Greek teacher, radio host Athanasios “Tom” Chiampas dies at 90

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Athanasios “Tom” Chiampas was a Greek teacher and radio host in Chicago. | supplied photo

When German invaders rolled into the tiny Greek village of Nestani during World War II, teen-aged Tom Chiampas was among the men and boys who used an ingenious, ancient maneuver to outsmart the Nazis.

“The Germans rode into the town and my father and all the men and young boys went running up into the hills and the mountains so they weren’t caught or shot. They would release the goats, and follow them, because the goats knew the paths that would take them up into the hills,” said his son, Dr. George Chiampas. “I remember hearing stories of him hiding behind a rock, and there were bullets flying.”

After immigrating to the United States, Mr. Chiampas taught the Greek language to thousands of students. He used his beautiful voice to sing Byzantine hymns as a cantor in many Chicago-area Greek Orthodox churches. He hosted weekend Hellenic American Radio Hour shows with Katina, his wife of 55 years, most recently on WSBC-AM.

Tom Chiampas was a cantor in many Greek Orthodox churches. | supplied photo

Tom Chiampas was a cantor in many Greek Orthodox churches. | supplied photo

Before his Oct. 5 death from leukemia, the 90-year-old Mr. Chiampas had spent a lifetime encouraging his three children — and his students — to feel pride in their heritage. He told them about all the Chicago lawyers, teachers, bankers, engineers, restaurateurs and business and tech leaders with ancestral ties to Nestani, which is also where former Chicago Blackhawk Chris Chelios traces his roots.

“We always heard about Greece being the cradle of civilization and democracy,” said his daughter, Cook County Associate Judge Peggy Chiampas. “He told us when we went out in the world it was our responsibility to represent that.”

Mr. Chiampas embraced his new country and city, too. In Ald. Anthony C. Laurino’s 39th ward, “He did a lot of passing out of pamphlets on election day, and a lot of walking and knocking on doors with candidates,” said another daughter, Ourania “Rani” Prokos. He worked for the city Department of Human Services and the Chicago Transit Authority, his children said.

He enjoyed “The Andy Griffith Show” and had a special fondness for the musical “Oklahoma!’’ Said Rani Prakos: “I remember him as a kid loving ‘O, What a Beautiful Morning.’ When ‘Oklahoma!’ played [on TV], he loved that.”

“I don’t remember a day in my entire life where my dad was not working not one but at least two jobs,” Peggy Chiampas said in a eulogy for her father. “He was either chanting at church, teaching at Greek school or working on the radio program. He even found time to attend night classes at Northeastern University and received his master of arts in 1973.”

Mr. Chiampas taught Greek at Truman College and in the Chicago area at Holy Taxiarhai & Saint Haralambos, St. George, St. Nicholas and St. Basil. He served as a cantor at St. Demetrios in Elmhurst, St. John the Baptist in Des Plaines and St. Sophia in Elgin.

Young Athanasios Chiampas in traditional Greek dress. | supplied photo

Young Athanasios Chiampas in traditional Greek dress. | supplied photo

He grew up one of six children in Nestani, a mountainous village about 10 miles from Tripoli. His father, a farmer, died when he was a two years old, his children said. His boyhood nickname was Avgoulas, from the Greek word avgo, or egg. “He would literally collect eggs and take them 20 kilometers away to sell eggs to try and make money,” his son said.

He learned intricate chants from a Byzantine cantor in Nestani. “He was born in the house adjacent to the altar of the church,” said his son.

Tom Chiampas and his wife, Katina. | family photo

Tom Chiampas and his wife, Katina. | family photo

Mr. Chiampas earned a teaching degree and worked five years for a Greek police agency before immigrating in 1955 to San Francisco. During a visit to Chicago, he was introduced to Katina Stratigou, a native of Gargaliani on Greece’s Ionian Coast, a region he loved. They married in 1961 at St. Andrew Greek Orthodox Church at 5649 N. Sheridan Rd.

They raised their children in Albany Park and Jefferson Park. He told them the value of a Greek diet, heavy on fish and dandelion greens dressed with lemon and olive oil.

Above all, he stressed education. “In my family, you had three choices —the law, medicine or education, and my mom and dad ticked off all three boxes with us,” said Peggy Chiampas. Rani Prakos is a middle-school teacher in Park Ridge. Dr. Chiampas is an emergency room doctor and medical director of the Chicago Marathon, chief medical officer for U.S. Soccer and a Chicago Blackhawks physician.

As a college student attending Panteion University in Athens, Mr. Chiampas didn’t have enough money for board. “He would sleep in the basement of an office building along with other men from his village,” Peggy Chiampas said. “When my brother graduated, my dad was in the front at Rockefeller Chapel so he could be the first one to shake his hand. And he was so proud of my sister when she got her master’s in education.”

Tom Athanasios and members of the Evzones, or Greek presidential guard. | family photo

Tom Athanasios and members of the Evzones, or Greek presidential guard. | family photo

He was “papou” to five grandchildren. Services have been held.

After Mr. Chiampas’ leukemia diagnosis, his daughter realized he’d never seen her on the bench. Judge Chiampas arranged for him and her mother to visit her courtroom at 26th and California. As attendees were told, “ ‘All rise,’ he tried to get out of his wheelchair. I couldn’t look at him. I was bawling,” the judge said. “My mom and the sheriffs were telling him ‘You don’t have to stand, Mr. Chiampas.’ But my dad, being my father, pushed them away. He stood.”

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