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One man's monument to his culture

(ran SS edition of Metro & State)

A Dunedin neighborhood stands as a testament to a developer's love of Greek history and learning.

Kostas Miliotis had never heard of New Athens City, a neighborhood on the eastern edge of Dunedin, before last summer, when a neighbor invited him to a softball game.

Driving toward the Englebert Recreation Complex on Solon Avenue, Miliotis noticed a side street named for President John F. Kennedy. Then four more streets _ each named for an ancient Greek philosopher or statesman.

"I see Kennedy _ boom _ then I see the next, and the next and the next, and I started slowing down," said Miliotis, a student of the classics. "I say, "What is this?' This is a monument. There is a legacy here, something that wants to speak."

The next day, Miliotis returned with his family and learned enough to fire his imagination.

The neighborhood, full of older, generally well-kept mobile homes, was called New Athens City. Except for J.F. Kennedy Street, the streets all were named for famous Greek thinkers and leaders.

The main street, which connects Belcher Road to the Toronto Blue Jays' winter training home, is named for Solon, the lawgiving statesman known as the father of democracy. Other streets were named for mathematician and inventor Archimedes, philosopher Aristotle and statesman Aristides. He also found Platon Avenue, the Greek name for the philosopher Plato.

And, written in the concrete of a gutter on Diogenes Street, there was a little essay:

"New Athens City. Diogenes, the "honest,' once was walking in the streets of old Athens city on the middle of a bright day with his lantern up. So his neighbors asked him why was he walking with his lantern up? Diogenes answered he was looking for an honest man!"

The inscription is signed: "Arthur Kerry, the developer, May, 1967."

Miliotis, a retiree who splits his time between East Lake and St. Louis, began asking around about Kerry. Eventually, he devoted a section of his Web site, http://www.hellenist.org, to the history and mystery of New Athens City.

"This is a fascinating discovery of unknown significance," he wrote on the site. "Who is or was Arthur Kerry?"

As it turns out, the answer had been close at hand for some time. Arthur Kerry's adopted daughter lives in New Port Richey and only recently returned to the scene of her father's legacy.

Kerry was Greek, but he shortened his name to blend into the business world, she said. He died in 1970.

"My daddy loved the philosophers; he lived by the philosophers," said Anastasia Kerry Smith, 48. "He felt they were put on this earth to guide us with their preachings and outlook, and not to get lost in the material things in business."

Arthur Kerry was born Athanasios Kyriazopolous in 1891 in Aristomenis, in the Peloponnesian region of Greece. His wife, Zarahoula, was one of five sisters. Her father was an Eastern Orthodox priest who could not afford to give her a dowry, so Kerry struck out for the New World about 1920. In a typical tale of immigrant grit, he worked two or three jobs at a time and was not above cleaning toilets.

Kerry went to night school to finish his education. A teacher impressed with his initiative took him into the house she shared with her husband, where he lived rent-free until he could send for his wife the year after he arrived. After she arrived, Zarahoula augmented the couple's income by selling embroidery for dresses.

Later, Kerry dabbled in many fields, including running a hotel, which was uninsured and burned down, said Smith, whom he adopted in 1964. He gained and lost a fortune several times.

"He taught me if you fail at one thing, pick yourself up and go on," she said.

But when he discovered real estate, it seems he tapped a steady resource. He saw that people who couldn't afford a house might buy a mobile home.

Worth close to $1-million in today's dollars at his death in 1970, Smith said, Kerry lived humbly, his one indulgence a new Buick Electra every few years.

A story from when Smith was about 12 illustrates the generosity she said characterized Kerry.

A young couple approached him about buying a lot but lacked the $100 down payment. Always eager to help industrious people and with a soft spot for newlyweds, he agreed to let them pay it later. As security, they insisted on taking off their wedding bands and leaving them as security.

Several months later, they returned with the money. It was shortly before Christmas.

"I remember distinctly he took the money and the rings and gave it all back to them and said, "Merry Christmas. I hope you two will be as happy as my wife and I have been,' " Smith said.

The last of five children _ and also of a long line of young people Kerry sponsored in the United States _ Smith was sent to live with Arthur Kerry, who was her grand-uncle, at age 8.

