When Nick Nickolas was told by the superintendent that the guidance program was the conscience of the Kent School District, he knew he had found the right place to serve in his profession. He has had a very full and successful 35-year career as a teacher, guidance counselor, school psychologist and administrator.
Nick’s parents came from the town of Galimi on the island of Marmara where the population was under Turkish rule. Nick cherishes a book of the History of Jerusalem published in 1807 which is the only possession remaining from his grandfather. The 200-year-old book with etchings done by hand was the one item to be saved when the family was forced out of their home by the Turks in 1921.
In 1923, Nick’s father, Achilles Papanikolaou Nickolas, came to the United States seeking the promise of freedom. Achilles and Nick’s maternal uncle John were good friends in Galimi and arrived about the same time in Tacoma, Washington. Achilles worked for the St. Paul and Tacoma Lumber Company where he was a sawyer on a machine that ran on rails cutting lumber lengthwise from huge trees. Breathing sawdust from this work contributed to his death in 1938. After saving to buy and furnish a home for his future wife, he sent for Afendopoula (afendi being Turkish for head of house and poula indicating child of) Giannis to join him. It was a big house with two stories and a full basement and sat at the bottom of two steep hills one block from the Manthou (a Greek family) Bakery. Nick recalls his mother giving him instructions in a combination of Greek, Turkish and English. Tacoma has been home for a number of families from Marmara: Victor, Halkides, Sarantinos to name a few. While there were many Greeks in Tacoma, families tended to remain closest to those from their own village, island or area.
Nick (Nickolaos) Achilles Nickolas was born in Tacoma on October 27, 1927, followed three years later by his brother Chris. A first child, a girl, died at childbirth.
Nick’s parents were “of the old school” and his mother was rather tough on him. He experienced the duplicity of the relationship–being both loved and criticized by her. Although his parents spoke only Greek at home, Nick quickly learned English from neighborhood playmates. When he was growing up, his father worked ten to twelve hours per day at the mercy of his employer. Even though one could obtain three street car tokens for a quarter, Achilles walked to and from work at the Tacoma tide flats and never complained. He would often buy candied orange slices for his sons on his way home and keep them in a bag in one of the many pockets of his mackinaw. Nick and Chris would hide along the street and jump up on their father to look for the candy. One day, when Nick was 11, the boys jumped and Achilles roughly pushed them away. It was determined that Achilles had strep throat and he died five days later at the age of 39. Fortunately, Nick’s family found comfort from other Greeks in the area. Serma and Panna Halkides lived nearby and Nick’s nouno (godfather) Dick Evans was close as well. The boys loved to ride in the Evans family’s Oldsmobile as the Nickolas family did not have a car back then. Afendopoula was able to support her family by wrapping pastries at night at the nearby Manthou Bakery and working as a seamstress at Day’s Tailoring.
Nick attended Longfellow Elementary, McCarver Junior High and Lincoln High schools in Tacoma. It was at Lincoln where Nick began to realize his capabilities. He was president of the Boys’ Club and initiated a rifle team. During high school and college he worked at the Mayflower Café owned by Nick Angelakis. Angelakis befriended Nick and would tell stories of his home in Evia, Greece, where Nick later visited. In 1945 he entered the College (now University) of Puget Sound. There he was elected to serve as class representative to a student/faculty congress. His education was interrupted by his time in the Army where he was stationed at separation centers interviewing and counseling soldiers who were being discharged. Since he had enlisted three days prior to the expiration of the GI Bill, he was able to finish college with financial assistance.
Nick graduated in 1951 with a Bachelor’s Degree and a Teacher’s Certificate. He applied at several school districts, eventually working as a sixth grade teacher in the Highline District in Burien, Washington. Shortly thereafter he went to Greece on a Fulbright Fellowship to teach English. After visiting New York and Washington D.C., Nick boarded the Nea Ellas in New York and traveled in First Class. One day, while looking out to sea, he saw a beautiful young woman on the Second Class deck below. Later, while taking a photo of the sunset, he befriended an elderly Greek woman whose daughter was going to Greece as a student at the University of Athens. When Nick offered to be their guide at a stopover in Lisbon, he met the woman’s daughter, the same one he spotted earlier, “Nitsa” (Constantina) Rallis. “At this moment,” Nick said, “my life changed.” Nick entertained Nitsa and her mother on the ship and spent time with them and their family while he was teaching in Kavalla. On Christmas Eve he proposed and she accepted. Together they went to Istanbul, Turkey, to visit Patriarch Athenagoras of the Greek Orthodox Church, who also performed the engagement of Nitsa to Nick.
