Businessman spends 50 years compiling mass Hellenic books collection

Lori Wilson | Staff Writer

Michael Papadeas is a jack-of-all-trades and two cultures.   

With a degree from Auburn University in electrical engineering, he   worked for AT&T for over 35 years, performed business consulting in his retirement, and just donated a collection of Hellenic books to Randall Library he’s spent over 50 years collecting.

While balancing his engineering work with his love for literature, Papadeas collected the Hellenic books as he traveled across the country for business and back to his homeland of Athens, Greece.

“I studied history as a student in Greece, I knew what books to look for,” Papadeas said with his heavy, charming Greek accent. “Eventually, they came from other people, or from traveling. I’d go to a library with a sale on books that were no longer in use.”

Papadeas moved to the states when he was 16 to finish high school and go to a university. After spending the greater part of his life hunting, his 100-plus piece Greek literature collection will live in his memory at Randall Library.

So why stop collecting now?

 “Because of my age,” he said quickly. “I am the last one in the family who can read ancient Greek. I felt it was necessary to be given to university to be maintained.”

And UNCW will do just that.

Jerry Parnell is the Special Collections Coordinator for Randall Library and worked with Papadeas on his donation.

“Some of these books aren’t even in WorldCat,” said Parnell. “By cataloging these, we’re making them known to the university.”

WorldCat is the world’s largest network of library content and services. It is dedicated to providing access to its resources on the Web, according to its website.

“For items donated by Mr. Papadeas that are not already in WorldCat, UNCW library staff will create cataloging records and entries, and upload those records,” said Sarah Watstein, UNCW librarian. “Once those records are in WorldCat they are searchable and discoverable by anyone. In essence, we will ultimately be providing enhanced access to these materials.”

When this happens, it will be known on WorldCat that UNCW is the only place to find the never-before cataloged books from the collection.  

Eight of the books are from a volume about the history of the Hellenic people from 2800 BCE to 1930 ACD, and are written in the Hellenic language. Complementing this history are books of classical literature and poetry, from Homer’s “Iliad” and “Odyssey” to later in the classical era of Aristotle and Plato.

 “Languages evolve every 500 years,” Papadeas said. “Fortunately, some of the books are written in Katharevousa- high Greek- the language of the state, and some are translated into the people’s language, spoken today. Others are translated in the American language, too.”

Papadeas even inserted some English translations of his own. 

“It’s an Athenian book, classical, but in it, it has a speech by an Athenian leader. Inside I have inserted, in English, the pages that describe the oration of the state leader,” he said with enthusiasm. “It reminds me a lot of JFK’s inaugural address. There are quite a few things that JFK said that were from 500 years ago in Greece.”

Papadeas chose to give the collection to UNCW, rather than a school like UNCG that is closer to his Burlington home, because he was inspired by a reading he attended in 2011 at our very own Randall Library, where the Cape Fear chapter of the American Hellenic Educational Progressive Association held its 50th anniversary. At the event, well-known Greek American author Nicholas Gage hosted a lecture.  

“I was so impressed by Nicholas Gage’s lecture and his interest in the local Greek community,” Papadeas said. “I thought that UNCW would be good because there is already a special collections library.”

Soon after the Nicholas Gage lecture, Papadeas contacted the Cape Fear AHEPA chapter, officially declaring his hope to donate his books to the library. Jim Stasios, AHEPA chapter secretary-treasuer, personally helped bring the books into the special collections unit. As a UNCW graduate and huge enthusiast of the university, he’s glad to see Papadeas’s collection represented so well.

“We are very happy and proud to be part of this effort to accommodate these books that he essentially collected over his lifetime,” Stasios said.

Papadeas will be able to visit his collection often. He and his wife purchased a vacation home in Kure Beach the same year of his retirement in 1996.

“My wife and I have been together our whole life,” Papadeas said. “We thought a vacation home would be nice. Eventually it will be a future residence, but it has become a place for our three children, and five grandchildren to visit.”

Papadeas is passionate about many things-his family, his work and this collection.

“Sometimes we take for granted or don’t think about what is significant to someone, and you could tell that was significant for him,” Watstein concluded. “He’s a lovely, lovely, lovely gentleman.”