John (Ioannis) Theodoros Gormanos has written extensively about his life beginning with his childhood in northern Macedonia through his long journey to Spokane, Washington. He has documented the history of his family in Greece, his experiences coming to Washington State, the story of his Uncle Paul and Aunt Mary who sponsored him and the story of his petherika (in laws) George and Vasiliki Deliganis.
John’s papou (grandfather), after whom John was named, was the priest in the village of Katafigi, (Katafigio) in the Pieria Mountains of Macedonia in northern Greece. John’s father Theodoros worked for the Greek government. John’s mother Theano was from the Tzilini family in the same village. John was born on May 23, 1934, and is one of six children. He remembers only three siblings, Mary, Mina and Ismini, as two died in infancy. When he was four years old, the family moved to Thessaloniki for his father’s work. However, with World War II and the famine and bombardment in the larger cities, the family moved back to their horio (village) where foods such as dry beans, bread, milk and meat from small livestock were readily available.
With an elevation of over 4000 feet, Katafigi was used as a location for the British to drop off supplies for the Greek Underground. The family enjoyed a relatively peaceful life there until a week prior to Christmas of 1943 when the German Nazis came. The Nazis burned all of Katafigi’s 500 homes, the school and many small businesses. John remembers a very cold December morning when he was eight years old and the family heard machine guns firing in the distance. The villagers had to flee into the nearby forest carrying only blankets, bread and cheese. Fortunately, as most of the villagers were lumberjacks, shelters were handily built so the families could survive for a few days in the bitter cold. Some decided to return to check on their goats and chickens believing the Nazis would not bother them and only seek out members of the Underground. This was not the case as the shooting and burning of homes continued and the villagers were marched out of the town of Velvendos at the foothills of the mountain.
While walking with his family, John fell and a sharp piece of wood penetrated his knee. His mother wrapped the wound in shreds from her clothing. The next day he was seen by a Greek doctor who had only a few aspirin for pain and alcohol to use as a disinfectant. The injury was serious and in danger of infection so he was taken on a donkey to a German doctor who treated children. After treatment with medicine, perhaps a German form of penicillin, the leg healed in a few weeks.
John had attended two years of school in Thessaloniki and during the war was taught at home by his father, grandfather and many out-of-work volunteer teachers. When the war ended, John went to school during the week in Kozani, traveling the 35 miles from Velvendos and returning home on weekends. He completed his first year of high school there. (Children from ages 16 to 25 attended high school as the schools had been closed during the war.) At that time the government had built homes for those who lost theirs during the war and the family moved to Katerini where John finished high school. He had also been tutored to prepare him for mechanical engineering examinations. Unfortunately, he did not score high enough and contact was made with his uncle Paul in Spokane, Washington, to see if John would qualify as an exchange student. Paul and his wife Mary had come to the United States immediately after World War II with their two children, Mina and John. They settled in Spokane because of the many katafygiotes (lumberjacks) in the area. These lumberjacks were the remnants of approximately 200 who had come to work for the Ohio Match Company and harvest the virgin forests of northern Idaho. When John came to live with his aunt and uncle, he was one of the first exchange students at Gonzaga University in Spokane.
John recalls his family crying at the dock when he boarded the Queen Fredericka for New York in 1952. As much as they wanted him to have a good education, they would miss him terribly. In New York he thought he was robbed when the taxi driver charged him and two other youngsters $6.00 each for a ride to Grand Central Station. The train was full of young immigrants singing and shouting almost all the way to Chicago, Illinois. John was supposed to transfer to a 9 am train to Spokane but was told he had no reservation and would have to wait until 2 am the next morning. He was fortunate to receive help from a Greek janitor at the railway station and a Greek in a nearby restaurant where he was introduced to his first hamburger and French fries and given food for his long trip to Spokane. Back on the train John also befriended two young Greek girls with whom he shared his food and was assisted by an American soldier. In Spokane, John attended high school for one year to learn English then entered Gonzaga University where he earned a degree in mechanical engineering. On his visit to Greece to see his parents he was drafted into the Greek army and served for two years. Back in Spokane he began work with Kaiser Aluminum where he spent the next 37 years. His work was at a World War II plant that was built inland believing that the Japanese would only bomb the coastal facilities. Trains would haul ore from Tacoma to Spokane where up to two million pounds of ore would be used to make just over one million pounds of aluminum. Over the years Kaiser sold its technology all over the world often to the objection of Americans who began to see the end of production in the United States. John’s work involved the modernization of a World War II aluminum plant and later selling technology to others so their smelters could be more efficient. In 1997 John was granted a patent for his development of a system and method for rough cleaning an anode assembly. Separating the baked aluminum from the used carbon (over 1200 units per day) was a difficult and labor-intensive task resulting in numerous injuries. The new system was an automatic process using a number of overhead conveyers and a cleaning method of using vibration, sound and mechanical scrapers.
