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Nick Giannaris: A legacy of giving

September 30, 2010

In Washington County, Christmas and Nick Giannaris were all but synonymous. Needless to say, there are few better ways to be remembered.

Giannaris died this week at the age of 76 after a five-year battle with Parkinson's disease.

He owned two popular, upscale establishments - Nick's Airport Inn and the (former) Four Points Sheraton - but he might be best known for winning the hearts of those whose budgets did not include money for dining out.

For 17 years, Christmas with Nick was a Hagerstown institution, providing a beautiful, bountiful celebration for those whose holiday might have otherwise been dim.

Giannaris cut a deal with Hagerstown taxi-service owner George Turner - you get disadvantaged people here and I'll feed them, he said.

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"I do not know of any other person in this community that has touched as many people as Nick Giannaris," Turner said this week.

Just as important, Giannaris' generosity was infectious. The more people who came to eat with Nick, the more people came to volunteer to serve the meal.

Perhaps because of his own upbringing, Giannaris was always keenly aware of those in need, so he wanted to help and teach others to help.

In Greece, his family struggled through the Second World War to make ends meet, and he jumped at the chance to come to America, on the recommendation of an uncle.

The uncle was correct; this was indeed a land of opportunity and by 1980, Giannaris had purchased the Sheraton.

Too many people who have found success in life will turn their backs on the poor, or avert their eyes from those in need. Giannaris was the opposite. He would go out of his way to find, and assist, those who were less fortunate.

He became known for "An Evening with Nick," which over the years raised $500,000 for local charities and Dream Come True, an organization that helps to fulfill the wishes of gravely ill children.

What he was not known for was just as important: He quietly and frequently gave to those in need - gifts that would make a difference, not headlines.

As is the case with many philanthropists, the gifts that we hear about are just the tip of the iceberg.

The warmth of his personality would shine through each Christmas. "The dinner is for anybody who is lonely or would like to share Christmas Day with someone else," he said in 1989.

An empty wallet is not the only sign of poverty; an empty heart can be just as painful, and Giannaris wanted to brighten the days of everyone who was wanting, for whatever reason.

Indeed, those who felt the best about Nick's Christmases might have been the volunteers, who all but outnumbered the guests. It's admirable enough to give, but how much better is it to make hundreds of other people want to give as well?

Giannaris planted these seeds of generosity among many people, and perhaps the best tribute we can give him is to perpetuate his good work.

Giving feels good. Giannaris knew that and so do all those who have helped spread good cheer in the community through the years.

The spirit of Christmas will never end. We must resolve not to allow the spirit of Nick Giannaris to end, as well.

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