The History of Saint Basil Academy

SBA-Photo of the main hall

Archbishop Athenagoras, of Blessed Memory, founded Saint Basil Academy in 1944 with the valuable assistance of the Greek Orthodox Ladies Philoptochos Society. On March 15, 1944, the Philoptochos purchased the 400-acre Jacob Ruppert estate in Garrison New York, on the shores of the Hudson River, overlooking West Point Academy for only $55,000. It was an era when many large estates were put on the market because of the ever-increasing property taxes. In 1976, a parcel of land encompassing 250 acres (primarily marshland) was sold to the Audobon Society.

The Archbishop dreamed of establishing an orphanage or children's home ever since his arrival in the United States in 1931. The Philoptochos purchased the Ruppert estate with the proceeds of two years of the Vasilopita celebrations. The Academy, as envisioned by the late Patriarch Athenagoras, has expanded in scope to be a well equipped Residential Child Care Center, with modern dormitories, a gymnasium/auditorium, indoor swimming pool, beautiful chapel, library and all the necessary comforts of a loving home.

The Academy was named for Saint Basil, who was the founder of many orphanages, hospitals, and homes for the elderly in fourth century Caesarea, Asia Minor. He is considered one of the greatest philanthropists of the Church and founder of the modern-day hospital concept.

The National Philoptochos has responded to the needs of the Academy and its resident children for over 60 years, with support of the operating budget through the Annual Vasilopita appeal and the sisterhood of Saint Basil for special needs.

In the early years, the Academy could use only six dwellings. At its inception, boys were admitted, but in realizing the greater need for a girls home, only girls were accepted. The Academy was also established as a women's junior college: Saint Basil Academy Teachers' College. The Teachers Training program offered a three-year course of study. The curriculum consisted: Religion, Greek and English Language & Literature, Sciences, Social Sciences, Education & Music. This part of the institution educated young women to serve the needs of the Church in various capacities such as teachers and church secretaries. The young women were housed in the "Main" building (the original Ruppert mansion) and also assisted in the care of the resident children. They also helped to make the institution a cultural center, by presenting ancient Greek tragedies and modern theatrical works plus projecting Neo-Hellenic musical creations and national dances. In 1973, the Teachers College merged with Hellenic College in Brookline, Massachusetts. It reopened briefly in 1997.

The Academy is also the home to the late Archbishop Michael's tomb. Archbishop Michael had a special love for the Academy, and under his leadership, the Academy flourished in the 1950s in an era of growth and capital improvements.

In 1954, at the suggestion of Zoe Cavalaris of Charlotte, NC, the Daughters of Penelope kicked off a Christmas Seal Campaign to benefit the financial needs of the Academy. An oil painting of a young girl at the Academy, by artist Theodore Tsaropoulos, became the inspiration for the Seal. This campaign enabled the Daughters to raise funds to build the new water works for the Academy.

Once the need to admit boys became apparent, AHEPA initiated a drive to renovate the old horse stables and convert it to a Boys Dormitory. The drive, begun by John Kiamos, a florist from New York Chapter 97, finally led to the dedication of the AHEPA Hall for Boys in 1959. These dormitories were used until 1982 when the new AHEPA Hall for Boys were built and dedicated on the main part of campus. The old dormitories are now planned for renovation into the new Retreat and Conference Center for the entire Archdiocese community to benefit.

Through 1962, classes were held in various buildings around campus. In 1962, the AHEPA School for Boys and Girls was opened. Situated just north of the Main building, the School was occupied on the ground floor by the Grammar School and the upper floor by the College students. The AHEPA collected the funds and built the AHEPA School. Many AHEPA, Philoptochos groups and individuals contributed to this worthy cause.

In 1963, the Pan Arcadian Fraternal Association built the Pan-Arcadian Hall that operated as a combination gymnasium and auditorium with a spacious stage. This ambitious building program inspired His Eminence Archbishop Iakovos to initiate the plans to add four new girls dormitories. In 1969, George Spyropoulos, a benefactor of the Academy, and the Philoptochos Society Sisterhood, donated the four building structure to be used as the girls' dormitories. The Philoptochos Sisterhood and the Daughters of Penelope contributed to the furnishings of these buildings. These buildings were named in honor of the Philoptochos Society, the Daughters of Penelope, George Spyropoulos and the late Bishop Germanos Liamadis, who had been the resident clergyman and one-time Director of the Academy.

In 1981, the Nicholas J. Sumas Library for Children was built and dedicated. In 1986, the Daughters of Penelope built a heated outdoor swimming pool next to the Pan-Arcadian Hall. The pool was later enclosed, thanks to the generosity of the late Great Benefactor, William Chirgotis.

Saint Basil ChapelIn 1985, Mr. & Mrs. William Chirgotis offered the Academy a new chapel, in memory of their parents. The previous Chapel had been destroyed by fire in 1983. The Saint Basil Memorial Chapel in Garrison, New York, was designed in 1985, by its donor/architect, William G. Chirgotis, and built at a construction cost of $550,000.

This memorial gift, by the nationally-known architect, commemorating the memory of his parents, the late Kyparisia and George Chirgotis, was in gratitude of the values he learned from them, and is evidence of Mr. Chirgotis' love of the young and his devotion to his church. Referring to the chapel as the "Jewel of the Academy", His Grace Bishop Philip Daphmousia, former Director of the Academy, said, "the construction of this wonderful tribute to God and our Church would not have been possible without the love, devotion, and commitment of Mr. William G. Chirgotis. Mr. Chirgotis has also established a trust fund for the perpetual care and repair of the chapel.

In the early 1990s, the Young Adult League of the New York area donated and personally built the new playground behind the Pan-Arcadian Hall and Children's Library.

On June 19th 1999, Dimitrios and Georgia Kaloidis generously donated funds to establish a state of the art Dental and Medical Facility on the grounds of Saint basil Academy.

Scores of individuals, volunteers and groups have helped with the maintenance, upkeep and renovation of Academy buildings.

Since 1998, ongoing maintenance and renovation has continued, thanks to the gracious generosity of the National Philoptochos, Philoptochos Sisterhood and chapters, the Daughters of Penelope, Dimitrios & Georgia Kaloidis, and the estate of Yota Thanos:

  • Replacing the roof of the pool building and repairing/upgrading the pool
  • Replacement of all stoves, refrigerators and dishwashers in all seven dormitories
  • Renovating the bathrooms of all dormitories and the bathrooms in the Main administrative building
  • Repairing/renovating staff housing located in several buildings throughout campus
  • Gutting and renovating existing (former ‘zoo' and storage) buildings as carpentry and other skills workshops for the older children to learn
  • Re-carpeting of the library (followed by 2 Eagle Scout projects to restore library and its collections)
  • Reconfiguration of the gymnasium store rooms and establishment of the Officer Gus Spanos Memorial Weight Room
  • Renovation/reconfigurement of gymnasium storage rooms into a Weight Room
  • Establishment of the Kaloidis Medical & Dental Facility through the renovation of an existing building
  • Repaving of all Saint Basil Academy Roadways with Belgium block curbing in the Main Quadrant