Library salutes determined founder

April 11, 1994|By Rafael Alvarez | Rafael Alvarez,Sun Staff Writer

Some kids get in trouble for fibbing.

Some for playing with their food.

Ted George used to get punished for reading too much.

"I wouldn't stop," says Mr. George, 78, a life-long resident of Towson. "When I was supposed to be in bed sleeping, my parents saw light coming from under my bedroom door, so I put a towel there. When the light came through the keyhole, I hung a shirt over the back of the door. After they caught on to that, I'd make a tent out of my covers and sit under it with a flashlight. Then they gave up."

But young Ted the bibliophile -- the kid who learned to read before he went to school -- never gave up on books. "I worked in my father's candy store and every little bit of money I made, I spent onbooks," he says.

Yesterday, his love of the printed word was feted at the Greek Orthodox Cathedral of the Annunciation in a 40th anniversary celebration of the church's Theodore J. George Library, a first-rate collection of about 11,400 volumes on all things Greek and Byzantine.

"Outside of my family, it's the only thing in my life," says Mr. George, a parishioner who was the 137th infant baptized in the congregation. A retired Baltimore County teacher, he still reads for an hour every night before bed because, "Reading unwinds me, no matter what I've been through."

The library that bears his name at 25 W. Preston St. began in 1954 when Mr. George happened upon books in distress and rushed to their rescue.

"They were tearing down part of the Cathedral to expand the Sunday school program, and it started to rain as I was walking by," he remembers. "I saw a pile of books the workers had put atop some rubble. I ran through the rain, threw them in the trunk of my car and took them home. These 13 books had to do with the history and dogma of the Orthodox faith. I thought to myself: 'Here's the beginning of a parish library.' "

That modest, soggy beginning was nurtured with a pair of typewriters still in use (one in Greek and one English) and $300 seed money. It has since flowered into one of the finest Greek and Byzantine libraries in the United States, open to the state's estimated 35,000 Greek Orthodox believers and any sincere soul who knocks on the door. [The library requires a $25 security deposit from nonparishioners.]

"I lectured there once and tried to come up with the most obscure book on Byzantine history I could think of," says Gary Vikan, medieval curator at the Walters Art Gallery. "I went over to the shelf, and there it was. They have set a very high standard."

The jewel of American libraries on Byzantine culture is Dumbarton Oaks, an organ of Harvard University in Washington with about 120,000 volumes, according to Dr. Vikan. Second best is either Holy Cross Greek Orthodox Seminary in Brookline, Mass. or St. Vladimir's Russian Orthodox Seminary in New York. The Theodore J. George Library is often mentioned next.

"Watching Ted in that library is such a pleasure because of the pride he takes in the books -- he knows where he got every one of them," says Dr. Vikan, who has enhanced the Walters library with copies of hard-to-find titles on the Annunciation's shelves. "I watch him and think: 'Geez, what a lucky guy to be able to do what he loves and do it so well."

On Saturday, as his wife Gloria and library volunteer Joanne Souris Dietz set up the church ballroom for the anniversary banquet, Mr. George took a visitor through his elegant room of books.

Amid original artwork and Hellenic statuary, he points out "Greek Heritage in Victorian Britain;" boxes of Sunday bulletins published by the cathedral since 1935; and "The Genocide of Satellite Croatia 1941-to-1945," before picking up a heavy black volume with gold script on the cover.

It is obviously a holy tome.

" 'Gone With the Wind' in Greek," he says, smiling.

With a staff of 14 fellow volunteers, Mr. George operates the library with an annual budget of about $15,000 provided by the cathedral.

Most of the patrons are students from local high schools and colleges. Some have asked Mr. George if Greeks still worship gods and goddesses.

"I ask them to take a little walk with me and I show them the title page of the New Testament," he says. "And I point to where it says 'translated from the original Greek.' "

Chrisoula Kakavas Carlesimo, who grew up waiting tables at her father's old Mount Vernon Restaurant on Charles Street, used the George Library to write a paper for her master's degree at Loyola College.

"I was doing research on second-generation Greek-Americans in Baltimore, told them what I needed and walked out with an armful of good books," says Ms. Carlesimo. "I learned that the earliest Greeks in Maryland arrived in 1670, that the largest influx occurred between 1890 and 1914, and the first Greeks in Baltimore were nine young men escaping a Turkish massacre in 1820."

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