A successful professional, committed volunteer, good friend and a proud Pontian is presented in this week’s featured Interview which leads befittingly to the May 19th commemoration for the 103th Annivers
By Tassos Theodoridis
Kostas Tsilfidis is not your usual car salesperson whom you see once in a while when you want to buy a car. Ask anyone in the GTA area about Kostas and chances are they will flood you with flattering adjectives about his caring disposition, pleasantly reassuring, smiling, super –efficient, “our Kostas” a friend over the salesperson, who is there for you with the best solution to your problem; a friendly advisor with top-notch knowledge and the feeling that you’ve known him for ages. Kostas primarily is a Pontian, a proud and passionate community volunteer and a wonderful personality who inspires trust. He has been a valuable asset for his family, his friends and his colleagues and above all – through his beliefs and community involvement – a devotee to the Hellenic Pontian heritage.
Kostas has an impressive educational background. Like most of the Greeks who immigrated to Canada following their parents, he has both Greek and Canadian academic credentials and a very impressive career in successfully supporting one of the top car dealerships of the region – that of Lou Vavaroutsos’ Eastside Chevrolet – Old Mill Cadillac.
Kostas is a very hard working individual and a very devoted family person. It is amazing how he manages to find the time to grant his talent of singing with his band and still never turned down invitations from non-profit organizations and various groups, wherever he was invited. Kostas has volunteered in the Pontian Brotherhood of Toronto, the Greek Community of Toronto and other organizations throughout the years of his involvement in the community. Volunteering in the community and enriching the projects he undertakes with his knowledge, experience and commitment, it is no wonder that Kostas is featured in today’s Profile Interview as a dedicated friend and passionate volunteer, just in time for the 103rd Anniversary of Greek Pontian Genocide of 1914, also featured in this edition of the Greek Press.
May 19th is officially recognized as the Anniversary of the Pontian Genocide for Hellenes of Pontian descent which happened as a result of the mass persecutions of the Kemal Regime in Ottoman Turkey of 1916-1923. Kostas, from a Pontian family that settled in Greece due to deportation and fear tactics of the mid-war era targeting Hellenes of Pontic descent from Asia Minor has a stern commitment to upkeep the Pontic heritage through language, song, dance and traditions and has strived to live his life by such ancestry blessings.
Kostas has realized the potential of the younger generation who want to join the “aging” Greek Associations and welcomes the role of newcomers from Greece who can bring a fresher breath into our Greek community organizations. Yet, he has experienced the so called “resistance” of the old generation which still rules the established organized bodies in Toronto and has seen first-hand the lack of interest of the newer and more skilled community members to enter the organizations, because of the hostility and stress that such a clash between the old and new entails. It would be a pity if the Greek Associations/community groups etc., lost their last chance to represent more Hellenes in Toronto and acknowledge their presence in the larger socio-political establishment of this great country of Canada.
Please give us a short backgrounder of your education, professional qualifications etc.
Born in Kokkinohoma, Kavala, where I finished my High School studies, I immigrated to Canada to join the rest of my family and pursue my university studies. I attended the University of Windsor where I graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Geology, and a had a vision of returning to my hometown Kavala where the opportunities for Petroleum Geologists were very promising. My emotional ties with my large family however kept me in Toronto, where I was professionally engaged as a sales consultant and manager of the well-known Greek Automotive GM dealership group of Mr. Vavaroutsos, Eastside Chevrolet-Old Mill Cadillac.
In the 25 years of my professional career, I have been a member of a dynamic sales team in a highly competitive environment achieving every year Gold member status in General Motors prestigious Elite Sales Guild, an enviable award for every professional in the industry.
My professional success is in large due to the sincere relationship and constant contact and communication that I have developed especially with my Greek clients, who, throughout my lengthy service to them, trusted my professional advice, honesty and integrity and enjoyed special privileges and benefits due to their dedication and loyalty.
Success for a professional is shaped through the moral values he draws from his family background and his social environment, both of which are complemented by his academic training. Lifelong learning is the minimum requirement for success.
As a Greek Canadian with many talents, please talk to us about your hobbies, your free time and your contribution as a musician to the various non-profit causes of our community.
My limited free time is shared between my two great loves: singing and volunteering for the preservation and spreading of my Hellenic and Pontian culture.
