Youth demonstrated their Greek dancing skills at the 50th Greek Fest in Middletown. MIKE RUTLEDGE/STAFF

50th Middletown Greek Fest best ever, organizer says

In Greek, Opa! can express happiness in several ways, including a modern equivalent of “hurrah!”

“This is going to be our best year ever,” said Niki Nestor McNeely, a Greek Fest co-chairperson. “The weather was just fantastic, and that impacts things so much. And the lines for gyros and dinners were very long, and people stayed, it was so nice, especially on Friday night.

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“They stayed, and they danced, and they drank and they ate, and it was very nice,” she said. “We sold out of pastries completely — every single piece of baklava is gone, every single loaf of bread.”’

Also all gone was the Pastitsio, the Greek version of lasagna, and “many other things,” she said.

Festival organizers had to go shopping again Sunday morning to get more ingredients for their meals, and still sold out, she said. “This has been very good for us.”

She believes a combination of the weather, the 50th celebration and a good advertising campaign led to the large event. T-shirts for the event carried the theme of “Celebrating 50 Years of Greek Hospitality.”

“There are many words in Greek for ‘hospitality,’ she said.

Christina G. Spantithos made the trip from Columbus. “I’m Greek, and I think it’s great to perpetuate the Greek culture and religion,” she said. “I just hope they can sustain it. It’s a small church.”

The weekend was heartening for the Saints Constantine & Helen Greek Orthodox Church at 2500 Grand Avenue, Nestor McNeely said, because church membership has dropped, “especially after AK (Steel) changed, and this community changed — a lot of kids moved away. But they still come back to help.”

People attended from Texas; Washington, D.C.; Salt Lake City; Canada and Columbus, among other places, she said: “They came to see their siblings, their cousins, and their aunts and uncles. Plus, they see their high-school friends.”

This may be a turning point for the festival and church, which has a priest only twice a month. The other weekends, people either watch services on television or light candles at the church, she said: “There’s some discussion about whether we can do it all. The women who make the pastries are over 80.”

Other Greek churches from across the region help out, she said.

Announcer and musician George Karras of Dayton helped teach those unfamiliar with Greek traditions about them.

For the first time in several years, the festival had a 5-kilometer run, which included 35 runners, Nestor McNeely said.

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