The Indiana Children’s Wish Fund Honors Georgia Buchanan at their 25th Annual “Portrait of Wishes Gala”
Writer / Kara Kavensky
The Indiana Children’s Wish Fund began in 1984. “Our small staff does huge things,” shares Executive Director Terry Ceaser-Hudson. “We are a local Indiana organization that honors a lot of wishes each year for children diagnosed with life-threatening illnesses. Our fundraising is mainly done through unique and fabulous events.”
These events include an Airplane Pull with Republic Airways, a celebrity softball event held at Victory Field, Fuelicious the night before Automobilia in Carmel, a Celebrity Golf tournament with Fuzzy Zoeller, Evening with the Stars at Prime 47 in Carmel with a celebrity wait staff and Christmas in the Kitchen at the Hyatt Regency.
Celebrating their 25th Annual “Portrait of Wishes Gala,” the Indiana Children’s Wish Fund will present the 2016 Meagan Skinner Award to longtime supporter and champion of children, Georgia Gianakos Buchanan.
Sitting down to speak with Georgia Buchanan is like opening your grandmother’s jewelry box for the first time; she’s filled with personal treasures and delightful discoveries. For just reaching a milestone birthday and entering her 10th decade, she’s sharp as a tack and as spunky as ever.
Born to Greek immigrants in 1926, Georgia Gianakos grew up in downtown Indianapolis on West Washington St. above a bakery and a pool hall. This land is now home to the Eiteljorg Museum. She lived in an area known as “The District,” which consisted of Military Park to the north and The Settlement House where the JW Marriott now majestically rises. The Settlement House is where children born to immigrants went to learn English. Today, there is a plaque near the Eiteljorg honoring the historical site of The District. This area represented a true melting pot of Indianapolis during the early 20th century.
Georgia’s father owned The Manhattan, a Greek restaurant located near their home. When asked why her father named it The Manhattan, Georgia shared what her father had told her, “When my ship approached the mouth of the Hudson and the Statue of Liberty was in view, passengers were shouting, ‘Manhattan! We made it to Manhattan!’”
Newspapers would be left on chairs and tables in the mornings, and Georgia asked her dad to save them for her when she was a child. She couldn’t read it all, but she tried. She kept the papers under her bed by the stove in the kitchen in their flat above the pool hall.
Georgia spent her first couple years of high school at Manual. Up until that point, she studied at The Settlement House. As she walked hand-in-hand with friends across the city blocks, her eyes opened to a world previously foreign to her. She had never crossed West Street to the east or south of Maryland until that moment. The walk across the city to school and back each day expanded Georgia’s world exponentially.
“The manager at the back door of the Circle Theater would let us sneak in to watch films,” recalls Georgia. “I thought it was a palace with the velvet chairs and ornate woodwork. This exposure to film left an indelible impression on me. How ironic that I would become a movie critic!”
When Georgia was in the midst of her high school years, her parents realized their American Dream, buying their first home off 40th and Illinois. Leaving the 24 steps to their walkup apartment where Georgia’s bed was next to the oven in the kitchen, the Gianakos family of six moved into a beautiful new home. Georgia transferred to Shortridge High School for her junior and senior years.
Georgia knew, without a doubt, that she wanted to be a writer. She was so astute with this decision that after graduation, Georgia walked boldly into The Indianapolis News/Star office and announced she wanted to be a journalist. She was ready to get to work.
“When I was asked where I went to college, my answer was ‘Shortridge High School.’ To his credit, instead of laughing at me, the employment director wrote my name down and told me to go to college and come back in four years,” explains Georgia. “He said he would hire me, so I earned my degree at Butler University, and he was true to his word. Later, he told me he did not hire me for my talent – he hired me for my guts. He said that ‘guts is the most important thing in the newspaper business.’”
Georgia began writing promotions but longed to be upstairs writing a column with a byline. There were two female writers upstairs; one wrote a radio column and the other wrote the obituaries. One day, the managing editor wanted to see her about a newly available position upstairs. “I thought to myself, ‘Don’t be obits,’” shares Georgia. The gal who had been writing the radio column was pregnant and leaving her position. Georgia was her replacement.
Harry Truman was recently elected President, and television exploded, seemingly overnight. This new medium became an exciting focus for young Georgia, creating the opportunity of a lifetime. After years of sneaking in to watch movies, reviewing films became part of her job description.
Her experiences are ones for the history books. As the first reporter to cover television for The Indianapolis News, she was flown to New York City an average of four times a year to watch shows such as “The Milton Berle Show” and spent much of her time in California as part of an audience of critics. She watched Jane Wyman and other stars perform as everything was broadcast live.
Not only did Georgia interview celebrities, she corresponded with quite a few including Charlton Heston and Rosemary Clooney. “Rosemary and I corresponded for quite some time. She was just delightful. Charlton Heston was the most intelligent man I’ve ever spoken with,” states Georgia, adding, “Hugh Downs was also very bright.”
A highlight of her career occurred when Cary Grant came to Indianapolis on a media tour. He had agreed to an exclusive with The Indianapolis News, yet she was unable to leave her desk due to the deadline for their weekend TV edition. Cary surprised Georgia by coming to visit her directly at her desk. “And wouldn’t you know, all of our cameramen were out on assignment, but I at least got him to sign a glossy,” recalls Georgia.
The only time Georgia ever felt nervous during an interview was when she spoke with Edward R. Murrow. He was then anchor of the CBS newscast, “You Are There.” “He was such a giant in the industry,” says Georgia. To break the ice, she shared with Murrow that when she was a little girl, she listened to him over the radio while he covered WWII.
After working without a vacation for five years, Georgia, along with her older sister Athena, took a trip to Europe where Georgia would ship her column for print back to Indianapolis. Among their destinations, they visited the small village where their parents were born. After a rickety bus ride from Athens to Sparta, they traveled by mule to Tarapsa. Georgia knew then just how far her parents had come.
As a little girl, her mom would ship their gently used and worn clothing to Tarapsa. “There is always someone who has less than you,” her mother would say. Georgia and her siblings grew up with a keen awareness of the importance of giving back.
Years later, Georgia would marry and have a son, Bryan, with special needs. Since birth, Georgia has done everything she can for her son who is now flourishing in his 50s. Georgia created amazing opportunities for him in an age when support was unavailable.
In her lifetime, Georgia has chaired 30 events and sat on 10 different Boards. One of the events Georgia chaired was the Second Annual “Portrait of Wishes Gala” and continued on as chair for the subsequent decade.
“Georgia entered The Indiana Children’s Wish Fund in its infancy,” shares Terry. “I am who I am today because of her. She is like a mother to me. I can’t say enough about her.”
The annual Indiana Children’s Wish Fund “Portrait of Wishes Gala,” one of the largest fundraisers for the organization, will take place Saturday, October 8, 2016, at The Pavilion at Pan Am Plaza in downtown Indianapolis. Special festivities will take place to honor the 25th anniversary of the gala and more than 3,300 wishes granted for Indiana children.
For more information, visit indywish.org. For more amazing stories about Georgia Gianakos Buchanan, her memoir, “428½: My Journey Beyond the Railroad Tracks,” is available on Amazon.