His children Themo and Billie share their stories about Mike and growing up in Anacortes, Washington.
Mike was born in 1889 in the town of Brallos north of Athens, Greece, and came to the United States in 1906 with a friend. His friend returned to Greece but Mike headed west, working in Canada, Portland, Oregon, and Seattle and Tacoma, Washington. He worked in restaurants, then began installing gas and water lines in Tacoma. While he could have become a foreman, Mike preferred working on his own and left to labor in logging camps. When he came to Anacortes in 1908, Mike noticed a lot of discarded materials left over from construction projects. He had a wheelbarrow and began picking up whatever metals he could find, including an old logging chain at the waterfront. Since the items were free, a profit was guaranteed. From there he obtained a horse-drawn spring wagon and expanded his junk collecting. He abandoned the wagon and obtained a big Mack truck which could be seen piled high with rags, newspapers or other discarded items. In 1910 Mike bought property near the Anacortes waterfront and started the Anacortes Junk Company. It evolved into a hardware store, now the Marine Supply and Hardware Company which has operated continuously since 1913. It is now owned by his son Themo and grandson Steve who purchased the store from Mike’s estate in 1981. With little formal education, Mike became an important mentor and successful businessman and property owner in the town.
Mike occasionally visited Seattle and on one visit he met Ellen (Eleni) Fenerly. Her family came from the predominately Greek Phanar quarter of Constantinople, hence the evolution of the Greek word ophaneris (the person from Phanar) to Fenerly. Eleni lived with her sisters in Seattle, worked in a paper box company and attended St. Demetrios Greek Orthodox Church.
Eleni and Mike were married in Seattle on May 24, 1921, with George Marinakos as their koumbaro (best man). An article in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, copied in the Anacortes American describes the event with a bit of stereotypical humor. Their daughter Vasiliki (Billie) later commented on the inaccuracies of the article.
Three children, Billie (Vasiliki) (February 25, 1922), Chris (Christos) (September 22, 1924) and Themo Paul (June 30, 1926) were born to the couple in Anacortes. Billie describes her mother as a “sweetheart.” Eleni was an excellent cook and visitors to the Demopoulos home were met with the aroma of Greek food and pastries. One fall day Billie and her best friend Margaret Moyer heard that the fishermen were giving away their catches. The two eight-year-olds were given a huge king salmon. Margaret struggled with one end and Billie with the other as they lugged it home where Eleni divided it up so that both families enjoyed fish for several meals.
Themo worked in the hardware store after school but found working for his father a real challenge. His most memorable word from his childhood is ochi (no) as his father was quick to give that answer to his children’s requests. From 1944 to 1946 Themo served as a radio man in the United States Navy in the Pacific Theater. When he returned to Anacortes, he proposed a corporate structure for the hardware store but Mike preferred a sole ownership. Themo continued to work part-time at Ernst Hardware while earning his accounting degree at the University of Washington. He began working for the State Department of Revenue in 1961 and eventually became supervisor of 19 state auditors serving Port Angeles, Bellingham, Mt. Vernon, Bremerton and Everett. Themo and his late wife Patricia had two children, Steve and Lynn, the latter also deceased. Themo retired after almost 30 years with the state and now enjoys his retirement while sharing in the ownership of the Marine Supply and Hardware Company with his son Steve. Themo lives in Chandler’s Square Retirement Community, the name being coincidental considering his father’s life as a chandler (a dealer or trader in supplies and provisions). The property was previously owned by the Demopoulos family.
A generation later, Steve has honored his papou (grandfather) by naming his son after Mike. Steve also remembers Greek School at his yiayia (grandmother) Eleni’s home and learning a few Greek words but English was his language. Steve is pleased that the Demopoulos name will be carried on.
Chris, the middle child, served in the Army Air Corps during World War II. During his enlistment, he continued his education attending Yale, Harvard, MIT and Reed College majoring in electronic engineering. After his military service, he attended the University of Washington where he majored in accounting and business administration. He traveled the world extensively and then dabbled in the real estate business. Deciding to become a real estate investor he purchased multiple properties in five counties prior to his death in 2004.
