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Rockford’s Greek Immigrants

Since declaring independence from Turkey in 1829, most Greeks survived by farming. In 1890, France decided to stop importing currants, one of Greece’s largest exports. Thus, the country was plunged into economic turmoil. This led to an immigration wave of Greeks into the United States, many of them settling in Rockford.

Many families had to change their longer Greek names to ones that Americans could easily pronounce: Soteropoulous became Sotos; Pontosopoulous became Pontos; and Carafotias become Cary.

The first Greek immigrant who arrived in Rockford in the early 1900s was James Panagakis; one of three brothers who opened an ice cream parlor on 122 W. State Street. The earliest Greek immigrants congregated in the area of State and Wyman Streets. As more of their countrymen joined them, they spread westward.

As many of the Greek immigrants faced hardships, such as finding jobs, housing, and open discrimination, church became an integral part of their community as it gave them a place to worship, be welcomed, and to socialize. The Sts. Constantine Greek Orthodox Church was established in 1918 in a rented space at 123 Kishwaukee Street. A year later they moved to 108 N. Fifth Street, the former home of a Jewish Synagogue, where they remain today having built their own building. Now known as the Sts. Constantine & Helen Greek Orthodox Church, it allowed Greek immigrants to keep their unique heritage alive, while simultaneously becoming enculturated to American life. In recent years the church has reached out to assist Bosnian and Serbian immigrants to Rockford.

This weekend September 11-13, 2015 the church will celebrate their annual Greek Fest, open to the public.

An Early Sunday School photo from Sts. Constantine & Helen Greek Orthodox Church

An Early Sunday School photo from Sts. Constantine & Helen Greek Orthodox Church

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