Would you really want to buy insurance from a man who fell out of a second story window or had a tree fall on him while driving his convertible? Many satisfied clients have! With a life-long interest in cars, boating and his Greek community, Dean (Demetrios) Athos (Athanasios) Lentgis’ (Sepentzis or Sentgis) experiences make him a well-known Greek-American in the Seattle area.
Dean’s father Thomas (Athanasios) Demetrios Lentgis had wanted to change the family name from Sepentzis to Sentgis but the “S” looked like an “L” so it became Lentgis. Tom was born in Nafpaktos, Greece, in 1893 and worked his way across the United States at the age of 14. He worked washing pots and eventually as a waiter at the classic Davenport Hotel when it first opened in Spokane, Washington. In 1917 he enlisted in the Army, a fact Dean did not know until Dean and his father were greeted in Seattle by an old man who said “Hi Sarge.” Dean’s mother, Mary (Marioritsa) Pantages (Pantazis), was born in Alexandria, Egypt, grew up on the island of Andros, among the Cyclades islands in the Aegean Sea of Greece, and came to the United States in 1922. Her father Nicholas was the brother of Alexander Pantages, the entertainment mogul. Mary was working at the Pantages Theater in Seattle and Tom went there to sell her life insurance. They married in 1932.
Tom Lentgis was very active in AHEPA (American Hellenic Educational Progressive Association) from the time it began on the west coast and before that in the Greek community of Seattle. He eventually became a Supreme Governor representing the western states. He travelled throughout Washington and the country, even visiting with the President of the United States in 1936. Tom had his own insurance business from 1924 to 1971. For a time, he partnered with John Papajani who had been a state senator. As a child Dean recalls going with his father to Von’s Café in downtown Seattle where he enjoyed a piece of pie and glass of milk while Tom’s clients would come to pay their insurance premiums.
Dean wishes he had learned more about his parents’ early lives to better understand how Greek immigrants with relatively little formal education could become highly respected in America. He believes his parents were more interested in providing their children with a good future than spending time discussing the past. Dean’s family and his aunt and uncle, Nitsa and Gus Gumas, always lived very close to each other. In fact Dean often thought he had two mothers since the sisters were virtually inseparable.
Dean was born in 1936 and his sister Thalia, in 1938. At the age of two (as reported in the Seattle Times) when Dean was waking “from his afternoon sleep and anxious to play in the sunlit garden, he decided to climb out of the second-story window rather than toddle down the stairs.” His mother found him lying on a tiny piece of soft ground 20 feet below the window. After an overnight stay at the hospital, he was found to be “none the worse for his experience” and sent home with his parents.
At age eight Dean and his sister Thalia were in the newspaper again, this time collecting waste fats to earn money for war bonds. As Dean said, “I got an idea…that the government needs the fats, the government also wants us to buy war bonds so the war will get finished, and someday I am going to a university with the money I make.” He certainly did so and after attending Seward Elementary, Hamilton Junior High and Lincoln High in Seattle he entered the University of Washington.
After graduating in Industrial Design from the University of Washington in 1959 Dean worked for Phillip Spaulding and Associates, Naval Architects. He also worked for W. C. Nickman and Sons, Naval Architects, then United Control Corp. which was sold to Sunstrand then to Honeywell. He remembers preparing drawings on the aircraft carrier Coral Sea. Initially, Dean resisted his father’s requests to enter the insurance business. However, during one holiday season he found himself working long hours and decided he didn’t want to sit behind a desk preparing drawings all his life and joined his father in 1961. He recalls that originally about 60-70% of the commercial customers were mostly Greek small businesses: restaurants, taverns and some grocery stores and barber shops. That has changed over the years as more of his school and boating acquaintances have also become clients. In 2000 Dean sold his insurance business but still maintains an office at the agency continuing over 50 years of service for his long-time clients. He takes pride in providing personal service and even answers the telephone himself.
