Oinoussai, along with Chios and Psara, was re-united with the Greek Nation just over hundred years ago, in 1912, after liberation from Ottoman rule.
Less than thirty years later, Greece was occupied by the Germans, soon after the start of the Second World War, and Oinoussai found itself under foreign occupation yet again.
At that time, most of the Oinoussian ships were manned by Oinoussian seafarers. During the dark and difficult years of the war, the families of these seafarers were isolated on the island, having little or no contact with their loved ones at sea. The ship owners also had limited contact with their ships The harsh war-time economic climate prevented the remittance of money to the seafarers’ families on the island, resulting in many cases of severe financial hardship.
So, in 1942, several Oinoussians based in London, decided to create a ‘Distress’ Fund as an act of solidarity towards the needs of their compatriots on Oinoussai.
The few Oinoussian shipping offices in London at that time made voluntary financial contributions to this new Fund. This money was then used to obtain aid from sources such as the Red Cross, assisting many poor families on the island to avoid starvation.
The first President of the Fund was John D. Pateras who served as President for 12 years until 1954. During these years, the Fund was primarily concerned with providing basic needs for the island.
Later, after the liberation of Greece from the Germans, the Distress Fund was re-named Oinoussai Benevolent Fund, or in Greek : “Tameio Efpragias Oinousson” (TEO). During the next decade, as the needs of the island evolved, the focus of TEO shifted towards public works such as street lighting, road construction and refurbishment of the islands many country chapels. This is, of course, whilst continuing to provide regular financial support to poor or sick individuals and families.
The second President of TEO was John N. Pateras who served for four years until 1958. During his presidency, the Oinoussai Naval College for merchant mariners was established. It was the first of its kind in Greece. Initially it operated out of the house of John D. Pateras and was solely financed by TEO. In 1957, the College moved into a new building which was donated by the Diamantis Pateras families. TEO continued to financially support the majority of the College’s annual budget, even though the College was operated by the state. At TEO’s Annual General Meeting of 1955, the matter of providing accommodation and food for non-Oinoussian students was discussed at length. This generated donations for the building of a Boarding House with a capacity for up to 250 students. The Boarding House opened in 1959, adjacent to the new College building. Both the Naval College and Boarding House are in operation today, producing deck cadets and Captains for today’s Greek merchant fleet. The existence of these institutions has helped to keep the island alive during the past decades, providing a purpose for the resident population during the difficult and often isolated winter months.
During the Presidencies of Kostas J. Lyras, from 1958 to 1962, Panagos Kosti Lemos from 1962 to 1964, and John A. Hadjipateras, from 1964 to 1971, the Oinoussian community in London grew substantially. There were over 40 Oinoussian offices in London, representing some 230 ships. Through the voluntary financial contributions of these member offices, the Fund was able to continue to support the Naval College significantly, to fund public works and to provide financial support to poor families on the island. The fact that the Fund was not the achievement of a single person or family but the result of a joint, voluntary effort demonstrates the value of solidarity. During the same period, the population of the island had begun to shrink as many Oinoussians re-located to Athens, Piraeus and abroad. As a result, the replacement of the small, out-dated ferry boat that linked Oinoussai to the port of Chios was not economically viable for its operators. Once again the Oinoussai Benevolent Fund was approached for assistance. The member offices responded by amassing a significant amount of money from extra contributions. This enabled the Friends of Oinoussai Society (SFO), to order a new, modern ferry boat from a shipyard in Piraeus.
In 1971, Markos Dimitriou Lemos became President of TEO, serving for 4 years until 1975. The new ferry boat, named ‘Oinoussai’ started operating on 28th October 1971 and served the island faithfully for 12 years until 1983.
Markos Diamanti Lemos took over the Presidency of TEO from 1975 to 1981. At the Fund’s Annual General Meeting of 1975, the members agreed to form ‘Aionia Aignoussa’, which means ‘Oinoussai in Eternity’. The concept was to create a central Fund for Oinoussian benefaction to procure financing for future projects which would keep the island alive. The Fund would support the education facilities on the island, keeping them to high standards, and projecting them all over Greece. The Fund would also support cultural, artistic and athletic endeavours, whilst also helping poor families. The ‘Aionia Aignoussa’ Trust is still in existence and has provided a valuable source of income to the Oinoussai Benevolent Fund for many decades years.
