TARPON SPRINGS — Paul Stavropoulos was 10 years old when he first joined the St. Nicholas Orthodox Cathedral choir in 1935.
At the time, the church was a wooden structure and Stavropoulos lived at 202 Hibiscus Street, just a block down from the Pinellas Avenue church.
As the 105th Epiphany Celebration gets under way this week in Tarpon Springs, Stavropoulos, 85, will be where he's been for most of his life: singing in the choir during Thursday morning's Epiphany service at the church.
"I just enjoy singing in the choir," Stavropoulos said while sitting at his kitchen table in his Gulf Road home. "I love my faith, the Greek Orthodox faith. If I didn't, I would not be singing all these years."
After the morning service, a processional leaves the church and ends at Spring Bayou, where 78 boys will try to retrieve the coveted white cross from its chilly waters.
Except for a 10-year period, from 1943 to '53 where he sang for only about a year, Stavropoulos' voice has blended in the choir at St. Nicholas, where he can sing the hymns in both Greek and English.
"Our parents were Greek and we went to Greek school for six years," said Stavropoulos, who had two sisters and a brother. "We learned about our heritage and everything else. We learned about the orthodox faith and we kept it all the way until now."
Stavropoulos was kicked out of the Tarpon Springs Elementary chorus when he was in the third grade. He said the music teacher said his voice was too strong and he was drowning out the other students.
That was his senior year at Tarpon High, where he also was a basketball player. His mother picked up his high school diploma in 1944.
During the war, Stavropoulos ended up in Brooklyn, N.Y., where he patrolled ships in the harbor. He also searched for submarines in the waters around the Aleutian Islands. Discharged in March 1946, Stavropoulos came back to Tarpon Springs, where he started sponging. But a red tide outbreak nearly ruined Tarpon's fishing and sponging industry.
"There were dead fish all over the place, all over the gulf," Stavropoulos said.
Leaving Tarpon to find a job, Stavropoulos worked at the Singer Sewing Machine Co. in South Bend, Ind., making sewing machine cabinets. He later worked in Jacksonville.
"In both places, I sang in the church choir," Stavropoulos said.
Moving back to Tarpon in 1953, he worked at Stauffer Chemical as a mechanic for 28 years until it closed in 1981.
After that, Stavropoulos worked as a welder on a tanker ship for several months. At age 60, he got a job as a nurse's aide at Anclote Manor, a psychiatric hospital. After two years there, the father of three retired.
Now, every morning Stavropoulos walks from the house that he and wife Evangelia purchased in 1970 to Sunset Beach and back. It's about 2 miles, he said. They've been married 49 years. Evangelia cooks him a Greek meatball and rice soup for lunch.
He has arthritis in his back and knee, but keeps it under control with exercise, he said.
And unless he's sick, he never misses singing in the Greek language service at St. Nicholas.
"Paul is very devoted and passionate about his church, his singing," said Katie Faklis, who leads the choir. "He's very disciplined, and he's there every Sunday and at rehearsals."
Stavropoulos can sing bass and alto. He still sings the Lord's Prayer, one of his favorites, with incredible control and in a voice as smooth as the crush-velvet seats of a classic car. He said he'll never stop singing in the choir.
"As long as I am able," he said, "I will be there."
Contact Demorris A. Lee at email@example.com or (727) 445-4174.