Upon their return to the United States, Nitsa and her mother went to Chicago, Illinois, to visit relatives while Nick went to Detroit, Michigan, to pick up a new car. With no maps or instructions he drove to Chicago in the dark of night and found her. They then drove to her family home in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, and were married there on August 21, 1955. With a honeymoon stop at Yellowstone National Park Lodge, the couple then drove on to Burien, Washington, where Nick had arranged to house sit a friend’s large home. He was pleased to give his bride a beautiful, furnished first home. As the years went by and he thrived in his teaching career, Nick and Nitsa had four children–Paula, Chris, Mark and Viki.
Nick returned to school, obtaining Master’s Degrees in Psychology and Educational Administration from Seattle University. About that time he received a call from a friend who had become the Assistant Superintendent in the growing Bellevue, Washington, School District. He accepted an offer and spent the next seven years teaching at the new Woodridge Elementary. Then, another call, this time to replace a colleague as coordinator of the counseling and guidance program in the Bellevue School District which included a consulting physician, nurses, school psychologist, the district testing program and a consulting psychiatrist. Another opportunity presented itself when some students with high IQs (intelligence quotients) were found unable to read. He had researched the developing field of helping dyslexic adults and knew that what he learned would work in a program for these students. Nick combined his leadership skills and professional knowledge to begin a diagnostic reading program in a vacant school building. The program developed and was very successful. After a year of therapy the students returned to their regular programs able to read normally.
Nick founded the Puget Sound Guidance Administrators Association, where colleagues would meet to discuss common problems and solutions. He then received another call, this time from the Kent School District where he accepted the position of Director of Guidance. He retired from this position in 1974.
From his youth as an altar boy in Tacoma and throughout his life, Nick has remained active in his Greek culture and Greek Orthodox faith. His parents were members of GAPA (Greek American Progressive Association) an organization holding close to the Church, the Greek language and Greek customs. Nick served eight years as secretary of AHEPA (American Hellenic Educational Progressive Association) which focuses on assisting Greeks to assimilate within their American culture. He was the “AHEPAN of the Year” of Seattle Chapter 177 in 2002 and of District 22 in 2001 and 2002. He also served on the board of his Assumption parish in Seattle for 35 years holding every office but treasurer.
When asked about his philosophy of life, Nick thought quite a while, then said, “I don’t know that I have a philosophy of life, I just live my life the way I think God would want me to live it…how would God want me to treat the person in this situation.” Although Nick wishes to be remembered as “just a man” and “nothing special” he is appropriately recognized by being listed in the 1971 edition of Who’s Who in the West and in The National Register of Prominent Americans and International Notables, 1970-1971 for his work in the field of Education.By John and Joann Nicon, November 2011
1 Nick Achilles Nickolas today
2 Grandfather’s book of the history of Jerusalem
3 Achilles and Nick, circa 1930
4 Nick at 13, 1940
5 Nick as an altar boy (l-r) Chris Nickolas, George Orfanis, Angelo Sarantinos and Nick, 1941
6 Nick and Nitsa at their wedding, 1955
7 Nicholas family (l-r) Viki, Nick, Mark, Nitsa, Paula and Chris, 2001
8 Assumption Parish Council, circa 1980 (l-r) Milton Diafos, Nick Vamcross, Spiro Nicon, Nick Nickolas, Fr. Photios Pentikis, George Kosta, Spiro Savvides, Roger Hutchinson, Andy Lucas, Gus Vulgares, Steve Bratsanos
9 Nick’s recognition in The National Register of Prominent Americans and International Notables
Photos 1 and 7 by John Nicon; photo 5 from Sarantinos family collection; all others from Nickolas family collection SOURCES
Video interview by John and Joann Nicon, November 2011; Who’s Who in the West, 1971;The National Register of Prominent Americans and International Notables (1970-1971)