Staff Spotlight 2: Maria Apostolopoulos Katsigianis

Asheville Greek Festival
Asheville Greek Festival

Katsigianis Family – Drew, Maria, Jimmy, Anna

From time to time this newsfeed will include a closer look at our staff and attorneys. The posts will be on topics not necessarily about the law but about what is personally important to our Firm members outside the office. This is the second installment of our staff spotlight as we feature a story from Maria Katsigianis. Maria is the Office Coordinator at McGuire Wood & Bissette. In addition to her myriad responsibilities keeping the Firm running smoothly, she is a needed calming influence on staff and attorneys alike. People seek her out for her thoughtful advice and counsel from the littlest challenges to more demanding ones. It’s no wonder people outside the Firm need her for these fine qualities as well. The following story from Maria provides insight into her history in Asheville. Thank you Maria for sharing!

Growing up Greek in Asheville

On several occasions, I have been asked about my accent. The question might be posed as “where are you from, I don’t recognize that accent?” I reply humorously “born and bred right here in Asheville and the accent is a little southern mixed with a little bit of Greek.” That’s because my late father who came to America in 1962 from Agios Andreas, Evrytanias, Greece and my mother (of Irish descent) was born in Franklin, NC.

You might ask why one would choose to settle in Asheville of all places? Why not NYC or another port city on the east coast? For those Greeks that settled here in the late 1950’s and early 1960’s, it was because of the mountains and the proximity to the bigger towns with an influx of European migration like Charlotte. The region of Greece that my family, and other local Greeks originated from, is very mountainous and the climate is like ours. What a great place to call home if it reminds you of the home you left. So, this is where they settled, making it a new home.

Asheville Greek Festival

Maria, 10 and her brother Spiros, 8 in the Asheville paper in Greek dress

Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church was built in 1958 as the Greek population continued to grow with more and more families bringing their extended family to America. The children that came with them had to learn a new language as did the parents and grandparents. Those of us born here were taught the Greek language, culture and traditions at the church.

Asheville Greek Festival

Drew, Maria’s son doing Greek dances

We had classes every Monday and Thursday afternoon along with learning the traditional Greek dances. My mother also learned the Greek ways and language. These traditions are still carried on today. Both of my children attended the classes (they dance better than they read or speak).

Asheville Greek Festival

Anna, Maria’s daughter doing traditional Greek Zorba Dance

The Greek influence here in Asheville is still very prominent. There was a saying, not so long ago, that “all restaurants in Asheville were owned by Greeks.” I’d have to say that the overwhelming majority were and many still are today. Yes, I happen to be related to a couple of those Greek restauranteurs. My late grandfather set the way in 1955 searching for that American dream. Once in the states, he came to Winston-Salem and then to Asheville. My late father joined him here at the young age of 18. Those who are native to Asheville will remember my family’s first restaurant that opened in 1967 on Merrimon Avenue, rightfully named Athens Restaurant.

Asheville Greek festival

One of dozens of trays of Baklava prepared for the annual Greek Festival

In fact, many of our seasoned attorneys remember having their monthly attorney meetings in the back-meeting room where the late Mr. Wood could enjoy his favorite country ham breakfast. I do recall Mr. Wood dining with us when I was working in the restaurant as a teenager and attending classes at Asheville High School and then UNCA.

There are a couple of times during the year that we share our love for cooking with the public. Those days would include our annual Palm Sunday and Mother’s Day luncheons and the biggest feast, the Greek Festival celebrated the last weekend of September for the last 32 years! I have volunteered as co-chair for the last 8 years. I am proud of how our community and the “lifetimers” as we’ve been referred to, come together, while working ridiculously long hours, to put on this three-day event rain or shine. Most of us work full time jobs and find time to volunteer for the biggest fundraiser of our church year.

Asheville Greek Festival

Maria overseeing the Gyro tent

We have been blessed by the folks who continually attend and support us and those who are attending for the first time.

Asheville Greek Festival

Clockwise from bottom left: “Lifetimers” Maria, Dino, Arthur, Steve, Tommy, Nick, John and Evangelia (future Lifetimer). “Everything is betta with FETA”

We want to make sure that everyone leaves satisfied and wanting to come back. This is “philotimo,” the Greek tradition of honoring friends. My Greek heritage is very important to me, and others in our small community. We love to share our customs, traditions and of course our food!

This year’s Greek Festival runs the last weekend of September, Friday the 27th to the 29th. For more information about hours and directions click  here!

For more about the remarkable history of the Greek peoples and the essence of what makes them so, Philotimo, follow the link  here!

To read about Asheville’s sister city in Greece, Karpenisi, follow the link  here!

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