Washington, DC, October 2, 2019 – Vasilios S. Haseotes will be honored for his service to our country in WWI with the 2019 Oxi Service Award at a ceremony at the National WWII Memorial in Washington, DC on October 24, 2019. This ceremony is part of the Washington Oxi Day Foundation Courage and Service Awards.
Vasilios was born in 1892 in Politsani, a small village in the Epirus region of northern Greece, which at the time was under the Ottoman Empire. As the youngest child in his large family Vasilios quickly learned the meaning of hard work and developed a deep respect for his natural surroundings.
In 1904, Vasilios was sent to Constantinople to live with relatives and attend school where he learned English and he was inspired by the Holy City and its Orthodox Church.
In 1907 at the age of 15, he embarked alone on a journey aboard the SS Francesca, a freighter bound for America for a better life where his brother had written from a strange-sounding place called “Biddeford, Maine”. Following a journey that would have terrified many, the young Vasilios was detained for two weeks at Ellis Island because of his age.
He made his way up to Maine and joined his brother working in a local textile mill. Using the English he had learned in Constantinople, he became an interpreter for the other Greeks working at the mill as well as an advocate for them. After a period of time, the brothers relocated to Lonsdale, RI and worked in another mill with their fellow Greeks.
In 1917, Vasilios enlisted and joined the United States Army Infantry under the command of “Black Jack” Pershing to help quell the rumblings in Western Europe. To him, there was no decision to be made. America was his country now. And there was a job to be done.
Once again, he functioned as an interpreter; but this time it was to relay orders to his fellow Greeks who were fighting alongside him. Vasilios emerged from the forests of Verdun a hero, with shrapnel wounds and the effects of mustard gas. He was decorated by both the French and American governments.
After the War, Vasilios moved to Providence and became involved in a bakery business. But there were too many bakers for all of them to make a living so he sold fruit and produce until the Great Depression caused his business, and most everyone else’s, to fail. These were hard years for a man who had been raised to be independent and self-sufficient. But Vasilios was not discouraged. That word didn’t exist for him.
By 1927, he had married Aphrodite Bassis and in 1938, a new opportunity presented itself to them with a 110-acre farm in Cumberland, RI. Undaunted by necessary upkeep, Vasilios bought the property and somehow managed to scrape up an additional eighty-four dollars for a cow and a calf. He and Aphrodite would go on to have eight children – three sons and five daughters – who all helped on the farm in one way or another. As the family grew, a dairy business was being born. The cow and calf soon became twenty-five cows, and a local milk delivery route was established. Everyone in the area knew the Haseotes family, and even then considered them to be a remarkable success story. Within six years, they were selling 1,000 quarts of milk each day.
In 1956, the family opened its first jug milk store in Bellingham, MA. The Haseotes family revolutionized the region’s milk industry by shifting the emphasis from home delivery to milk stores. By 1962, Cumberland Farms stores were selling much more than milk. Customers could also buy groceries, beverages and health and cosmetic products in stores that stayed open long after other stores had closed for the day. This was the beginning of the convenience store era and the Haseotes family was at its forefront.
Cumberland Farms began in 1939 and this year is celebrating its 80th anniversary. Today, the company is the largest convenience store/petroleum marketer in the Northeast with approximately 562 outlets and 9,000 employees. Despite its size, the company still lives and succeeds by Vasilios and Aphrodite Haseotes’ original vision: deliver the highest level of convenience and customer satisfaction at the lowest possible price.
Vasilios was a founding member of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary parish in Pawtucket, RI and St. George parish in Centerville, MA. The title of Archon Depoutatos was bestowed upon him by the late Archbishop Iakovos in the 1960s for his devotion to the Church. Vasilios was also a supporter of St. Basil’s Academy in Garrison, NY.
Vasilios’s generosity and responsibility to the community lives on through the various philanthropic initiatives of Cumberland Farms: Cups for Kids which benefits pediatric care programs at New England regional hospitals; The Hope Fund, an emergency financial resource fund for company employees; Vasilios and Aphrodite Haseotes Scholarship funds at the University of Rhode Island; the Olympia Snowe Women’s Leadership Institute; and local support for communities in which the company operates.
The Vasilios S. and Aphrodite B. Haseotes Family Foundation continues to support Vasilios’s legacy at the American Farm School in Thessaloniki, Greece by funding the refurbishment of a library space as well as the new Haseotes Middle School building. It has also supported the Hellenic Nursing and Rehabilitation Center, Canton, MA, Perkins School for the Blind and Massachusetts General Hospital.
Vasilios was a loyal husband, a respected father and a beloved grandfather who will always be remembered for his allegiance to his country, his devotion to his Church and his exemplary character. He was a kind, generous and proud man.
In addition to their eight children Vasilios and Aphrodite had 17 grandchildren, 40 great-grandchildren and four great-great grandchildren with one on the way. He died on March 26, 1980 at the age of eighty-eight. William Loeb, late publisher of the Manchester Union Leader wrote a column at the time of his death called “This is America” and he said “This newspaper pays its respects to Vaslios Haseotes, a man who dared to try-and did it so effectively, not only for his own family’s benefit, but also for society as a whole”. It can easily be said that Vasilios was an exceptional human being. His legacy proves it.
Previous Greek-American recipients of the Oxi Service Award include: