Dr Victor Kepreotis is a first generation Greek Australian who reconnected with his Kytherian roots on an important trip to Greece where he walked the fields and playgrounds of his beloved father’s village and also met the love of his life, Kathy.
Admired and loved by all who are privileged to know him, Kepreotis recently stepped down from his role as President of the Kytherian Association of Australia after 18 years. Not only was he the longest serving President in an Association that was created in 1922, but he is also credited with rescuing it from difficult, lean times and making it thrive to be one of the most prominent in Australia.
At the recent Testimonial Lunch to give him an official farewell, family and friends cited examples of his selfless devotion to over 200 dignitaries and guests, including the time in 2013 when he postponed urgent surgery so it would not interfere with preparations for the Annual Debutante Ball and the endless hours he sacrificed to ensure the relevance and appeal of the Association for all generations.
“I was born in Sydney in 1952 and lived at home in Maroubra for 25 years, attending South Sydney Boys High school and then spending six years at Sydney University, graduating with a Bachelor of Dental Surgery in early 1977. After that, I got married and moved to Maroubra Beach for a few years.
My father died in late 1977 aged 65 and I moved back to the family home in 1980. I remarried in 1983 and have lived at Bardwell Valley ever since.
In 1982, five years after my father died, I took my mother, who was born in country NSW at Werris Creek, to Greece for seven weeks, ending up at Kythera for ten days. It was in those ten days on the Island of Aphrodite that I fell in love with my wife, Kathy. In those days the Greeks were not that friendly and my Greek language was almost non-existent. I absolutely loved driving all over Greece with its wonderful scenery and rich history. I drove my mother everywhere.
In Kythera, where my father was born, I was taken to his village and walked the ground he played on, the fields he worked in and the house he was born in and lived in until he left for Australia at the age of 15 years old. It was then that I discovered my roots. This was where my name began. He was one of many young Kytherians who came to Australia for a better life. Some intending to make their fortune and return. My father never returned. He was too busy working and raising a family.
It was my father who suggested that I look at dentistry like my two older cousins, Vic and Theo Aroney, two very successful dentists. So, I changed my preference from architecture to dentistry. This was a blessing because I have always enjoyed general dentistry and still do enjoy the challenges of fixing people’s dental problems.
I first joined the Kytherian Brotherhood of Australia in 1982 before I took my mother to Greece. I was Vice-President for a few years of the Kytherian Social Club that looked after the licensed restaurant and club on the third floor of the old Kythera House in Regent Street, Chippendale, Sydney.
I met many Kytherians of my generation and older and was able to socialise and at the same time, I was able to volunteer my time to help run the Brotherhood, especially the Friday Night Greek Dancing lessons. I was invited to come back on to the Committee in the nineties and became Secretary in 1996 and President in 2000. There were some very difficult times in those days of very little income and many expenses. But I was determined to keep the Brotherhood going and thus give back to the generations of predecessors going back to May 1922, who helped build this connection to our heritage.
When I became President in 2000, nine of the previous twelve Committee members had had enough of late night meetings to try and keep the Kytherian Association of Australia from shutting down. One member was added from the members present at that AGM and over the next six months, two more people were asked to join. The “vision” was to keep the Association going and to provide at least the Friday Night Greek Dancing lessons for children of members that was and still is sponsored by the Nicholas Anthony Aroney Estate. We slowly invited more volunteers onto the Committee and in 2003 sold the building in Regent Street that was losing money every year.
The vision then was to continue providing activities to our members and to purchase another building for our headquarters. We finally bought in King Street, Rockdale in 2010 and refurbished by 2012 into a multi-purpose office and meeting place. We were moving forward maintaining the best and most popular annual Debutante Charity Balls on the Greek Australian calendar as well as many other activities through our sub-committees of Ladies Auxiliary, 4 Wheel Drive Club, Young Mothers Group, Mums and Bubs Group, the Kytherian Soccer Team and the Friday Night Greek Dancing lessons.
My biggest achievement as President was to keep the Association going through some very lean times and to build it up to the most successful Greek Australian Association in Australia encompassing all generations of members and their families.
The biggest challenge at first was doing the work of Secretary, Treasurer as well as President to keep the Association going. My Dentistry business suffered as well as many sacrifices in my family life. But in the last ten years I have had the help of great Committee people and with enthusiastic sub-committees, we have been moving ahead and prospering year on year.
In the last twenty years, we have been able to not only survive but actually increase our membership and provide stability for our members and their children. We have nurtured and kept our youth involved through free Greek dancing lessons and many functions throughout the year catering for many different groups within our membership. We have not tried to over-reach or have major arguments within the Association. Perhaps the major challenge has been to keep our youth involved with all the other outlets available to them through clubbing (after discos), university Greek societies, school functions and sport etc.
While President, I loved the enthusiasm of members participating in the various events and activities that were provided by the main Committee and the sub-committees especially at the family dances where all three generations were present with great “kefi” and enjoying each others company. I also loved being able to embrace new ideas and evolve the Association in new pathways.
Following the fantastic testimonial lunch provided by the new Committee and others with contributions from my family and friends from overseas through video messages, I was, in a way, compensated for stepping away from what had become part of my life. My presidency of 18 years was never about being the longest serving or being the best because there have been some very good presidents in the past 96 years. That is for others to judge. It was about honouring those Committee members before us who had sacrificed so much to give their children a social life in the Australian community as well as our parents, grandparents and now great grandparents who also sacrificed a lot of their time to give us a better life and education in this different world.
It’s very hard to say who my biggest influence has been. There have been many. My mother’s attention to detail, my father’s work ethic, the generosity and professionalism of our Kytherian Lady of song, Helen Zerefos OAM OSJ and John Comino, President of the Hellenic Club in Sydney. Also, the late Professor Manuel Aroney had a great influence on my presidency as well as the previous presidents George Vardas, Peter Vanges and the late Jim Coroneo.
My advice to the younger generation would be to listen to your elders and learn from them because they have gone where you are going, but be willing to evolve and adapt to the new times with the highest of principles and learn from the mistakes of the past. Don’t repeat them!
The Kytherian Association of Australia was, and hopefully always will be, about the entire family.