Dean has always loved cars. Here he is with his 1932 Ford roadster at the age of 20 and today with his beloved 1970 Dodge Challenger. In 1978 he made the newspaper again while driving the Challenger with the top down when a large tree fell on him. Fortunately the limbs of the tree fell in a way that surrounded him, preventing any injury beyond a large bump on his head and a few scratches. Despite considerable damage to the vehicle he drove away from the scene. He had the car restored to its original condition and it is ready for those special days in the sun.
Dean began his association with AHEPA through the Sons of Pericles, AHEPA’s junior order, in 1961 and later served as president. He values AHEPA’s organization and traditions which provided him with important values as a young man. He saw Greeks who knew or spoke little English learn procedures and principles that helped them immeasurably in their lives. During his years as a member, he enjoyed picnics at VASA Park near Seattle, social events and exposure to civic and political events across the country. Dean has served as an advisor, chapter president (three times) and district governor.
Boating has always been a part of Dean’s life, “because I’m Greek.” He first restored a runabout learning how to prepare and varnish all the mahogany. Boating was a way to spend time with his children, Jeff and Mychelle, without a TV or radio. Jeff would pilot the boat while Mychelle prepared meals. Dean has been a member of the Queen City Yacht Club since 1973 serving as commodore, a member of the board of trustees and chairman of the planning and finance committees. He was named “Skipper of the Year” by the Yacht Club several times. Over the years he has owned several boats, all named Kalos Filos (Good Friend). Dean participates in predicted log racing where a written course is converted to chart and measure. One must know the speed and capabilities of the craft and use only a compass and throttle to travel a given course. The score is the difference between the predicted and actual time taken to run the course. Usually a 1% or less difference is likely to win such an event. Dean has competed in predicted log racing throughout the country. He has consistently won in the International Power Boat Association, has won the Barusch Trophy (West Coast Championship) and twice won the St. Petersburg Trophy (North American Cruiser Association).
From his longtime AHEPA involvement Dean has maintained close friendships with his fraternal family of brothers. He coordinates Wednesday lunches at Greek restaurants each week which involves e-mail reminders to a list of almost 40 friends.
Dean says the best thing about growing up Greek has been the closeness of family. Holiday family dinners feature traditional Greek foods served on the Lentgis family china and serving pieces. His two children, Jeff and Mychelle, their spouses and Dean’s four grandchildren look forward to these dinners together. The children’s mother and her husband have also attended the family gatherings.
Dean wishes to be remembered for his honesty, integrity and principles. He remarried in 1998 and his wife “Sistee” (Kathleen) says, he is “a very rare man with a strong moral compass.” Dean says, “I got lucky.”By John and Joann Nicon, November 2011
1 Dean Athos Lentgis with his family history
2 AHEPANS with President Franklin D. Roosevelt: (l-r) August Rogokos, V. I. Chebithes, Thomas D. Lentgis, D. G. Michalopoulos, C. G. Economou and George K. Demopoulos, 1936
3 Tom Lentgis and brother-in-law Gus Gumas, circa 1950
4 Sisters Mary Lentgis and Nitsa Gumas, circa 1980
5 Dean at age five, 1941
6 Dean, Mary, Tom and Thalia Lentgis, 1954
7 Dean loves cars, 1956
8 Dean loves cars, 2011
9 Dean in Greece, 1971
10 One of Dean’s nautical awards
11 Dean with AHEPA brothers: (l-r) Alex Collias, George Hodges, Nick Diafos, Terry Karis, Peter Ales, Jim Gaz, Dean, Harry Palikaris, Pete Farmasonis, Louie Apostolou and Jim Carkonen, circa 1970
12 Friends: (l-r) Terry Karis, Dean, Steve Sourapas, Basil Anton, Jim Stelios, 2010
Photos 1, 9 and 10 by John Nicon; all others from Lentgis family collection SOURCES
Video interview by John and Joann Nicon, November 2011; “Boy Tumbles to Fact Windows Dangerous.” Seattle Post Intelligencer June 8, 1939; Seattle Post Intelligencer and Seattle Times January 22, 1944 and June 25, 1978