When Anna Asimakopoulos saw a map showing Seattle, Washington, in the far northwest corner of the United States, she said “stin ali akri tou cosmo” (at the end of the earth). Her sons, Andrew and Theo (Thoukididis), are grateful their father gave up a successful job as a firefighter in Athens, Greece, to bring his family to “far off” Seattle.
As Andy understands, the words asimi (silver) and poulos (son of) indicate that he and his family may well be “people of silversmiths.” Andy has yet to receive any silver as an inheritance!! But, he did find some relatives in Wenatchee, Washington, who changed their name to Smith at Ellis Island and then back to Asimakopoulos in the late 1980s.
GEORGE AND ANNA
George and Anna (nee Kokkinos), were from the town of Lidoriki, west of Delphi in Central Greece. George was born on November 9, 1912. Anna was born on January 10, 1916. George left Lidoriki for Athens when he was about 20 years old to find work. He later returned to the village to marry Anna. When they moved to Athens, he secured a job as a firefighter with the help of his koumbaro (best man or godfather of one’s child). In 1943, shortly after Andy was born, the family was visiting Lidoriki during the German occupation when the townsfolk were forced to leave and hide in the mountain caves. Anna kept Andy fed with only breast milk for 30 days until they were able to return to Lidoriki. In 1945, during the civil war following World War II, the family again visited Lidoriki where the communists identified George as a non-communist insurgent and put him in jail. Anna, with the assistance of a local attorney, aggressively confronted the head jail master and, with much commotion and confusion, George was released. The attorney told the family to pack their bags and leave immediately for Athens before the Communists changed their minds. A cousin, Voula, provided them with a donkey, a rifle and a pistol; they made the trek to Eratini. As they were boarding the boat in Eratini they could hear shots being fired behind them. As an uncle had been killed by a firing squad, the family was indeed fortunate to escape.
In Athens, George’s job as a firefighter provided the family with a stable income. Anna worked at home, caring for Andy and his younger brother, Thoukididis, who was born July 30, 1949. Anna wanted her second son to be called Athanasios and was very distraught when the nouno (godfather) exercised his option to name the child. The family initially lived in the Athens neighborhood of Pangrati and then moved to suburban Holargos.
In 1950 George received a letter from his sister, Margaret Delimitros, who lived in Seattle. She offered to sponsor her brother and his family and have them join her in Seattle. Despite his good job in Athens, George did not hesitate. In the winter of 1950 he traveled by himself, first by boat to New York, then Greyhound bus to Los Angeles, California, to visit his brother and again on the bus north to Seattle.
Anna, Andy and Thoukididis followed three months later to New York on an 18-day crossing on the NEA HELLAS during rough weather. Andy, at age seven, enjoyed the trip, exploring from bow to stern while his mother worried he would fall off the ship. And, she was seasick for most of the time. Andy vividly remembers seeing the Statue of Liberty when the ship came into New York harbor and his amazement when he first saw a black man.
They boarded the train to Seattle with a stopover in Chicago, Illinois. Speaking no English, with only two suitcases, no money and Andy leading his 18-month-old brother, they were desperately wondering how to catch the next train. A miracle happened in Chicago when Anna (by the grace of God) recognized a man they knew from Lidoriki. The man helped them board their train to Seattle. Andy remembers two nuns on the train who showed them a map of the United States and pointed to Seattle in the upper corner. Anna said “stin ali akri tou cosmo” (at the end of the earth). The nuns also gave Andy a Butterfinger candy bar. He loved the chocolate but not the peanut butter, something he had never tasted in Greece. Three days later, seeing snow in Montana and clouds in Seattle, they were met at the King Street Station by George and his brother-in-law, Herman Delimitros. It was the winter of 1950 and, while Anna was initially discouraged, she was relieved when she finally saw some sunshine in Seattle, a climate reminiscent of her village in Greece. It was 13 years later when she returned to Greece and came to fully appreciate her life in Seattle.
