relative.

All the while, he has cherished and celebrated his family and his heritage, Tiches said.

Tiches announced that he was about to step outside protocol, then left the dais. He returned with his 8-year-old son, Nicholas.

As Tiches held him aloft by the microphone, Nicholas offered his own tribute.

"Nick is my best, best grandfather," Nicholas Tiches said, as his father occasionally whispered prompts. "Also, he is my papou. That means grandfather in Greek."

Finally, Nicholas put his hand next to his mouth, as if sharing a secret, and told the crowd, "Also, he's a great cook."

Besides "An Evening With Nick" and Dream Come True, Giannaris is well known for holding "Christmas With Nick" meals every Dec. 25 for 17 years.

In 2003, Giannaris, who has Parkinson's disease, announced that his health was forcing him to stop the Christmas meal that reached thousands of people in its lifetime.

Friday's $125-per-person meal - which will benefit the Nick Giannaris Scholarship Fund - was unquestionably Greek, with beef, orzo and baklava.

The mood and decor matched. For the evening, the spartan gymnasium was transformed with Greek columns, travel posters of Greece and traditional Greek music.

"God bless you all," Giannaris said in a short speech after Tischer's "St. Nicholas" introduction. "Thank you very much."

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