Greek-American Historical Museum of Washington State

East Side, West Side
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East Side, West Side

Magdaline “Molly” Tsalaky

1 MOLLY WITH FATHER'S WRITINGSMagdaline “Molly” Tsalaky (nee Barbas) treasures the musings of her father’s writing on whatever paper was available, even the back of vegetable can labels.

Molly has experienced life on both the east and west sides of Washington’s Cascade Mountains.  Born in Cleveland, Ohio, she lived for two years in Soap Lake, Washington, (east); was raised, educated and married in Seattle (west); raised a family and worked in Spokane (east); retired to Seattle (west); and now lives in Post Falls, Idaho, (east).  In each of these locations she remained active in her Greek community and in her Orthodox Christian Church.

Molly’s father, Constantino “Gus” Barbas, was born in 2 Gus at Liberty Lunch, Billings, Montana early 1920sErithres (formerly Kriekouki) near Thiva (Ancient Thebes), Greece, in 1893.  Molly has been told that people in the area spoke Arvanitika, a somewhat corrupted Albanian dialect even though the area is far south of the Greece-Albania border.  The family name may have originated from the familiar Greek word barba for uncle.

Gus had three brothers and two sisters.  The family was poor and had no dowry for the girls’ marriages.  So his father let him come to the United States to earn money for his sisters’ dowries.  After three months on a ship, Gus was sent back to Greece as he had no sponsor in America.  A year later, in 1910, he traveled again arriving in Cleveland, Ohio, where he had acquaintances.  Once settled he sent for his two brothers, John and Chris.  John and Chris eventually settled in Detroit, Michigan, while Gus remained in Cleveland working as a dishwasher.  Gus began studying English on his own and learned of opportunities in the west.  He travelled with the circus and also spent time in Saskatchewan, Canada, and worked in Billings, Montana.

Once he had fulfilled his obligations to his family, Gus returned to Greece and met Molly’s mother Andromachi Petroulias from the town of Thespies (formerly Erimokastro).  Gus, not requiring the usual dowry, married Andromachi in 1926.  They traveled to Cleveland together where Gus made his living as a waiter at the Cleveland Hotel.  Tragically, the first-born Barbas child died from appendicitis at the age of two as the family could not afford medical care.  Molly was born in 1931 followed by Ekaterini (Katherine) and Panagioti (Peter).

3 Molly in 1934The family lived in a low-income tenement with other Greek families and Molly spoke no English when she began school at the age of six.  Because of the effects of the Great Depression in Cleveland, Gus traveled west by himself and found work in Soap Lake, Washington, through an association with the Arvin and Pappas families.  His family followed in 1939 and initially lived in the storeroom behind the restaurant where he worked.  While Gus cooked, Andromachi waited tables.  Again looking for opportunities, he knew that the Lucas, Stamolis and Apostolou families lived in Seattle and were from his village in Greece.  In 1941 the Barbas family moved to Seattle and stayed with the Stamolis families on Queen Anne Hill.

In Seattle Gus bought a tavern on Western Avenue and Marion Street 4 Molly, Gus, Pete, Kathy and Andromachi Barbas in 1941near the waterfront.  During World War II, the waterfront was “blacked out” and sailors chose to come up the street to the tavern.  The family purchased a home on Queen Anne Hill for $5000 cash in 1942 and their first car in 1947.

After graduating from Queen Anne High School in 1949, Molly, with her parents’ encouragement, attended the University of Washington.  While she preferred history and literature, she chose the medical field knowing that she could get a good job with a science background.  She was one of four women who completed a five-year program in the then new medical technology field.

5 Molly at Work in City Lab, Seattle, circa 1960While working toward her degree she met John Tsalaky, a dental student.  John roomed with another Greek student and when they were at church together John saw Molly in the choir and asked, “Who is that?”  His friend said, “That’s Maggie Barbas, but you’re too short for her.” None the less their friendship developed and in 1951 when John asked Molly to a dance at the dental school, he suggested she could wear flat shoes, and she did.  The next year, 1952, they married.

After graduation Molly worked at the King County (now Harborview) Hospital in Seattle with patients in iron lungs.  Later, when John graduated, another Greek dentist, George Chatalas, knew of an opening near Spokane, in Opportunity, Washington.  John and Molly packed up their $50, 1939 Buick and moved to Opportunity.

6 Molly and John, Lake Wilderness, 1954          7 Molly and John, 2001

Initially they lived in a motel owned by the Paras family.  Although Molly didn’t have to work, she became bored and took a job at the Rockwood Clinic in downtown Spokane.  She and a friend noted that there was no laboratory in the Spokane Valley.  So, they canvassed doctors in the area, found a pathologist and opened their own laboratory.

Molly and John raised their three daughters, Adair, Michelle and Teresa, in Opportunity.  John retired from his dental practice in his late 50s.  After living temporarily (for 35 years!) in eastern Washington they decided on winters in Seattle and summers at their home on Lake Coeur d’ Alene, Idaho.  When her father died in 1970, Molly’s mother lived with the family for 24 years.

8 Greek basketball teamMolly has kept her Greek culture primarily through her Church.  She tried (unsuccessfully) speaking Greek to her children at home and instead sent them to Greek School.  It has given them a good understanding of the language and culture, just as it had helped Molly tremendously in her medical studies.

In the video, Basketball Team Goes to Seattle, Molly tells a story about the Spokane Greek basketball team with John, being shorter than most, as the coach and the Chalich brothers confusing the Greeks by speaking to each other in Serbian when calling the plays.

When asked how she would like to be remembered, Molly asked, “By whom?”  Then she said, “I loved God and tried to live by His standards.”  Her chosen epitaph comes from when Christ was being anointed by Mary in Bethany: “She did what she could.”  (Mark 14:8)

By John and Joann Nicon, July 2011

1 Molly with father’s writings
2 Gus at Liberty Lunch in Billings, Montana, early 1900s
3 Molly, 1934
4 Molly, Peter, Gus, Kathy and Andromachi, 1941
5 Molly in the laboratory with unidentified woman
6 Molly and John, 1954
7 Molly and John, 2001
8 Greek basketball team, front: John Tsalaky, Paul Panagakis, Jimmy Manus, George Kutulas; back: George Chalich, George Alex, Eli Chalich, Nick Chalich
Photo 1 by John Nicon; all others from Barbas and Tsalaky family collections
Video interview by John and Joann Nicon, July 2011