When John first arrived in Spokane, he found it to be a nice, sleepy place with wide streets and green trees and loved it immediately. Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church was built in 1948. Prior to that a community hall served as the Greek social center and John remembers many families, bachelors and young Greek people with whom he associated. There was Louie Taylor who, when he went to collect his first pay check and gave his name as Theodoros Katchoulis, the pay master said, “No, your name is Louie Taylor,” and so it was from then on. Louie was a boxer and sparring partner for heavyweight champion Jack Dempsey who later sent money to help cover Louie’s illnesses. Another character was George Sugar (Shugas) who was a chanter at Holy Trinity and a mathematical genius. When a load of logs was floated to the lumber mill at which he was employed, George could quickly and accurately estimate the number of board feet that the raw wood could produce. Another was John Kakakes who owned John’s Hat Shop for many years in downtown Spokane. The story about Kakakes is that he kept all the Church deposits at a local bank before the Depression. Because of his close relationship with the banker, he was wisely advised to withdraw the Church’s $10,000 before the big bank failures. The few restaurants owned by Greeks made their money from hamburgers and sandwiches rather than Greek cuisine. Many Greeks worked on the railroad or in lumbering. Doctor Velonas would leave church before the end of services to avoid all the medical inquiries from his fellow parishioners. The Garras family had apartments. Other Greek families would come to church or other celebrations from smaller towns as far as Lewiston and Rathdrum, Idaho, and Warden, Washington.
Just as his family was very close to the church in Greece, John has remained close to Holy Trinity in Spokane. There were many celebrations in addition to Sunday services. John was at a Greek picnic at Hayden Lake when he met Karrie (Kyriaki) Deliganis. She was born in Lewiston, Idaho, on January 20, 1936, to George and Vasiliki Deliganis. She has two siblings, Christina and Sam (Spiro), both residing in Seattle, Washington. Her father George Deliganis had come from Kandila, Greece, just outside of Tripoli, in 1914, worked on the railroad, saved his money and bought a farm in Lewiston. He and his wife Vasiliki often worked 18 to 20 hour days on the farm while raising their three children. When Karrie first met John, he couldn’t understand why she had to leave the party and go back to Lewiston to milk the cows. Karrie later completed X-ray training and worked in radiology at Sacred Heart Hospital.
When John finished school at Gonzaga, he returned to Greece and served two years in the Greek Army. In 1960 Karrie quit her hospital job and went to Greece where she stayed for six months with John’s parents until he finished his military service. They were married in Katerini on October 2, 1960. They then traveled by train through Yugoslavia and caught an Italian boat back to the United States. Later after they started their family Karrie stayed at home until their children began school. She then worked as a paraprofessional assistant in special education in the Spokane School District. Karrie and John have three children, Theano (Theofani) after John’s mother, Theodore after John’s father and Vassie (Vasiliki) after Karrie’s mother. There are four grandchildren.
John sometimes wishes he had used the name “Yianni” from Ioannis (Greek for John). Aside from a few instances of disrespect at work he believes only good things have come from being Greek. He values a good home life, a hard work ethic and education. He believes Greek traditions and culture are attributes no one can take from you. Karrie recalls Easter on the farm in Lewiston where family members and friends would conduct their own midnight services then share the mageritsa (soup from lamb intestines) and wave the madili (handkerchief) while dancing in celebration.
John believes that GOYA (Greek Orthodox Youth of America) events, AHEPA (American Hellenic Educational Progressive Association) conventions and Church summer camp have been beneficial in keeping Greek traditions for young people. With his close association with the Church, he knows that most Greek immigrants and some Greek-Americans hold tight to their traditions, sometimes to the exclusion of non-Greek converts. He also knows that both groups could and should learn from each other and share their cultures in order for the Church to survive.By John and Joann Nicon, July 2012
1 John with his family history book, 2012
2 Theano and Theodoros Gormanos in Katerini, circa 1947
3 John with shepard’s staff made by his uncle Alex, circa 1937
4 Junior high school, Kozani (John at upper right holding diploma), 1948
5 John’s passport photo, 1952
6 John’s first day at Gonzaga University, 1953
7 John’s retirement display panel, 1997
8 John’s patent, October 14, 1997
9 Spokane friends, (l-r) Gus Hamouris, Louie Taylor, Chris and Paula Gormanos, George Sugar, Louie Zizioulas, circa 1955
10 John’s Hat Shop calendar from 1926
11 John and Karrie wedding, October 2, 1960
12 John and Karrie on the USS Constitution returning to the United States, 1960
13 John Gormanos family (l-r) Front: Yianni Gormanos, John, Karrie, Kari Gormanos, Alexandros Skoulis, Middle: Yianni Skoulis, Presvetera Theano Ballas, Lia Gormanos, Vassie Skoulis, Back: Fr. Stavros Ballas, Ted Gormanos, Alex Skoulis, 2012
14 How to Host a Murder party at the Gormanos home, (l-r) Standing: Gregory Prekeges, Karrie, Connie Prekeges, George Prekeges, Jim Bourekis, Alice Prekeges, Kathy Bourekis, Seated: John, 1998
15 Children in Greek costume (l-r) Andy Sweeney, Tritsa Delegans, Johnny Garras, Vassie Gormanos, Maria Prekeges, 1969
16 Karrie and John at home, 2012
Photos 1 and 16 by John Nicon, 10 from Thomas Cassis, all others from Gormanos family collection SOURCES
Video interview by John and Joann Nicon, June 2012; Family is What Life is All About, by John Gormanos, plus John’s writings about his Uncle Paul and Aunt Mary and about Karrie’s parents, George and Vasiliki Deliganis.