Home Community The Passing of a Greek American Educator: Chrisanthi “Chris” Arlis

The Passing of a Greek American Educator: Chrisanthi “Chris” Arlis

Mrs. Chris Arlis at the 1991 William Spyropoulos School graduation (Photos: Catherine Tsounis)

By Catherine Tsounis

“The success of this evening was due to the overwhelming turnout of the total community that showed support for our educational programs of St. Nicholas community center,” said former principal Mrs. Crisanthi “Chris” Arlis at the April 23, 1991, dedication of the new school wing at St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox church in Flushing, New York.1 Former William Spyropoulos School principal Mrs. Chris Arlis, who passed away recently, dedicated her life to helping everyone. She gave credit to the whole community, always being in the background.

 In my book, “Through My Eyes: St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church, Flushing, New York 1987-2014, some of her achievements are chronicled in newspaper articles and correspondence to this writer. Her thank you notes to parents made a positive impression. I treasure the May 20, 1991, letter Mrs. Arlis and Mrs. Athena Kromidas sent me that said “your beautiful photographs and well written articles were published in so many newspapers and magazines that never before had our school received so much positive press. We are very grateful that we can count on you as a parent who  always has the best interest of the school at heart and who devotes so much time and energy in promoting its welfare.” Her community activist husband Mr. Tony Arlis always encouraged this writer with his positive comments to work on behalf of the St. Nicholas school community.

“As a school, we can pay tribute  to our mothers, who are our first teachers. They have influenced each and every one”, said Mrs. Arlis at a May 11, 1997, William Spyropoulos Day School PTA dance. She was honored for her outstanding contribution to the growth of the school. The former parish priest, Rev George Passias, said “Mrs. Chris Arlis spent countless hours helping the church and school during its embryonic stages. The outstanding educator and principal has supported Hellenic Orthodox education. She was president of the school board for 10 years”.3

She was often seen in the church office during the 1980s organizing the school. Mrs. Arlis often would say “I am here to help the parents give the children a good education”. 4

Mr. George Sarafoglou, PTA president during those years, made the following comments: “I’m saddened by the news. I always respected and valued her contribution in making the William Spyropoulos Greek American Day School for what it is today! Mrs. Arlis came as principal to the school the same year with my first daughter and retired the same year that my daughter graduated in the year 2000. My second daughter graduated also from William Spyropoulos in 2002.

“As you may know, I served the PTA all the years that my daughters attended the School in various positions,” he explained. “I served 3 years as president and 6 years in the School Board. The first year that I became president of the PTA, and we were planning our annual dinner-dance. My board and I decided that our principal Mrs. Arlis deserved our recognition and appreciation and thus was chosen unanimously as the PTA’s honoree! That year besides honoring Mrs. Arlis, we the PTA created with the jeweler Michael Volikas – late husband of our teacher Pepi Volikas – a sterling silver pin – an exact copy of the Ancient Greek drachma that had the head of the goddess Athena in one side and on the other her symbol of wisdom, an owl – given to Mrs. Arlis and all the teachers at the school!”

Mr. Sarafoglou described Mr. and Mrs. Arlis support of his restaurant in later years.

“In the late years, they came to my restaurant,  Greek Islands frequently. On one occasion, they assigned me the catering of a Greek food fest for their friends and neighbors where they lived. Her husband, Tony, and I would see occasionally in the AHEPA (Gold Coast Chapter) meetings. It  was always a pleasure to talk to him and send my regards to Chris. Mrs. Chris Arlis will be sorely missed”.

Mrs. Chris Arlis was the daughter of immigrant parents from the village of Karystos on the island of Evia. Her parents gave her the best public-school education. At home, the importance of the Greek Orthodox faith and Hellenic heritage instilled a solid Greek American identity in her and her sister Athena Peters. She attended the Greek afternoon school and church school of St. Spyridon in Washington Heights.

She was a graduate of Hunter H.S., a specialized institution that admits only exceptional students. The educator graduated with the honor of magna cum laude, from Hunter College with a degree in biology. She received a master’s degree in teaching science at Columbia University. During her tenure as a teacher, Mrs. Arlis served on the faculty of a New York City model school, demonstrating to international visitors and dignitaries the highlights of American education. She served on several New York City Board of Education curriculum committees, that revised the kindergarten to 12th grade and junior high school science curriculum. Editorial consulting and private tutoring were part of her background. She was selected as “Principal” of the Year” by the Pan Gregorian Association. Her expertise in managing education expense has contributed to the school’s sound budget. “Our school was self-supporting in its operation,” she explained.

I had the honor to interview Mrs. Chris Arlis in 2001, where she opened about her life. “I consider myself as a lifelong learner. I enjoy books of every kind. I enjoy reading historical fiction and biography. I admire women scientists and physicians”. But family has always come first to this Greek American intellectual. She took a leave of absence from her teaching career to raise her two children, Harry and Stephanie who became physicians.

She cared for her mother, who spent her final years in the Arlis home, surrounded by love from her daughters, her son-in-law Tony and her two grandchildren. During her years as a homemaker, Arlis volunteered as chairperson of its first flea market in 1971. She made St. Nicholas the first parish in New York to bring the idea of Greek Festival in the Metropolitan area. Her volunteer work included being president of the Philoptochos for four years and a Sunday school teacher trainer for eight years.

Mrs. Arlis explained, “I was offered the position as principal of St. Nicholas William Spyropoulos Greek-American Day school in June 1990, after my mother passed away. My husband Tony was very supportive. He encouraged me to resume my career. Tony adjusted to accommodate my challenging position as an administrator”.

William Spyropoulos PTA president Tony Barsamian believed “Mrs. Arlis is an individual whose tireless commitment and years of dedication to the school allowed it to forge ahead to new heights of success. In September 1990 she became principal as new classrooms were ready to be used. The enrollment at that time was 357 students. Arlis served the school as principal for 10 years, deciding to retire so that she can spend more time with her husband and family. In the year of her retirement, the school reached new heights with an enrollment of 433 students”.

The staff and faculty of William Spyropoulos school told former principal Arlis at her recent testimonial in 2001 that “for the past 10 years it has been a privilege to work under your guidance. Your leadership had high expectations. You inspired us to become a hard-working more professional group of educators”. Principal Arlis reinforced a positive self-image in every child who needed guidance with a kind word. She encouraged youth to aim for science careers.

“I would like to be remembered as fostering American education balanced by the Hellenic Orthodox tradition”, she said in a 2001 in interview with this writer. “I want persons to look upon the Spyropoulos school as competitive, where the students are good, American students and citizens of Greek ancestry. My deep faith in the Orthodox faith helps me deal with education challenges. I would pray and be inspired to find solutions”

Mrs. Chris Arlis was a unique educator and administrator. She gave back and influenced the lives of generations of students, always with a pleasant smile for all and a direct, honest manner. She was an elegant person who was also a role model. The PTA of William Spyropoulos school noted that her strength, dedication, and passion for knowledge have left an imprint on all who met her.

All photos by Catherine Tsounis


1.Tsounis, Catherine. Through My Eyes: St. Nicholas Flushing, New York 1987–2014. New York, USA, Tsounis Publications, p. 27.

2. Tsounis, p. 26., 3. Tsounis, p.64., 4. Tsounis, p. 65., 5. Tsounis, pp. 85-86