From the time he was in the eighth grade, George Rallis wanted to be a football coach. His dream came true and he credits much of his success to a work ethic learned from his father. He and his brother John share their stories.
George’s father, Harry John Rallis, was from Amaliada, about 50 miles north of Pyrgos in the western Peloponnese of Greece. The “s” on the surname was eliminated in Greece where it is simply Ralli. Harry was born February 10, 1892, and after his father John died in 1900, his mother married George Anagnostopoulos. When Harry finished the fourth grade, his stepfather insisted he quit school and work on the family farm. Harry’s uncle later took him to Athens where he was able to work as a delivery boy in a grocery store for $20 per year. Due to carrying boxes up and down stairs, a poor diet and mistreatment by his boss, Harry was bow legged in his later life. In about 1907, Harry bought passage to America with $40 he had saved. His was an 18-day voyage during which he was fed only two meals with meat and the rest was beans, cheese, rice and olives. After arriving at Ellis Island Harry traveled to Omaha, Nebraska, where Harry’s uncle, John Rallis, bought him clothes and gave him a pushcart to sell popcorn, peanuts and chewing gum until he could no longer work in the cold weather.
From there Harry moved to Sioux City, Iowa, where he worked shining shoes and washing dishes for room and board. His next jobs were with the Armour Packing Company and on the railroad. He then relocated to Sioux Falls, South Dakota, and worked as a waiter in a restaurant. In 1918 he enlisted in the Army where he developed his cooking skills. After being discharged in January of 1920, he returned to Sioux Falls where he and two friends bought a cafeteria. His restaurant ownership continued with mixed success in Fort Dodge, Iowa; Great Falls, Montana; Spokane, Washington, (his first Coney Island shop) Seattle, Washington, and Salt Lake City, Utah, where he went broke during the Depression in 1932. In 1933 he opened the Coney Island Café in Yakima, Washington, which he operated successfully until 1955.
Harry had been married once before. Then a friend introduced him to Katina Julie Georgiadis Carabitson who lived in Vancouver, British Columbia. Katina was born on a farm outside of Constantinople (Istanbul), Turkey. Her father, although not in very good health, was conscripted into the Turkish army. Ironically, at the same time, Harry’s father, John, was fighting on the Greek side. John was a large man, and a mercenary, fighting for whoever paid him the most money. Both men died in the war. When the farm was confiscated by the Turks, Katina’s mother Marica was told to take her across a large body of water to improve her health. With a brother in Edmonton, Alberta, Marica and Katina left Greece and settled in Canada. It was there that Marica met and married George Carabitson. Three daughters, Katina’s half-sisters, were then born from that relationship. In 1933 the family moved to Calgary, Alberta.
There are two stories about Harry and Katina’s courtship in 1937. One is that Harry was in Calgary, Alberta, on business when he saw Katina in a revolving door at the Hudson Bay Company. He learned she was Greek, asked where she lived and met her parents. Another version is that Katina was visiting her aunt in Vancouver, British Columbia, where they met and married three days later.
In Yakima Katina and Harry operated the Coney Island Cafe. A “Coney Island” is a hot dog (a wiener on a bun) topped with ground beef, a thick savory sauce and the optional condiments of cheese and onions. While originating in Coney Island, New York, there are many replications around the United States. It was a successful business, especially with many soldiers visiting downtown Yakima from the Yakima Firing Center during their training operations. It had a large number of booths and a big counter space. The business was sold to Mike Poulos in 1955 when the Rallis family moved to Lewiston, Idaho, where they opened a smaller Coney Island Cafe. Harry and Katina divorced in 1958. Harry returned to Yakima and Katina ran the Coney Island for another year before moving to Seattle.
When their son John was born on May 11, 1939, Harry was very pleased to have the family name passed on. John, named after his paternal grandfather, was followed by George, born in Ellensburg, Washington, on April 23, 1940, and named after his step grandfather, George Carabitson.
John describes himself as an adventurer, soldier, politician and businessman. At the age of eight and nine, on the weekends he and George worked in their father’s New York Coney Island Restaurant in Yakima. Harry would give his sons a quarter a week to see the Saturday matinee at Browns Theater next door. When John asked to see the show again, Harry’s reply was, “get a job!” John made a deal with an elderly disabled man who had a newsstand at the corner of First Street and Yakima Avenue. He bought the Yakima Heralds from the man, paying two and a half cents per paper and sold them at five cents each. When his father asked where John was getting the coins and learned that John was selling papers in taverns and seedy hotel lobbies, he made his son quit his first business venture.
