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Preservation of American Hellenic History

Helen Zeese Papanikolas

Obituary and Bibliography

With deep sadness, I report the death of folklorist and ethnohistorian Helen Papanikolas. The funeral will be at Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church, Salt Lake City, Utah, on Friday, November 5, 2004, at 1 pm.

A tireless chronicler of Greek America , Helen Papanikolas has contributed vastly to ethnnic studies as well as regional institutions. Greek-American studies have benefited from her work in folklore, ethnohistory, autobiography, family biography, fiction, editorship, archive-building, consulting, and public speaking. Her publications include a non-fiction book, a novel, two collections of short stories, scores of essays and articles, and the editing of a seminal volume on the people of Utah (see the bibliography below).

The interviews that she has collected through years of fieldwork are preserved at the Oral History Archive at the Marriot Library, University of Utah. Her extensive archival work on Greek America includes "one of the strongest collections of artifacts in any local community" which lead to the establishment of the Hellenic Cultural Museum in Salt Lake City (Notarianni, 2003:30).

She served as a member of the Board of the Utah Historical Society and contributed numerous articles to its magazine, the Utah Historical Quarterly. As a consultant she has contributed to the making of the following:

  1. Documentaries:
    Greeks of Utah (1999).
    Joe Hill: Dangers and Disasters (2002).
  2. Community History:
    Greek-American Pioneer Women of Illinois (2000).
  3. Photo-documentary:
    The Other Utahns: A Photographic Portofolio (1988).
  4. Novel:
    Jeffrey Eugenides's Middlesex.
  5. Drama:
    King of America (PBS American Playhouse series, 1981).

The vast record of her public lectures testifies to a life-long contribution to community life, commitment to diversity, and social advocacy for the disenfranchised. The recent homage paid to Papanikolas in the Journal of the Hellenic Diaspora (2003) illuminates her vast capacity for deep care and generosity as a researcher but also as a human being.


Murphy, Miriam B., "Helen Zeese Papanikolas", Utah History Encyclopedia, Allan Kent Powell, ed. (Media Solutions, University of Utah Office of Information Technology, 1996-1998), available at www.media.utah.edu/UHE/p/PAPANIKOLAS.html.

Helen Zeese Papanikolas was born in 1917 in Cameron, Carbon County, Utah, to Greek immigrants Emily Papachristos and George Zeese, who established the Success Market chain in Salt Lake City, where the family moved in 1933. Editor of the campus literary magazine Pen, she received a B.A. degree from the University of Utah in 1939. She married Nick E. Papanikolas, and they have two children.

Her publication in 1954 of The Greeks of Carbon County signaled the beginning of an important new phase in the writing of Utah history that came to full fruition in the 1970s and 1980s with the publication of numerous works on ethnic history and folklore. Her studies and those of others stimulated by her pioneering work broadened the scope of Utah history, which had generally focused on settlement and progress under Mormon direction, and contributed to a fuller understanding of the state's industrial development and its rich cultural heritage. Major publications by Papanikolas include Toil and Rage in a New Land: The Greek Immigrants in Utah (1970), The Peoples of Utah (1976), and Emily-George (1987).

A leading authority on Greek immigrant life in the United States, she has presented papers at national and international conferences and has served as a consultant for television documentaries and other projects. The Peoples of Utah Institute, of which she was a founder (1977) and the first president, located and identified artifacts associated with ethnic life, produced a major museum exhibit, and sponsored lectures and other programs. Papanikolas also collected numerous documents, conducted extensive interviews, and was instrumental in organizing the ethnic archives at the University of Utah. Her influence on research into ethnic life in Utah is great and unparalleled.

She has received many awards, including Archbishop of the Americas Iakovos Saint Paul Medal (1972); Fellow of the Utah State Historical Society (1975); Japanese-American Citizens League Award (1976); Brotherhood Award, National Conference of Christians and Jews, Utah Chapter (1978); Distinguished Alumna Award, University of Utah (1983); and Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters, University of Utah (1984). She has served on the Children's Service Society Board (1962-69); Advisory Board of Editors, Utah Historical Quarterly (1969-73); Board of State History (1973-85); and Utah Endowment for the Humanities State Committee (1973-79).


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