The family first lived with George’s sister in Seattle’s Wallingford neighborhood. It was like a Greek enclave with Sourapas, (see HIRES TO YOU), Pallikaris, Manos, Georges (see SORT OF LIKE A VILLAGE), Spiro, Delimitros and other Greek families within a stone’s throw of each other. Later, with money borrowed from a fellow Greek, they were able to purchase their own home nearby. One family donated beds for Andy and Thoukididis and later received the return favor of a loan to meet a business expense. George worked at Western Steel for over 20 years, as did many Greek immigrants, and Anna worked as a seamstress for Buttnicks, Roffe and Dimitri apparel companies, all no longer in business. Times were not easy for the family, but they were getting by.
Entertainment was simple and inexpensive, usually with other Greek families and consisted of picnics at Woodland Park, strolling at Green Lake or enjoying the water, mountains and sunset at Golden Gardens. Theo describes his father as a “Chevy/apple pie/New York Steak” type of guy,” who owned a 1962 red Chevrolet. There were also the Greek community picnics at Angle Lake or Vasa Park where George would entertain with his accordion. In Greece, George had loaned four lira (Italian gold coins) to a friend but, when he sought repayment, the friend had only two lira. With some intimidation by Anna, they took the two lira and the man’s accordion. George began taking lessons. Somehow he brought the accordion to Seattle and became very proficient. Anna would often join him singing the traditional songs of their village. (see FOUND TREASURES) The Greek immigrants harkened back to their homeland through George’s accordion music while singing, dancing and smiling at the picnics. On one occasion, a hat was passed around and George made $75.00. He came home with thoughts of quitting his job and earning a living with the accordion. Anna convinced him otherwise. George continued to play well into his eighties and the 72-year-old accordion still works.
Andreas “Andy” Georgios Petros Asimakopoulos was born in Athens on March 19, 1943. In Greece, Andy attended preparatory school, joined the Cub Scouts, learned to recite the pimata (poems) and enjoyed a playful childhood. In Seattle, at eight years old, Andy began the third grade at Interlake Elementary School (now the Wallingford Center). As the other children responded to the teacher’s expressive reading of nursery rhymes and stories, Andy had no idea of what was being said. Teasing by classmates occasionally resulted in fights. He did receive a couple of broken noses, but also prevailed in a few fights. When he lost the fights, nothing was said but when he won, he was reported to the principal and notes were sent home branding him as a troublemaker. Until the sixth grade he also received help with reading but, by the eighth grade at Hamilton Junior High, he had caught up and was readily accepted by his peers. For Andy it was like turning a light switch on and off, or changing personas, speaking only Greek at home, then, as he learned the language, English at school.
To earn some money, Andy sold newspapers in front of the Food Giant grocery store (now Wallingford QFC). He also approached Mrs. Sourapas for help in approaching neighbors to mow their lawns. With a very heavy accent Andy used her words and knocked on a few doors saying “Can I cut the grass for you?” After having doors slammed in his face, his only customer was Annetta Spiro, his Greek neighbor, who paid him 50 cents.
Andy did some acting as a child in Greece and while attending Greek classes after school at Hamilton. He remembers the katharevousa (formal Greek) poems which he recited for parents at the end-of-the-year recitals. These thespian experiences did contribute to his successful career later in life. From the eighth grade on through high school at Lincoln he assimilated rapidly, participating in basketball, track and serving on several school committees. Following graduation in 1961, he attended Seattle University and graduated with a degree in biochemistry. The combination of his early performances and his biochemistry studies prepared him well for his future employment. He began working for a pharmaceutical firm which sold to Bristol Myers, then to Instrumentation Laboratories and finally PhysioControl. His work consisted primarily of selling pharmaceuticals and medical instruments until 1975 when Andy began his own business, Norwest Medical, Inc. With up to four sales people, Norwest Medical contracted with about 25 biomedical companies and served the market for the northwest states. It was a very successful business which he sold in 2008. Since then, Andy spends about a quarter of his time as a sales consultant for a few companies and assists his son in a similar business venture.