BILLIE AND DON
Billie (Vasiliki) remembers speaking only Greek at home in Anacortes, learning English while playing with other children in the neighborhood. When her mother sent her next door to borrow an avgo, Billie used her first English word (egg) so the neighbor would understand. Billie and Themo do not remember being treated differently as Greeks. Billie preferred her full Greek name, Vasiliki, as classmates teased her when a shortened version, Vasilo, was used. After high school Billie attended the University of Washington where she majored in literature and minored in drama.
Billie had known Don Louis McKee from their school days in Anacortes. Don was born on December 19, 1922. After high school he served in the United States Army and obtained special artillery training for the European Theater. They both attended the University of Washington at the same time and were planning their marriage. During that time Billie was attending the Assumption Greek Orthodox Church in Seattle. Quoting from The Assumption Church in History 1939-1979, “The Church was to be completed in mid-October in time for the first wedding. But shortly before the wedding, Father Phoutrides summoned the bride, Billie Demopoulos, to tell her that regrettably the new Church would not be ready for her wedding. Billie recalls that she said nothing, just looked down, while a single large tear rolled down her cheek. ‘Don’t worry, Billie,’ Father quickly assured her, ‘you’ll have your wedding in the Church.’ The wedding took place on schedule on October 18, 1942, with plain paper covering the unfinished floor and folding chairs for pews.” The McKees have pleasant memories of their early married days in Seattle. Their children attended Sunday School and Don sang in the choir. They spent time with the Mihelis, Zarkades, Pulakis and Phoutrides families. Mary Mihelis Martinson, Aspasia Phoutrides Pulakis and Ethel Victor were nounas (godmothers) to their children. The McKees raised four children: Thomas, Gregory, Brian and Elaine (now deceased). They have four grandchildren and nine great grandchildren.
After Don completed his military service in the European Theater they returned to Seattle where they lived in what was then the small community of Kirkland. Don completed his architectural studies in 1950 and describes his work as a mixed bag “from outhouses to churches.” All the elementary schools in Anacortes benefited from his designs. He also designed the first Greek Orthodox Church in Bellingham, Washington, which was built on a limited budget with steel beams and cedar siding from materials donated by Georgia Colouzis and Sid McIntyre. When the Assumption Church in Seattle outgrew its small brick veneer structure, it seemed only fitting for Don to design the new church as he and Billie were the couple in that first wedding that almost didn’t take place. Over time Don designed many homes in Seattle, the last one being sold to a young lawyer and his wife, Bill Gates (senior) and his wife Mary, now deceased.
Billie’s and Don’s words of wisdom are “Don’t grow up.” Now, after 69 years of a full and rewarding marriage they have grown up gracefully. Their memories are vivid.
THE DEMOPOULOS LEGACY
Back in Anacortes, Marine Supply and Hardware remains a landmark business today as it has been in the past. These before and after photos show the changes after 99 years of operation. Visit its web site at www.marinesupplyandhardware.com
Just as Mike Demopoulos’ hardware store has continued throughout the years so have some Greek traditions. And today, the Demopoulos/McKee grandchildren can say the important Greek words: efharisto (thank you), parakalo (you are welcome or please), kali nichta (good night) and s’agapo (I love you).By John and Joann Nicon, March 2012
1 Themo and Billie, 2012
2 Mike’s Mack truck with Mike in the cab, circa 1917
3 Steve and Themo in front of Anacortes Junk Company, late 1980s
4 Eleni and Efthemios Demopoulos wedding, May, 1921
5 Wedding article, May 19, 1921
6 Themo, Chris and Vasiliki, 1927
7 Don and Billie, 1941
8 Billie in Los Angeles, California,1944
9 McKee family (l-r) Thomas, Elaine, Brian, Gregory with Billie and Don, 1954
10 Billie and Don, 2012
11 Marine Supply and Hardware outside, (l-r) Jack Retzloff, two unknown men, Mike, circa 1920
12 Marine Supply and Hardware outside, Steve Demopoulos, 2012
13 Inside, Mike on left, others unknown, circa 1920
14 Inside, Steve and Themo, 2012
Photos 1, 10 and 12 by John Nicon; all others from Demopoulos family collectionSOURCES
Video interview by John and Joann Nicon, March 2012; Anacortes American, May 19, 1921; Skagit County Business Pulse, November, 1989; The Assumption Church in History 1939-1979; McKee, David: Demopoulos Family History.