By Bill Parry
Members of Astoria’s Greek community gathered in Athens Square Park Saturday to celebrate the life of their late civic leader Dennis Syntilas. The street in front of the park on 30th Avenue, which he helped create in the ‘90s, was co-named “Dennis Syntalis Way” in his memory.
“He was a pioneer of the Greek-American community in Astoria and spent his life dedicated to civic engagement,” City Councilman Costa Constantinides (D-Astoria) said. “As a founder of the Greek-American Homeowners Association and Athens Square, he made it his mission to promote charity and engagement within the neighborhood. His leadership served as a role model to Astorians.”
Syntilas died in January at the age of 85 following a long illness. He emigrated from Greece in 1956 and worked as an executive at Atlantic Bank.
He spent decades integrating the new Greek immigrants, who began flooding Astoria in the ‘70s, into the community, according to state Sen. Michael Gianaris (D-Astoria).
“If Dennis was with us today, he would be proud to see how well his dream had come to life,” Gianaris said. “It is an honor to continue his legacy through the addition of ‘Dennis Syntilas Way.’ He made so many sacrifices not just for this park but for our entire community and all the immigrants who made their way here over the decades. Dennis rolled up his shirt sleeves and went to work for this community. He made sure the new immigrants got citizenship and registered to vote.”
Assemblywoman Aravella Simotas (D-Astoria), who emigrated from Greece as a young child, called Syntilas a giant in the community and a mentor to all three of Astoria’s current elected officials.
“Dennis Syntilas is the embodiment of civic responsibility,” she said. “He was so generous and compassionate and he gave so much of his personal time — time he could have spent with his family — to make Astoria the special place it is today and to educating his neighbors about Greek culture. His contributions to Astoria are immeasurable.”
Members of the Syntilas family, including his wife Rita, were at the ceremony.
“He embodies all the character traits of a fine human being,” she said. “He always said ‘you cannot correct society, but you can teach by setting a good example.”
His daughter Vaya choked back tears while members of the Greek-American Homeowners Association and the community group Athens Square, Inc. paid homage.
“Community wasn’t an extracurricular activity for him,” she said. “It was his duty.”
After the remembrance, the crowd filed out of Athens Square Park and went to the corner of 30th Avenue and 30th Street to unveil the new street sign.
“It will mean a lot to his family,” Simotas said. “They’ll always know how important the man was whenever they see this street named for him.”
Reach reporter Bill Parry by e-mail at bparr