In 1964 Andy and his good friend, John Panagiotou, went to visit some friends. Carol Burton, a University of Washington student, was also there and caught Andy’s interest. After an initial refusal, Carol finally agreed to a date. “She was fantastic,” says Andy and the romance began. Five years passed and while they experienced considerable resistance from some Greeks, they were married on July 12, 1969. The Greek perception at the time was, that for better or worse, they were “opening the door” to interfaith or intercultural marriages. Carol had worked as a systems engineer for IBM (International Business Machines) and later as a travel information technology programmer. When their children were born, she became a housewife and mother while, at the same time, performing all the accounting work for Andy’s business.
Their children, Christina “Tina” and Andrew “Drew,” were born in 1971 and 1974 respectively. They both live near their parents and have given Andy and Carol three grandchildren. For Tina and Drew, Greek is their heritage but not their culture. Both have experienced trips to Greece and have learned some of the language. Andy is pleased to see them appreciating the best of both Greek and American cultures.
Thoukididis Asimakopoulos was just 18 months old when he arrived in Seattle and thus assimilated much easier than his older brother Andy. He used English almost as soon as he began speaking even though his parents spoke only Greek at home. His early life was mostly centered on the Greek community and the Greek Orthodox Church. He earned money with a paper route and by mowing lawns. School proved to be difficult for “Ike,” (as was called by his friends) and increasingly difficult in junior high school as he began to stutter at the age of 12. Because his parents were not comfortable with the English language, they did not attend school conferences and the problem was not addressed. It wasn’t until later that Ike realized that ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) and dyslexia had made school a nightmare for him. That discovery facilitated an adjustment in school. Although he started to become popular in school, Ike kept to himself and would go home for lunch most of the time.
In 1962, at age 14, Ike and a friend were featured in the North Central Outlook (the neighborhood paper at the time) when they found $95.00 in a little yellow box in the gutter and gave the money to the police department. The money was later claimed by its very grateful owner as it represented his monthly paper route collections. When he was 16 years old, Ike made the local newspaper again. Ike had just left home on his bicycle when he heard someone screaming. Time and space seemed to stand still for him. He saw two boys running, one carrying a woman’s purse. He told them to stop. This was quite an amazing feat when Ike then captured the boys single handedly and held them while a neighbor called the police. Like a cowboy on a horse, he raced after them, shouting “Stop” and “like a calf wrestler” he overtook the 14-year-old boy who had the purse. They pleaded with Ike to let them go but he held them until the police arrived. Ike was a hero that summer; he felt good about himself and his confidence increased sharply.
Ike loves sports. He played basketball at the neighborhood Boys Club where his team won many state championships. He attended Lincoln High School where he was a two-year letterman in basketball and participated in track. Toward the end of high school his school counselor informed Ike that his SAT (Scholastic Aptitude Test) scores were too low for college entrance but that he would be better suited for a trade. He ignored this assessment and attended Shoreline Community College on a basketball scholarship then transferred to the University of Washington (UW), eventually graduating from the Foster School of Business.
He joined the business world but stumbled, fell and failed a few times. In his words, “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.” He eventually found some success dealing with real estate foreclosures. He increased his self-confidence by taking elocution classes at the UW Experimental College which eventually lead to acting classes. Taking a leap of faith believing that a “net would always appear when you learn to fly,” he became seriously interested in acting. He read many biographies about actors who stuttered or had other speech problems. In fact, the great voice of the actor James Earl Jones, (Darth Vader in the Star Wars series), who in real life stutters, was an inspiration to Ike. He discovered that when he memorized the spoken words from a script he didn’t stutter at all. Ike was very comfortable with that discovery and continued taking acting classes while working in real estate.
