WATERLOO, Iowa --- St. Demetrios Greek Orthodox Church has weathered the Great Depression, two fires and a dwindling congregation.

But the building at 613 W. Fourth St. still stands as a testament not only to the Greek immigrants who built it in 1929 but also to their descendants who continue to ensure the church remains a gem in the heart of Waterloo's historic Church Row.

"It's a very unique church that has not really changed over the years," said Ed Otteson, a member of the city's Historic Preservation Commission. "It's phenomenal that they were able to keep it in repair and looking how it does in these times."

The commission recently honored the congregation at St. Demetrios with a 2011 historic preservation award for its efforts to maintain the building over the past 80 years.

The Rev. Joseph Mirowski, who travels from Mason City to lead services at St. Demetrios each Sunday night, said the honor was well deserved.

"They're very good about taking care of their building and making sure everything is taken care of," Mirowski said, noting the front steps were recently replaced, and repairs are slated for an area behind the altar. "They are a very dedicated group; there's a lot of love there."

Jim Zarifis, who was baptized in St. Demetrios, now serves as church president and "a 76-year-old altar boy."

"We were honored to get the award," said Zarifis, who takes great pride in maintaining the church's intricate and ornate artifacts, including the icons --- sets of religious paintings that play a large role in Orthodox services.

The Orthodox faith came to Waterloo in the early 1900s with Greek settlers, according to historical records compiled for St. Demetrios' 75th anniversary.

The first-known Greeks to settle in Waterloo were Louis Chaparas and James Costas, who operated confectionery shops at 526 Commercial St. and 305 E. Fourth St. Most Greeks lived in an area bounded by West Eighth, West Second, Commercial and Washington streets, which was called "Greek Town."

In 1914 the Greeks formed what would become St. Demetrios --- the first Greek Orthodox Church in Iowa --- and began holding services in a rented hall on Bluff Street. During that time, 75 Greeks donated $1 each to begin raising money for a new church.

The current church was built in 1929 for $17,950 by John G. Miller Construction. Despite many difficulties paying the construction debt through the ensuing Great Depression, the congregation persevered and eventually burned the mortgage in 1944.

Many in Waterloo became acquainted with St. Demetrios when the church held a Greek buffet dinner in 1958, inviting the community to join them. This annual church fundraiser was a popular community event for 37 years.

"It really grew into a big deal," Zarifis said. "People got to have food they'd never had before."

A declining congregation, which now includes about 35 members, brought the banquet to an end in 1995 and now presents a challenge for the church's future.

"At one time we had a little over 100 families here," Zarifis said. "We pray to God that we can keep going."

But he said the building will continue to be maintained.

"Thanks to our ancestry we have a pretty good kitty," he said.

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