In 1981, Panagiotis A. Lemos presided over the Fund for the next decade, until 1991, when George Andrea Lemos took over for 4 years to 1995. During these years, TEO was involved in several major projects on the island.
(i) Firstly, as the ‘Oinoussai’ ferry boat gradually became obsolete, two of TEO’s members purchased a replacement ferry boat in 1983 , the faster and larger ‘Oinoussai II’. The ship was re-engined in the late 1980’s through the efforts of TEO. (ii) Next, due to the shortage of fresh water on the island, TEO contributed towards the expenses for the construction of a large reservoir which enabled rain water to be collected and stored. (iii) Saint Nicolas Church, which is dedicated to the island’s patron saint, has always been close to the heart of TEO’s members. In the mid-1990’s TEO financed internal and external repairs to this iconic place of worship.
During the 1990’s, TEO’s sources of income began to diminish, primarily due to the re-location of several Oinoussian member offices to Greece. The number of Oinoussians based in London had shrunk significantly from the peak of the 1970s and 80s. In 1992, to celebrate TEO’s 50th Anniversary, a fund-raising dinner was held at The Banqueting House in Whitehall. This was to be the first of many social fund-raising events. A separate Ladies Fundraising Committee was established at that time to arrange and co-ordinate these events.
Between 1995 and 1999, Diamantis G. Skinitis was President of TEO. During these years, TEO undertook a major renovation of the Aghia Paraskevi chapel in the island’s cemetery, whilst also restoring the common parts of cemetery itself. Altogether, another sixteen country chapels were renovated during the late 1990s, ensuring that they could be used and celebrated on their feast days, instead of deteriorating into further disrepair. TEO arranged for the insurances of the Thalassoporos Hotel and St Nicholas Church, as well providing Hull and Machinery insurance for the Oinoussai II ferry boat, all on behalf of their operator, the Friends of Oinoussai Society.
In 1999, Chrysostomos Papapateras took over the Presidency and carried TEO into the 21st century, maintaining the fundamental principles of the organisation. During the first years of his presidency, the island’s ossuary (osteofylakion) in the cemetery was entirely refurbished from a state of total disrepair. This was as much a mark of respect to the memory of the many forefathers of the island, whose remains are housed inside, as it was a basic necessity.
The main entrance and perimeter walls of the cemetery were again renovated, with the aid of a major donation from a prominent Oinoussian family. The ‘crypt’ adjacent to St Nicholas Church was completely re-furbished and the monument in honour of the past priests of Oinoussai was restored. During the next decade, the limited resources of TEO were used to assist poor and sick Oinoussians, to pay the insurance premiums mentioned previously and to support various cultural and social activities, either on, or connected to, the island. Several compatriot authors were assisted with the publication of literary works, such as the 4-volume History of Oinoussian Families.
At an AGM of TEO in London, an appeal was launched for the replacement of the ailing Oinoussai II ferry boat, which had gradually become unsuitable for the increasing demands of the island. On the 6th of December 2006, the ‘Oinoussai III’ ferry boat entered into service, having been purchased with the financial assistance of many Oinoussians and members of TEO.
December the 6th is the Feast Day of St Nicolas and is especially important for Oinoussai, whose Patron Saint he is. For many years, Executive Committee Members have been distributing traditional St Nicolas Bread (Artos) to the Member Offices and Oinoussian households all over London.
As the Fund’s sources of income began to diminish still further, an Annual Goodwill Donation was set up to enable Oinoussians to contribute to TEO on an individual basis in addition to the traditional Member Office voluntary contributions.
As our story brings us to the present day, it is important to recognise that whilst TEO has been run by a series of influential and prominent Presidents, there has been a very great number of Oinoussians who have served on the Executive Committees over the past seventy years, always on a voluntary basis, devoting their time and expertise and also using their links with their homeland, to keep the needs of the island at the forefront of the Fund’s aims.
