Supreme, Grand, (and Sometimes Bland)
Reflections on the 84th Annual AHEPA Supreme Convention
August 4, 2006
The largest gathering of the largest Greek-American organization in the country sounds like it would necessarily produce the biggest and best stretch of parties for Greek-American young adults over the course of almost a week. With an organization (AHEPA) that throws the words “Supreme” and “Grand” (the latter when referring to its women or girls in the Daughters of Penelope and the Maids of Athena and to the best events of its convention), one would walk into its annual Supreme Convention week thinking that they were in store for something spectacular, yet would leave slightly disappointed.
For those who have never been to an AHEPA Supreme Convention, we’ll begin with a brief primer. AHEPA, or the American Hellenic Educational Progressive Association, is the oldest, largest, grassroots Greek-American organization in the country. While membership has been declining (or sadly dying off) over the last few years, it still boasts a constituency of over 15,000 Greek-Americans and Philhellenes across the county. And for the past 84 years it has hosted its annual Supreme Convention in locales from Florida to Phoenix, Boston to Puerto Rico and everywhere in between. These conventions are a place for middle-aged men to lead the organization in its philanthropic and civic mission, older men to engage in back-room politics at midnight to ensure that their guys come into these leadership positions, and for the remainder of the men who aren’t engaged in either of these activities, along with the families of everyone previously mentioned, to otherwise have a good time. (We’re not sure what happens on the Daughters of Penelope side of the aisle. We do understand however that the junior orders of these organizations, the Sons of Pericles and Maids of Athena, still manage to engage in the philanthropy with less party politics and more partying.)
This mix of young and old, singles and families, makes this the most socially complex Greek multi-day event of the year. For many, the AHEPA Convention is an honest attempt at a family vacation, with three generations making it to the formal organized events and even the beach with the young adults continuing the festivities into the after-hours long after yiayia and pappou have gone to bed. (Assuming pappou isn’t in the lobby at 2:30 trying to wrangle five more votes for the candidate of his choice.) For others, the AHEPA Convention is no different than a YAL Convention like Clearwater, lounging by the pool or laying out at the beach during the evening and obliterating themselves during the night (or a little bit of both at the same time). Still there are others who are dedicated or foolish enough to try to thoughtfully participate in convention business while still trying to be social in the evenings and after-hours. And leading the charge of all these groups are the junior orders of AHEPA and Daughters of Penelope, the Sons of Pericles and Maids of Athena, the twenty-something hosts of all the official after-hours events. Sadly it was rare when all these different groups of young adults actually got together.
Young Adults rarely attended many of the AHEPA family events, which dominated the early part of the convention. A picturesque first evening featuring a barbecue in a palm-filled courtyard overlooking the Atlantic with a live Greek band (The Levendes from Detroit) fizzled as the few young adults who were there bailed early. While the Sons and Maids’ boycott of the official AHEPA Young Adult Party later that evening for a low-key pool party was a perfect way to end Tuesday night, the other unaffiliated young adults who were at the earlier barbecue disappeared. Wednesday evening’s Casino Night to benefit the Sons and Maids Foundation was perhaps the best event of the week that most everyone at the Convention had no clue was happening. It was followed later that night by what was the first of severely under-attended hotel ballroom dances that spanned four straight nights. We felt bad for The Levendes who despite the fact that they were under contract for five straight nights and were getting paid anyway must have been bored out of their minds playing to dance floors with as little as ten people.
As we alluded to earlier, there were two events special enough to be designated “Grand” by the organizers – the Grand Ball on Thursday Night, which featured famed Greek-American comedian Basile, and the Grand Banquet on Friday Night with his Eminence Archbishop Demetrios. No matter how many times you’ve seen Basile, his act manages to stay entertaining even when he does repeat the same material. It was certainly not his R-rated show but he surprisingly pushed the envelope given the mixed multigenerational crowd that included at least one member of the clergy that Basile engaged in some good-hearted back-and-forth. Basile stuck around to emcee the following evening’s Grand Banquet and was on the receiving end of some unexpected jokes from the Archbishop himself.
The Sons and Maids were charged with hosting the After-Hours events on the last three nights of the convention. The first two After-Hours Greek Night events were held off-site at Thira, a local Greek restaurant and club, a short cab ride from the hotel. There were about 200 young adults there the first night with seemingly less the second. Those who went had a great time until the early hours of the morning. The Presidents’ Party was on the last night of the convention at the hotel. After a week of cash bars and overpriced drinking in the hotel, a large drum of free punch was a nice surprise and certainly helped loosen the contestants who participated in the Maids’ annual Mr. AHEPA competition. Members of the Maids Grand Lodge served as judges as certain Sons competed in a dating show, dance contest and talent competition. The competition ended around 2:00 AM with the crowd scattering to the local Greek clubs or to one last night at the pool.
The AHEPA Supreme Convention used to be the best of all social events for Greek-American young adults. Unfortunately with the rise of national and regional YAL events, particularly Clearwater, the AHEPA Supreme Convention has lost some of its luster. Sometimes the better the locale the worse it will be for getting a big group together all partying at the same place. (This year South Beach certainly pulled people away from gathering with the larger group in and around the resort. Next year’s event in Denver may be more concentrated.) The decline of young adult participation in the social aspects of the AHEPA Supreme Convention may be symptomatic of the general decline in membership in the Order of AHEPA.