After graduation from Lewiston High School he moved around the northwest and Montana doing odd jobs on farms and small towns long enough to get him to the next farm or town. Harry was very disappointed that John did not attend college, but John has never regretted his decision instead to go places and see and do things on his own.
John served in the Idaho National Guard during high school and in the Army active reserves in Yakima. During his tour of duty in the United States Army, John received an honorable discharge and commendations including: Expert Rifle (M-1), Good Conduct Medal, Motor Vehicle Army Badge (tracked vehicle), Freedom Team Salute Commendation for outstanding military service and many years of service in the American Legion.
He moved to Seattle, Washington, where he met his wife, Christine Gallo from Mullen, Idaho. Their son, Alexander J. Rallis lives in Seattle. A second child, a baby girl died in the first hour of birth.
In Seattle, John started a successful recycling company that was purchased by Seattle’s trash hauler, Rabanco. He went to work for Rabanco managing his former company and their excelsior manufacturing company in Renton, Washington.
In June of 1985 he announced his candidacy for the position of Mayor of Seattle. While he never made it past the primary election, it was a great learning experience and another adventure for him. Although he was told he would never become Mayor of Seattle, his answer was Robert Kennedy’s quote prior to his assassination: “Other people see things and wonder why. I see the same things and say why not.” The Pony Express Corporation offered and John accepted a terminal manager position in Everett, Washington. In 2001 he was initiated into Everett’s Cascade Chapter of AHEPA (American Hellenic Educational Progressive Association) and served two terms as president of the chapter in 2006 and 2007. He remained an active member until retiring and moving to Columbia Falls, Montana, in 2009.
Also an inventor, John holds a United States patent for an Automated Warehousing and Cargo Loading System (AWCLS). He has other drawings of mechanical machines that have started the patent process and others are in the design stage.
George recalls a wonderful upbringing in Yakima where, at the time, there was a sizeable Greek population including the Demsons (see WAS HER MOTHER A GYPSY? under Keeping Community), Adelines (see REMEMBERING THE FORGOTTEN under Keeping Community), Georges and Tagaras. Several restaurants were operated by Greeks. Greeks did not live in one area but gathered at homes or community centers as there was no Greek Orthodox Church in the area. The Rallis family lived on the east side of Yakima. In the basement of their home Harry installed a large vat where George and John helped make wine for the visiting priests, families and friends. It was all Greek at home especially at social gatherings and when his grandparents visited from Canada. English came easy through George’s association with other young Greeks outside the home. His Greek language skills faded as he was increasingly away from a Greek community.
In Yakima George and John attended Lincoln and Barge Elementary Schools and Washington Junior High. When the Coney Island was sold in 1955, the family had a choice of moving to Moses Lake, Washington, or Lewiston, Idaho. Having spent summers with the Demsons at Soap Lake, near Moses Lake, the desert climate of eastern Washington was not appealing and they chose Idaho. In Lewiston George and John were thought of as the crazy Greeks and were nicknamed “Spaghetti” and “Meatball” by classmates. George had time off for football practice and games only after he met his responsibilities at the Coney Island. He and John both graduated from Lewiston High School.
George and Dana Marie Vandeburgh met in high school and were married in 1958. With their first child, Ron, on the way and to earn a bit more money, George went to work at Potlach Forest, then the largest white pine lumber mill in the world, while attending part time classes at the local college.
About this time George’s coaching dream began to become a reality. A friend was attending Boise Junior College (now Boise State University) and told George that its coach was coming through town and George should consider attending and playing football there. George and Dana accepted an offer from the coach with jobs and student housing in Boise. Their first apartment was to be demolished and was in very poor repair but their newer apartment worked out very well for the next two years. A second child, Rhonda, was born in Boise in 1961. The family then moved to Spokane, Washington, where George finished his bachelor’s degree at Whitworth College and their second daughter, Rena, was born in 1962.
