Middletown’s Greek Fest this weekend invites everyone to “Go Greek for a Day” — but it’s one of the few major remnants of a Greek community that has shrunk considerably over the years, festival organizers said.
In the early 20th century, Greeks dominated the Middletown business and social scene, operating more than 50 restaurants around town, serving both Greek and non-Greek food, said George Christy, the founder of the festival.
Nicolette McNeely, one of the festival chairs, said the congregation of Sts. Constantine and Helen Greek Orthodox Churuch now numbers about 60 families, or about 180 people. The festival is also running without the help of key organizers like Dolores Revelos, who died in March at the age of 81.
“Most of the people running the festival have been doing it since its inception 45 years ago,” said Christina Papakirk, the publicist for the festival.
Christy came up with Greek Fest in 1968, noting the success Catholics had with the Fenwick Festival. But other people in the church were skeptical, he said.
“We put it on, and it made all the money I had predicted it would make and they were flabergasted. I had predicted we could clear $10,000 in profit. At that time, that was a huge amount of money. We had $5,000 of debt in the church. We were scared we’d never be able to pay it off … long story short, I made believers out of them and we’ve had a festival every year since,” Christy said.
However, Greek Fest has not been able to grow like Fenwick has, being restricted partly by the limited church grounds on Grand Avenue, but even more by a lack of volunteers.
“Eventually, we probably won’t even be able to put it on … it’s a sizable part of the budget of the church. If it wasn’t profitable the way it is, we wouldn’t have been able to keep the church open,” Christy said.
However, McNeely said attendance had improved in recent years.
“We had a great year last year. Friday night, it was jammed,” she said.
Christy said the Greek community could strengthen if the diocese would bring in a young priest who would appeal to the young families.
“What we could do is grow this church with the northern suburbs of Cincinnati and the southern suburbs of Dayton,” he said.
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