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Donor Impact Stories

Keeping the Classics Alive

Christos Hatzoglou, raised in impoverished, war-torn Greece before immigrating to North America, was passionate about learning. In memory of his life’s journey, his daughter – and Montclair staffer – Maria Otto created a scholarship for students majoring in the Classics or Latin.

Posted in: Montclair State University Donors

Maria Otto and Christos Hatzoglou

Christos Hatzoglou was a toddler when his father was killed during the Greek Civil War. His mother, with four children and twins on the way, struggled financially. “They often went hungry,” Maria Otto, Hatzoglou’s daughter, tells us.

As soon as he was able, Hatzoglou started working as a barber to help his family get by, but the Peloponnese Region in the 1950s offered few opportunities to escape poverty. By 1960, Hatzoglou and his sister followed their uncle to Canada, traveling by ship.

“When they arrived in Canada, they had to let the officials there know how they intended to make a living,” Otto explains. “Since he had been a barber in Greece, he told them that he wanted to apply for a hairdresser’s license.”

Soon after, Hatzoglou met and married Otto’s mother and the couple welcomed their daughter into the world. “My mom’s family, also from Greece, began moving to the U.S., settling in Long Island,” Otto says. “We followed, but when my parents divorced, my dad moved to Jersey City and opened a salon there. After I graduated from high school, I moved to Jersey City to be with him, and to go to college.”

Hatzoglou’s Gazebo Salon served the community for nearly 30 years, but Otto knew that her father had left other dreams behind. “He always wished he had gone to college,” she says. “He taught himself how to read and write, studying the dictionary and geography whenever he had the chance. He loved learning – and playing along with Jeopardy!”

Hatzoglou passed away in 2021, with his daughter by his side. By this time, Otto had already joined Montclair’s Foundation and Advancement Services team and was responsible for managing scholarships that are created through private donations.

“I process a lot of scholarships that are set up to honor loved ones,” she says. “It is such a beautiful way to remember someone special. I started to think about my father’s love of learning, and how I could create a family legacy through a named scholarship.”

“My son and daughter-in-law are both Montclair graduates, which added to the sense of family history,” Otto continues. “But perhaps even more compelling is what I learn every day about Montclair students and their financial struggles. I read their scholarship applications as part of my job and I have to tell you that their situations can be heartbreaking. I wanted to help someone in need.”

By establishing the Christos Hatzoglou Memorial Endowed Scholarship, Hatzoglou’s memory – and Otto’s family legacy – will assist students for many generations to come. Designating the scholarship for students of the Classics or Latin honors her family’s Greek ancestry and acknowledges what her father gave up so that his daughter and grandchildren could know the many benefits of a college education.

“A lot of emotions go along with seeing my father’s name attached to something so valuable,” Otto says. “That was especially true when the very first Christos Hatzoglou scholarship was awarded on April 13, which is my father’s birthday.”

For the first recipient, Frank Wietry, a senior majoring in Filmmaking and Latin, the scholarship is an honor and a source of relief. “I greatly appreciate having been selected to receive this scholarship,” he says. “The scholarship has been a tremendous financial help… it really means a lot to me and I can’t say thank you enough!”

“Students send us thank-you notes expressing their appreciation for scholarship support,” Otto adds. “Even the smallest scholarship gifts make a big difference in their lives.”