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Location: Birmingham, MI, United States

Councilman John Akouri, former Washington, DC Press Secretary & Capitol Hill Advisor, is President & CEO of the Lebanese American Chamber of Commerce.

Monday, July 04, 2005


Councilman celebrates milestone in style with 'Summer Soiree on the Lake' - Governor pens letter while Speaker & House declare Proclamation; Washington dignitaries deliver Salute; Press Corps and Grade School Teachers, Classmates chime in with high praise (ORCHARD LAKE, MI)…Farmington Hills City Councilman John Akouri turned forty this past Tuesday, June 28, 2005. And on Saturday, July 2, guests from around the country converged on Southeast Michigan to celebrate in style at an invitation-only grand affair coined ‘A Sunset Soirée-on-the-Lake,’ thrown by family and friends of John Akouri. Delegations of friends and family began arriving on Thursday from distant locales such as Houston, Texas, Cedar Rapids, Iowa, Chicago, Illinois, Washington, D.C., Fresno, California, Lansing and Ann Arbor.

Nearly 200 people made their way to the Wards Pointe Estate waterfront residence of Frederick F. Binno – gracious host of the event and brother-in-law of the Man of the Hour. As the guests began arriving at twilight, they were treated to the sounds of soft and alluring music by international soundman Tedy Geagea, whose client file has included some of the most famous performers of the Middle East, during his time in Beirut, Lebanon. The lakeside estate was transformed into a summer wonderland with American flags and scented citronella candles lining the walkways and gracing the beautiful gardens landscaped especially for the evening. The center of attraction was undoubtedly the newly restored Italian marble Water Fountain and its aesthetic surroundings. While the sun started to set and dusk progressively emerged, all eyes were on the calm and serene Cass Lake in the Village of Orchard Lake, as the water crept up to the shore for an amazing resonance. Champagne and cocktails were the order of the day as the view of the surrounding lake at sunset was simply and undeniably breathtaking as evident by the accompanying photographs.

In addition to the many guests from out of town, the list of those in attendance could have filled a Sunday Society Page. They included Capitol Hill Senior Counsel to US Rep. John Conyers - Carol Patton, Esq., Honorary Consul General for the Republic of Turkey Ms. Nurten Ural, State Department International Visitors Council Executive Director Ms. Julie Oldani, NASA Scientist Dr. Hamid Kantara, renown cardiologist Dr. Elie Kassab, eminent ophthalmologist Dr. Mazin Yaldo, famed journalist Niraj Warikoo, of the Detroit Free Press and famous Gospel Recording Artists Darlene & Sarah, to name a few. Earlier in the day, John received a personal telephone call from Dr. Ali Ajami, the Consul General of Lebanon, who was vacationing in Ohio over the Fourth of July holiday weekend, wishing John the happiest of birthdays on behalf of the people and government of the Republic of Lebanon and the Diplomatic Corps.

Following first-class valet services by Franco Suleiman and his premiere corps of talented and experienced drivers, guests were welcomed upon their arrival by John Akouri himself and humbly thanked for their presence and wishes. Many of John’s longtime friends and even former teachers were also present for the festivities including his best friend since the fourth grade Peter Ceplecha and wife Christine, his college buddy Hassan Siblani and wife Amal, and Larry Detter – a teacher at O.E. Dunckel Junior High School where John was a student back in the late 1970’s – and wife Diane. The presence of Very Reverend Father Ghattas Khoury, Pastor of the Cathedral of St. Maron Maronite Catholic Church (of which John is a Member on the Parish Council) was an absolute and distinguishing honor. And just hours before the gala celebration was underway, John received a surprise long distance telephone call from Helsinki, Finland from his friend of many years Taija Stranius, extending her greetings and finest wishes to mark this very special occasion.

While the music played and the sun set, a veritable grand buffet of mouth-watering European & Middle Eastern cuisine prepared especially for the evening, awaited all who hungered. Starting with the traditional Lebanese Hommus and Taboulieh, (generously provided through the kindness of Mr. Bassam Attisha and his family-owned New Sahara chain of restaurants), it seemed as though the choices never ended. The exquisite menu included freshly baked warm dinner rolls, a Mediterranean Spring Salad with all the trimmings, Boneless Breaded Breast of Chicken, Grilled Italian Sausage with Mixed Peppers & Vidalia Onions, tempting creamy Russet Potatoes Au-Gratin, fresh steamed Green Beans & sweet California Almonds, and an enticing hearty Sicilian Pasta Marinara. Two very capable banquet hosts dressed in black tie and vest, of the St. Clair Shores-based Barrister Gardens, manned the food station as guests devoured the palatable fare.

Following the delightful feast, guests couldn’t wait to get their hands on the irresistible and appealing dessert table, and the evening succeeded in pleasing their sweet appetites. Just as soon as dinner was complete the tasty delights were gone in what seemed like seconds. To cap off such a delicious meal, only the most scrumptious and delectable pastries would do, starting with an extraordinary assortment of fresh tropical fruits wholesomely prepared by Johns maternal Aunt Adele Abraham. Sweet Lebanese Baklava – sheets of Filo richly endowed with Persian pistachios and sweetened with rose water and sugar syrup by world famous Shatila Pastries of Dearborn were hand delivered by two of John’s closest friends – newly engaged Rafeef El-Hajj, and Attorney Kenwah Dabaja. And for the piece-de-resistance: baked with only the finest natural ingredients, an incredibly spectacular Euro-style Birthday Cake from Paris Pastries of Oak Park, which was hand selected by Market Consultant Fuad Binno and tantalizing to the taste.

