Athens, Greece is a bustling, exciting place to be right now, what with the Olympic Games opening this Friday.
Despite all the pageantry of the games and the inspiring historical wonders, Athens is still no Winslow. At least that’s what resident Peter Kretsedemas says.
The Greek-American Kretsedemas has called Winslow home for nearly 50 years. About two weeks ago he and his family returned home from a two-month vacation to his birthplace.
“Our trip was a beautiful trip. We enjoyed every day,” he said. “But I miss my friends. I miss the Rotary. I really did.”
Kretsedemas gave a recount of his vacation to his fellow Rotarians at the club’s meeting last Wednesday.
The club holds its meeting in the restaurant Kretsedemas and his two brothers founded when they moved to Winslow in 1955 – the Falcon Restaurant.
Kretsedemas’ tale is a true American success story based on courage, hard work and a little luck.
While young Peter was growing up in Poulithra, a rural village in Greece, his father was working in the United States as a naturalized citizen. He returned to his family after 20 years in the states.
At the time, Kretsedemas said, the law allowed a naturalized citizen to return to his home country for no more than two and a half years or else their citizenship would be revoked.
Kretsedemas’ father never returned to the states so the family believed that his U.S. citizenship had ended.
World War II ruined the family financially. Shortly after, Kretsedemas’ father died from heart problems. Six months after his death, the family discovered his naturalization papers.
They also learned the U.S. law had changed that allowed citizenship to pass from the father to his children.
Kretsedemas said his father died never knowing that he had given his sons a more valuable gift than money or land.
“He thought he left nothing, but he left everything,” he said.
Kretsedemas two older brother moved to Alabama in 1947. Peter would join them there two years later at the age of 17.
At that time, Greece was embroiled in a civil war, so Kretsedemas said he needed to get out.
The boys had a relative who lived in Winslow. So in 1955, they moved here and opened the Falcon.
“This (Winslow) is everything for me,” Kretsedemas said. “To go there (Poulithra), it all seems like a dream. All these things are flashbacks.”
Kretsedemas had returned to his home village before, like in 1964 when he met his wife, Tammy, who also lived in Poulithra.
This year, the couple took their daughter, Helen, and her husband, Randy Schulz, and their two kids, Nicholas and Andrew, to see the town and stay in the house where Kretsedemas grew up.
He said when he left, the town was an obscure place not even listed on a map. It has been developed but the changes have been mostly positive, Kretsedemas said.
There’s still only about 500 residents but it is a coastal village on the Aegean Sea that draws tourists and sailors.
One of those sailors was a German who was docked at the port while Peter and Tammy were walking along the pier. The German happened to be flying a Rotary Club flag from his mast.
“I never thought I’d see a Rotary flag in my hometown,” Kretsedemas said with a laugh.
Kretsedemas showed his grandkids the school he attended as well as the family homestead.
“Seeing the house where I was born and raised was an incredible experience,” he said.
One of the biggest changes Kretsedemas said he found in all the areas they visited was the cleanliness of the cities.
It’s a sign that the Greek government is serious about hosting the Olympics.
Kretsedemas said the games are a source of pride to Greeks. The ancient games began nearly 3,000 years ago, and the modern games began in Athens in 1896.
“They are very dedicated to the Olympics,” Kretsedemas said. “They are working very hard because we are proud of the fact that the games started in Greece.”
Back home, the Rotarian District Governor recently recognized Kretsedemas for his 35 years of service to the organization, all in Winslow. He was also named the Elder Centennial Statesman for the club’s 100 year anniversary.
In 1994, Kretsedemas was the first member of the Arizona Tourism Hall of Fame for his promotion efforts of Route 66.