Similarly, many Oinoussians have served on the Ladies Fundraising Committees over the past decades, organising events such as Dinner-Dances, a Gala Evening, Quiz Nights and Family Lunches. These have not only helped to enhance the Fund’s finances, but have also served to keep the Oinoussian community in London together and to entertain the Fund’s supporters.
In 2008, Michael J. Monios was elected President of TEO. For the first time, most of the committee members were Oinoussians born outside of Greece, whilst maintaining close links to the island The main project which was again entrusted to TEO, was the major refurbishment of St Nicolas church. This was completed in 2011, through the generosity of three Oinoussian families and all the members of TEO.
During the austere economic climate in Greece, which echoes the atmosphere in which TEO first began to operate, the main difficulty faced on the island is concerned with the Naval College and Boarding House, which are suffering from a shortage of State funding.
Although both of these buildings have been refurbished by Oinoussians, through private channels, further modernisation is now necessary. In addition, there is a shortage of finances available from the State for the welfare of the teaching staff and the cadets. TEO has recently supported the Oinoussian appeal enabling daily meals to be provided for the students at heavily subsidized levels. Bearing in mind that the Naval College has placed Oinoussai on the map for several decades and has kept the island alive during the winter months, it is vital that the College remains in operation and that the welfare of the staff and students is maintained.
To top the island’s woes, a fire on the 7th of August 2012 caused serious damage to the flora and fauna, whilst shaking the morale of the population. This ecological disaster, during a climate of economic constraints, could not have happened at a worse time. TEO, together with the Friends of Oinoussai Society, committed to assisting the re-forestation and restoration of the islands natural beauty.
In 2015, John Marcos Hadjipateras became the 13th President of TEO. The present committee is made up of Oinoussians born outside of Greece, but who retain strong links with the island. In 2017, TEO celebrated it’s 75th Anniversary and held a spectacular fund-raising dinner-dance at the Tower of London attended by almost 400 people, including HE Metropolitan Bishop Markos of Chios, Psara and Oinousses, HE Archbishop Gregorios of Thyateira and Great Britain, HE Ambassador of Greece Caramitsos-Tziras, the Mayor of Oinousses, the President of the Friends of Oinoussai Society, and the Emeritus Security-General of the International Maritime Organisation Mr Mitropoulos. It was very moving for all Oinoussians to see the logo of TEO projected onto the ramparts of the Tower of London. At that event, TEO commemorated the services of all the past Presidents and Executive Committee Members and expressed gratitude for the continued financial support from Member Offices, individuals and from the wider supporters of the Fund. Through their devotion and dedication, the Oinoussai Benevolent Fund is able to continue its work in assisting the needs of the island from afar. Perhaps the most important reason for celebrating the past is for the future, for the next seventy-five years and beyond. The needs of the island today are as important as ever and are unlikely to ever cease. This means that organisations such as TEO will always have a role to play in supporting the social, cultural, athletic, environmental and educational needs of Oinoussai. Through technology, the next generation will be able to facilitate the challenge of retaining close links with their homeland. Through the continued generosity of the Fund’s supporters, it is hoped that the next generation will be able to keep the Oinoussai Benevolent Fund alive for many years to come.
John D. Pateras – 1942 to 1952
John N. Pateras – 1952 to 1958
Kostas J. Lyras – 1958 to 1962
Panagos K. Lemos – 1962 to 1964
John A. Hadjipateras – 1964 to 1971
Markos Dim. Lemos – 1971 to 1975
Markos Diam. Lemos – 1975 to 1981
Panagiotis A. Lemos – 1981 to 1991
George A. Lemos – 1991 to 1995
Diamantis G. Skinitis – 1995 to 1999
Chrysostomos D. Papapateras – 1999 to 2008
Michael J. Monios – 2008 to 2015
John M. Hadjipateras – 2015 to present
The members are grateful for all the hard work and dedication of the past Presidents, whilst also expressing sincere appreciation to all those many Oinoussians ho have served on the Executive Committee over the decades, as Vice-Presidents, Treasurers, Secretaries and Committee Members.
Similarly, to all the Ladies who have worked tirelessly on the Fund-raising Committee over the years.