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Rotarians honor Hagerstown restaurateur and philanthropist Nick Giannaris

September 09, 2008|By ANDREW SCHOTZ

WASHINGTON COUNTY -- As they reflected Monday on Nick Giannaris' years of local philanthropy, some Rotarians included the formation of their club among Giannaris' good deeds.

If not for Giannaris and his restaurant, Nick's Airport Inn, the Rotary Club of Long Meadows might not have gotten started 31 years ago, some said.

Giannaris has battled Parkinson's disease in recent years, but attended Monday's tribute at the Airport Inn with his wife of 47 years, Tina, along with their children and grandchildren.

Rotarians and others who know him well recounted the community causes Giannaris has supported and the people he has helped.

One was "Christmas with Nick," a free Christmas meal that fed hundreds of needy people each year. Giannaris' failing health contributed to his decision to end the tradition in 2002 after 17 years.

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A second annual charitable drive, "An Evening with Nick," raised more than $500,000.

Another fundraising venture of which Giannaris was a part, "Dream Come True," grants wishes to children who are seriously ill or have life-threatening diseases.

Dr. Kit Japzon of the Rotary Club said Nick always made sure details were just right.

During the Christmas with Nick feasts, Giannaris would instruct Japzon, a surgeon, on the precise method of carving a turkey, Japzon said.

Rotarian Bob Barnhart joked that it took years of following Giannaris' directions before Japzon's carving passed muster.

Even the foam containers of meals-to-go had to be prepared in Giannaris' meticulous way, Japzon said.

More than three decades ago, Giannaris helped form the Rotary Club of Long Meadows by giving it a home for its weekly meetings, said Roland Funk, a founding member.

The club -- the first one in the county outside Hagerstown -- started with 23 members and has had as many as about 80, Funk said.

Two of Washington County's state representatives, Del. John P. Donoghue and Sen. Donald F. Munson, gave Giannaris proclamations from their respective legislative bodies.

Donoghue, whose large family required a table of 15 when it ate at the Airport Inn, said one of his favorite pictures in his Annapolis office shows Giannaris teaching him how to roll phyllo dough.

Munson added that Giannaris, who also owned the Four Points Sheraton on Dual Highway, boosted the local economy with businesses that gave local residents jobs.

"Nick, the people of Hagerstown are forever in your debt," Rotary Club member Sam Young said.

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