A short program commenced as Jimmy Akouri opened with brief remarks welcoming all who were in attendance and those that traveled from afar. He then turned the microphone over to John’s longtime friend Peter Ceplecha, who led the crowd in a heartfelt toast delivering a time-line sequence of events between them both from childhood through their college years to present day. Glasses were raised in John’s honor toasting to his forty years. Johnny Oram, Lansing Chief of Staff to Michigan State Representative Lamar Lemmons, now set the stage for an astonishing Tribute. Members of the Michigan Legislature, from both the House & Senate, signed onto a State Proclamation offered by the Speaker of the House of Representatives, honoring John Akouri for a lifetime of achievements at such a young age. The highlight of the evening came when Oram stunningly surprised John with an official letter from Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm addressed to him personally. (Please see below to read both the Proclamation and the Letter). Also during the tribute, Carol Patton, a senior Capitol Hill Congressional Advisor, bestowed ‘Ambassador’ Akouri with a distinctly Washingtonian salute and presented to him an authentic Pickard China Embassy Plate. Offering that special touch of elegance seen only when dining in American embassies around the world or with the President aboard Air Force One or at Camp David. Michael Akouri then closed the speaking portion of the evening with sincere and brotherly remarks.

Akouri, clearly moved by the tribute, expressed his deepest thanks and gratitude to Oram, Ceplecha, Patton and his two brothers for their kind comments, toasts and presentation. “Thank you all so much for coming and sharing in this joyous celebration with me and my family,” said a beaming Akouri. “Each and every one of you is so incredibly special to me and I truly cherish our life-long friendships with so many of you. By being with me on this auspicious occasion, you have truly enriched my happiness with your thoughtfulness. I thank God for bestowing forty years of blessings upon me and I look forward to the next forty years with great enthusiasm and with you all by my side. Thank you again for adding to the joyful spirit of this celebration and for giving me a lasting memory of your kindness, generosity and love,” concluded Akouri. Then, led by his two brothers who were at his side, the singing of that time-honored traditional birthday song began, culminating with all joining in from the dock, to the yard to within the estate. A harmonic chorus echoed throughout the encompassing Lake with the official singing of ‘Happy Birthday to You' to the guest of honor - never sounding better.

Immediately following the short program, the sounds of the very best of ‘Old Blue Eyes’ himself filled the moonlit air as Jimmy Akouri took to the microphone and began singing a rendition of songs from the glory days of the Rat Pack. Jimmy’s voice was pleasing to all ears as he belted out song after song – crooning his own compilation in a tribute to the Chairman of the Board. Highlights of the show were several impromptu duets when Fouad Akouri, Michael Akouri and Jehan Salah all took turns singing with Jimmy. While some guests were dancing under the stars to Frank Sinatra tunes, others like legendary celebrity stylist Abe Aon and Ural Designs executive Marcus Mann were simply enjoying a fine cigar, and many more – together with Laba & Marie Hellow and Joseph & Martha Ajluni – were awestruck by the beauty of the night as they enjoyed gazing at the stars and the moon and the lake.

Though a light-hearted and good-humored college rivalry erupted between Harvard Law School graduate Marvin Ammori and Yale University graduate Jumana Kayrouz, the true fireworks began when midnight fell. With the evening moon as a backdrop, the sparkling nighttime sky was filled with an impressive array of colorful and patriotic fireworks . Amazed by all who viewed this display including: prominent attorney’s Nazek Saffar and Ashley Mammo and exteemed Psychologist Dr. Zena Najor, as well as celebrated restaurateur Nazir Fayad and illustrious PR guru Isabella Agby, this was the perfect segue for the music to kick into high gear and the Arabic dancing to commence. During the entertainment portion of the evening, the ‘dance floor’ area was indeed the most sought after place to be at this point. Authentic Middle-Eastern belly dancing turned into a folkloric Lebanese village dabke (traditional line-dancing). For the sake of recording these lifetime memories, Lyla & Sylvia Akouri graciously captured countless images of the dancing and of all the events surrounding the soirée digitally on film and video. As the affair rolled into the wee hours of the morning dawn, a sunrise continental breakfast lied ahead at daybreak for those with energy yet to burn.

A Fourth of July Holiday Summer Barbecue was hosted the following day at the poolside manor of Fouad & Sylvia Akouri for all of the out-of town guests. Over the weekend, many of the visiting friends and family enjoyed a first-class VIP tour of the Detroit Metropolitan area including stops to the Village of Frankenmuth for a luncheon at Zehnders Bavarian Inn and a chance to explore Bronner’s Christmas Wonderland; Historic Greektown for a traditional Hellenic dinner with Flaming Cheese (Saganaki) OPA!, Deep Sea saltwater Octopus, and smooth Ouzo (Yasoo!) plus a late night Motown Sound performance at the Apollo Lounge, dancing at the new Kabobgy Lebanese Nightclub; a feast of Middle-Eastern Grille at the recently restored Shenandoah Country Club and Golf Course (courtesy of Mr. Nick Najjar); a solemn and serene pilgrimage to the Ave Maria Grotto over looking the water at the Orchard Lake St. Mary’s Seminary; and no trip would be complete without a shopping spree throughout the legendary City of Dearborn – home to Ford Motor Company World HQ, for traditional Lebanese gifts, groceries and pastries followed by a 'Midnight Sahra Arabia' of Turkish Coffee and Argelieh.

The true essence of the entire weekend is one that will be remembered by all for years to come – as the weather was just perfect and a splendid time was had with the presence of those in attendance. John Akouri turning forty will forever be inextricably linked to the Summer Soirée on Orchard Lake during that long Hot Summer of 2005.

JOHN AKOURI ONLINE NEWSROOM 'We will confront this mortal danger to all humanity. We will not tire, or rest, until the war on terror is won.' -- PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH Add to end of above"line without paranthesis when wanting to loop sound (( loop="-1">