Collecting the remaining mortgage payments from New Athens City, which she inherited when she was about 16, bankrolled Smith's college education, as well as later business ventures. She now runs her own business, Professional Fertilizer and Supply, and co-owns a lawn maintenance company, both in Clearwater.

On a sunny Sunday in autumn, Anastasia Kerry Smith returned to New Athens City for the first time in 30 years. She said it had been too painful before, though she often had driven past the old family homestead, not far away on Beltrees Street in Dunedin. There, her father taught her to graft trees and the two of them grew many palms that later were given away.

In New Athens City, most of the mobile homes _ and one house _ in the six-block subdivision are well-kept.

"Some of these trailers are the originals," she said. She winced at one that appeared run-down. Her father, who constantly quoted to her the precept of "everything in its place," would not have approved. But a moving van was backed up to the door, suggesting that the situation might improve.

Listening to the songbirds and seeing the green lawns on Diogenes Street, she was pleased.

"This looks nice back in here," she said. "All these palms we planted."

Then she ran into retired contractor Robert Gossett, 82. They remembered each other, hugged and swapped stories.

Smith asked whether Gossett remembered her father killing a 6-foot rattlesnake. No, he said, but he did recall that Kerry offered to sell him a brace of New Athens City lots for $800 each, with $20 down per lot _ and Gossett turned it down. Later, he had to pay $7,500 for an existing lot and home to get into the development.

She commiserated, saying "You would have had a heck of a deal there."

The development is a rarity in that it allows mobile homes but does not require homeowners association fees, which is what really defines a mobile home park, according to Mary Brennom, a real estate agent with Palm Harbor's ReMax Action First. The lots, generally measuring 60- by 100-feet, some with existing homes as small as 500 square feet, sell for $30,000 to $70,000 today.

No one in New Athens City claims to have been changed by Kerry's engraving about Diogenes' search for an honest man.

But residents who knew him say Kerry was such a man. He conducted business on a handshake, Smith said, but lost some faith in mankind with the 1963 assassination of President Kennedy.

"That's when he said we killed all the best, like Socrates . . . and Jesus Christ," Smith said. Kerry renamed a street in New Athens City for Kennedy in 1967.

Doris Pongetti, 57, whose father worked for Kerry in Connecticut and followed him to New Athens City, said neighborhood children used to borrow her broom to clean the writing on Diogenes Street, just to prove it was still there.

Miliotis is happy that the writing has survived. In the gutter of Diogenes Street, he said he sees a "muted voice (that) ought to be brought out."

"He was unselfish," Miliotis said of Arthur Kerry. "He could have put his name" on the streets of New Athens City. "No, he wanted to go with his memory and wanted to go with his culture."

Miliotis pauses for a moment as he looks for the right words. "He wanted to immortalize _ that's the word _ people who contributed to our culture and civilization."

A neighborhood of philosophers

In the Dunedin neighborhood of New Athens City, developer Arthur Kerry paid homage to the Greek philosophers he loved so well.

Solon Avenue _ A 6th-century B.C. statesman, Solon launched social, economic and constitutional reforms that made Athens more democratic and progressive.

Platon Avenue _ Platon is Greek for Plato, who lived from about 428 to 348 B.C., was the author of the Republic and remains one of the most influential thinkers of all time.

Aristides Street _ Several important ancient Greeks shared this name, including Aristides the Just, a general and statesman whose Delian league laid the foundation of the Athenian empire in the 6th century B.C.

Diogenes Street _ A Greek philosopher from the 4th century B.C., Diogenes founded the Cynics, who attacked materialism and convention. He was known, according to tradition, for wandering the streets in broad daylight carrying a lantern and saying he was "in search of an honest man."

Aristotle Street _ Aristotle lived from 384-322 B.C. and was known as a philosopher, psychologist, logician, moralist, political thinker, biologist, founder of literary criticism and tutor to the young Alexander the Great.

Archimedes Street _ A Greek mathematician and inventor who lived from about 287 to 212 B.C., Archimedes is known for discovering an important scientific principle while in the bathtub and running through town naked shouting "eureka, eureka" ("I have found it, I have found it.").

JF Kennedy Street _ This street was originally named for a legendary military figure named Aristomenes, but Kerry renamed it after the assassination of the 35th president.

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