As he was always working, Harry Rallis never saw his son play or coach football. However, Harry’s pride showed in other ways as George tells it in the video segment “Harry and his Son’s Football.” When George graduated from Whitworth College, Harry surprised his son with a camera, projector and editing machine for George to use in his coaching career. Harry said at the time, “Are you done playing? Are you ready to go to work?”
Now with a teaching certificate, they moved again where George began teaching United States history and coaching football and wrestling in Sunnyside, Washington, for the next four years. During those summers, George attended Gonzaga University back in Spokane to work on his master’s degree. While attending Gonzaga another offer was presented, this time as a graduate assistant at the University of Idaho in Moscow with housing, tuition and work in the physical education department while completing his master’s degree.
Now in his mid-20s, George really wanted to be a head football coach and two openings became available, one in Richland, Washington, and the other at Davis High School in Yakima. He accepted the Richland job and spent the next three years there from 1968 to 1971. During that time he had been attending football training camps and clinics in Portland, Oregon, and Seattle. The Richland job required a lot of travel so when a job coaching football and teaching physical education and history came available at Grant High School in Portland, he took it. George was now able to take a struggling football program to four city championships and five state playoffs from 1971 to 1980. From there George completed his career at David Douglas High School in suburban Portland where he retired from coaching in 1990 and continued to direct the weight training program until 2000. George was inducted into the Grant High School Athletic Hall of Fame in 2012.
As Dana was raised without a religious background or Greek language usage, her acceptance into a Greek family was not always easy. She was often asked, “Are you Greek?” or “Will you join the Church?” In Sunnyside when she and George were befriended by the Georges family, she and her children found pleasure in attending a Greek name day celebration with food, music and dancing, an event similar to that which George enjoyed as a child.
In about 1980 George began thinking about retirement and thought he would like to spend time fishing and hunting in the wilderness. A friend’s father was an outfitter in Idaho and George took a four-week class from him to learn horse packing. When a sporting goods store in Portland held a demonstration program, George’s interest increased. Later he spent a summer with a similar program in Yellowstone National Park. From there he spent the next 10 summers in the Bob Marshall Wilderness between Missoula, Montana, and Glacier National Park leading wilderness horse packing tours. He still relishes his time in the outdoors. He and Dana have traveled extensively in a motor home and enjoy watching their three grandchildren grow. Recently he was proud to see his grandson in Salt Lake City, Utah, make the all-regional football team.
It is interesting to note that John Rallis’ series of adventures took him many places for new opportunities, just as his father’s career involved a number of restaurants in different locations. Similarly, George’s teaching and coaching career changed direction several times.
While George has had little time to be involved in the Greek community or with the Greek Orthodox Church he has always been “one proud Greek.” His children are also proud of their heritage. George credits his wife Dana’s patience and support in raising their three children while he pursued his dream.
John has preserved his Greek heritage through active participation in AHEPA. He still speaks and understands some Greek and appreciates the Hellenic tradition. His dreams and life as an adventurer, soldier, politician and businessman have taken a different direction from that of his brother.
1 George and his Athletic Hall of Fame award, 2013
2 Maternal grandparents Marica and George Carabitson, circa 1920
3 (l-r) Katina, grandmother Marica, grandfather George, aunts Cleo and Bess Carabitson, early 1900s
4 Katina and Harry Rallis, 1938
5 Katina Rallis, circa 1943
6 Harry Rallis family, Katina, John, George, Harry, 1941
7 Harry Rallis, 1950s
8 John and George Rallis, 1940
9 John Rallis, circa 1990s
10 John Rallis’ patent, 2010
11 John, Katina and George, 2006
12 Christmas in Yakima (George holding package at left), 1944
13 George and John Rallis, 1943
14 George and John Rallis, circa 1956
15 George in high school at Lewiston, 1957
16 George horse packing, circa 1984
17 George Rallis family (l-r) rear: baby Max Griffiths, Dan Griffiths, Brittany Griffiths, Rena Rallis, George Rallis, Dana Rallis (red hair), Ron Rallis, Wendy Rallis, Rhonda Rallis; front: Jackson Griffiths, Stephanie Rallis, Weston Rallis, 2008
18 Dana and George Rallis, 2013
Photos 1 and 16 by John Nicon; all others from Rallis family collection SOURCES
Video interview by John and Joann Nicon, December 2013; family notes by Dana Rallis; notes by John Rallis