I took my first step as a singer in 1981 with the Pontian orchestra of Paraskeva Papadopoulos. I have volunteered singing for 35 years in many charity events, organized by the Hellenic Old Age Home, the Hellenic Hope Center, the Greek Community, and the Toronto Pontian Brotherhood. Since 2001 I have joined my friend Ken Kakkoulis in his “Galaxy Orchestra”, and we have never turned down any volunteer participation in charity events whenever it was requested from the Greek Community.
Τalk to us about what it means to be a Greek Canadian of Pontian descent living and working in Canada. What are the major breakthroughs of Pontians in Canada and what are the major challenges people of Pontian descent face?
My family is of refugee origin from the region of Matsouka of Trebizond (presently Turkey) on my father’s side and from Mysti Cappadocia on my mother’s side. In 1924 the two families of my ancestors settled in Dipotamos of Kavala where my father George and my mother Maria Tsilfidou were born. In 1944, due to the Bulgarian occupation, our families relocated to Kokkinohoma and to the nearby village of Amisiana, where my parents were married in 1955. They immigrated to Toronto in 1967.
I am very proud of my cultural origin, and very anxious to preserve our Pontian dialect, our dances, our music, our customs, and all these characteristics that distinguish us as a unique ethnic Greek group. I assist in every possible way for the continuation of our rich Greek cultural heritage by our younger generations.
The establishment of the Pontian Brotherhood more than 54 years ago has helped immensely to maintain and spread our Pontian culture and presence within our great country.
Recognizing the Genocide of the Greeks of Pontus by Major Canadian cities and hopefully by our Canadian parliament soon is another feat.
How would you advise recent Greek immigrants to Toronto, who have left Greece in the times of economic crisis? Should they focus on establishing themselves through their studies, profession or business or should they volunteer their free time to various associations and the Greek Community?
It’s a blessing for Toronto’s Greek Community and Hellenism in general, that a dynamic cultural stimulus was injected into our community as a result of the arrival of new Greek immigrants, who in their overwhelming majority hold higher education degrees and have European professional experience.
The ideal thing would be for all existing national and local associations and organizations to utilize their knowledge, enthusiasm and abundance of fresh ideas that have lately being absent from our community. An absolute must should be to establish an effective mechanism from the Greek Community and associations and put forward a plan to help them assimilate in this society as smoothly as possible; in turn these newcomers, having secured their livelihoods for survival and professional success, will give back to the community with their involvement in any capacity.
In this case, both the organizations and the newcomers will benefit, because their integration into the Canadian society and culture will be smoother, without being absorbed by the Western way of thinking and living. In addition, newcomers will maintain the necessary balance one needs when they have to cope with challenges and the different lifestyle patterns that exist in their new country.
Talk to us about the major challenges that you have faced all those years while volunteering your free time in the Greek community associations.
One of the major challenges is the bridging of the generation gap and the insertion of the Greek-Pontian cultural elements to the children of the second and third generation Greeks who experience conditions of cultural absorption within a multicultural environment.
It is difficult for immigrants of the first generation who, due to life conditions which forced them not to have the advantages of education, to accept the necessary organizational and technological developments required by our associations in order to attract new third and fourth generations.
Do you believe there is future for the Associations in Canada and more specifically for the Greek Community of Toronto, and how can the new generation help in building this future? Is the older generation welcoming newcomers who want to get into organizations to help out?
I firmly believe that most Hellenes who may be able to make a difference in the associations are non-willing to participate, because of some poorly perceived attitudes of first-generation immigrants who want to hold onto the reins of the associations for their self-assertion.
It is most challenging for young people with a will get involved and contribute to our community organizations when they collide with the “establishment” of people who in turn insist in holding the reigns just for the mere “social recognition” within our proud Greek community.
Retirement into non-leadership positions, for people who have basic linguistic barriers to understanding the framework of action of programs and legislation governing non-governmental organizations, is imperative!
Due to the above, there is minimum representation of Greek associations in the Canadian society. Such limited exposure brings withering and weakening of our society bonds and hence annihilation of our brilliant Greek Culture!
Notwithstanding the above, I think generally that new comers to Canada are made to feel welcomed in most associations that I am aware of; especially in the Greek Community of Toronto there is a direct involvement in the Executive board by at least a couple of very capable members and plenty of them can be found in key positions supporting staff, etc.