He trained in Seattle and at both the Lee Strasberg Theatre and Film Institute and the Third Street Theater Group in Los Angeles. He commercialized his name, changing it to “Theo” in 1990 and chooses to be called Theo now. In the early 1990s he appeared in a national commercial for Starbucks that landed him his SAG (Screen Actors Guild) card. At 48 years of age, he moved to Los Angeles to pursue an acting career and his new journey began. Friends and peers supported him but his family thought he was a “little crazy.” He spent over eight years in Los Angeles, appeared in many television shows including General Hospital and Arrest and Trial, among others. Commercial credits have included Starbucks, Barilla Pasta and VISA. Theo connected with Greeks in Los Angeles and participated in the annual Los Angeles Greek Film Festival (LAGFF) which celebrated its tenth year in 2016. In 2007 he moved back to Seattle to be close to family, especially his mother Anna who turned 100 on January 14, 2016 and died the following May. Now Theo is focused on creating new projects, writing scripts and collaborating with other film makers in Seattle and Los Angeles. Presently he has a short film in development and three others are slowly being developed.
Theo’s determination has assisted him in all areas of his life and he works on training his body and mind every day. He has run five marathons, three half-marathons, one triathlon and many ten-kilometer runs; his medals jingle on the metal hat rack when he opens his front door. When not working on stage or film, he enjoys fly fishing, cycling, lap swimming, sculling, hiking and good Greek food. He is proud of his culinary skills and enjoys cooking for friends and family. He also keeps focused with a 27-year spiritual practice of Buddhist Mantra yoga. “It is a unity of mind, body and spirit.”
Now living in Edmonds, Washington, Theo was recently cast in the Driftwood Players production of “Murder on the Nile” at the Wade James Theatre. Theo will keep doing stage work when it is available.
SOME FINAL THOUGHTS
Andy and Theo are very grateful that their family had a sponsor in Seattle and that their father gave up a successful position in Athens to move for the benefit of his sons.
Had the Asimakopoulos family remained in Greece, Andy could see himself selling skoularikia (earrings) on some corner kiosk with a little bell to attract customers. He knows the system in Greece does not provide the upward mobility he has enjoyed in the United States. He appreciates how his aunt and two cousins in Greece are struggling and empathizes with the Syrian refugees and migrants fleeing their country. Andy’s Greek background has given him the joy of living and the experience of knowing that every day is a gift. Despite some setbacks and his mother’s occasional resistance to American ways, his life has been one of optimism and happiness.
There are two quotes which Theo likes. “There is scarcely any passion without a struggle.” (Albert Camus). “There is no time for cut-and-dried monotony. There is time for work and time for love. That gives no other time.” (Coco Chanel) For him, despite the setbacks and occasional resistance to the American way of life, Theo’s life has been very positive and optimistic.By John and Joann Nicon, June, 2016 PHOTOS
1 Andy and the accordion, 2015
2 Theo, 2010
3 Anna and George, 1939
4 George in the Army, 1940s
5 Anna, Andy and George, 1945
6 Andy, Ike, George and Anna, 1951
7 George cooking lamb, 1990
8 Anna and George entertaining, circa 1960s
9 Andy in foustanella, 1945
10 Andy, 1946
11 Carol and Andy wedding, 1969
12 Andy and Carol, circa 2000
13 Drew, Carol, Tina and Andy, 2004
14 Carol and Andy, 2006
15 Theo, Anna and Andy, 2007
16 Andy and Carol, 2015
17 Theo, circa 1950
18 Theo in foustanella, circa 1954
19 Theo and Andy, 1961
20 North Central Outlook, 1962
21 North Central Outlook, 1964
22 Theo, circa 1971
22 Theo with his 1959 Mercedes, circa 1971
23 Theo, courtesy of Ryan Artists, 2010
24 Theo, courtesy of Ryan Artists, 2010
25 Theo in Lidoriki, 2008
26 Theo with first cousin Niko and thea (aunt) Eleni, 2008
27 George, Theo, Anna, Andy, circa 1991
Photos 1 and 16 by John Nicon; 2, 23 and 24 courtesy of Ryan Artists; 20, 21 courtesy North Central Outlook; all others from Asimakopoulos family collection
Video interview by John and Joann Nicon, September 2015; writings of Theo Asimakopolous