Greek-American Historical Museum of Washington State

HER FATHER CALLED HER DASCALA

From the time she was a young child, Andrea Topetzes Mann loved to “play school.” The benefit of education through her family and in her life has resulted in a strong dedication to her role as a teacher (dascala).

PATERNAL FAMILY BACKGROUND

The family name Topetzes is said to come from the word topizis (cannoneer) as her great great grandfather fought in the 1821 War of Independence from the Turks where he loaded cannon balls into the cannon. The original family name Economopoulos was changed to Topetzes during that war.

Andrea’s paternal grandfather, John Peter Topetzes, was from the village of Vyziki, near the city of Pyrgos in the Greek Peloponnese. He was one of four brothers who moved to Patras, Greece, and became shoemakers. He came to the United States in 1895 and joined many other Greeks in Lowell, Massachusetts. In 1897 he moved to Milwaukee, Wisconsin, the location of several tanneries and shoe factories. He then sent for his bride, Sophia Papageorge, from Greece. They had 11 children. Andrea’s father, Nick John Topetzes (1920-2005), was the middle child and led most of the family activities. When John died of a serious asthma attack, Sophia was alone with nine children, one having died at birth and another who was fatally burned in a fire. The family lived on the east side of Milwaukee where there were signs warning “No Greeks. No Italians. No Blacks and No Dogs.” Although just a factory worker, John was able to purchase a home for his family. John’s oldest brother, Peter, died in his 30s from a heart attack. The remaining children kept in close contact. While Andrea was born after her grandfather’s death, she has fond childhood memories of her grandmother, Sophia, who died in 1960.

Andrea describes her father Nick as being “very Greek and full of personality,” a natural born leader and one who sacrificed for his children. He was to have attended the University of Wisconsin (UW) at Madison but instead went to Ripon College, in Ripon, Wisconsin, on a scholarship where he studied English, humanities and journalism. He and some friends wrote to the actor Spencer Tracy, also a Ripon graduate, seeking advice on becoming actors themselves. Tracy responded by telling them, “just work really hard.”

Nick returned to Milwaukee to be near his family, continued his studies at Marquette University and ultimately earned his PhD in psychology at UW Madison. The famous psychologist, Carl Rogers, was his mentor. Nick was offered a position at Marquette, but the Catholic school initially viewed psychology as heresy, so he taught in the school of education for the next 40 years. He also counseled patients at the Veterans Administration Hospital and made over 2000 speeches to parents and professional groups. He was president of the local mental health association as well as president of the Annunciation Greek Orthodox Church parish council twice.

As Nick’s two brothers were already on active duty in Europe during World War II, he was not sent overseas but attended the language school at Indiana University in Bloomington. There he was to learn Turkish with other Greek-Americans with the idea of infiltrating the Turkish military. However, the war ended before he took on that task. It was in Bloomington where he met Fotini “Fay” Kalafat at a Greek club where the Army soldiers were invited.

MATERNAL FAMILY BACKGROUND

Fay’s father was Alexander Kalafatis (Kalafat) whose parents came from the island of Koutali. Koutali is shaped like a koutala (large spoon) and is just six miles from the larger island of Marmara in the Black Sea. Alexander’s family repaired fishing nets and worked on boats. He came to the United States around 1917, joined the Army and then sent for his bride, Andromache Chrysostomou, during the population exchange between Greece and Turkey in the 1920s. Andromache’s father, Vasilios, owned his own ship trading fish and sponges all the way to the Black Sea and Russia. Alexander and Andromache were married in New York as soon as she arrived. She never saw her family again except for a brother who settled in St. Paul, Minnesota. Andromache had studied at the girls’ school, Ethnikon, Ioakeimeion in Fanari, Constantinople and spoke French, Turkish, Greek and English. They were friends with and corresponded with the Zanides (see A CLASS ACT AT CRAWFORDS) family in Seattle, Washington, who urged them to visit Seattle, but then never did. They were also acquainted with the Pantages (Pantazis) and Diafos (see MANY STRANGERS, TWO LITTLE KISSES) families in Seattle. Andromache told her offspring to never forget that “we come from proud, educated and prosperous people.” Andrea was able to enjoy the company of her grandmother until Andromache died in 1980.

Alexander liked cars and Auburn, Indiana, was the home of the Auburn, Cord and Duesenberg automobile companies. That was the impetus for their move to Auburn where they first lived in an apartment across from KKK (Ku Klux Klan) members, initially a terrifying experience. They opened a candy store and Andromache later said if she had a penny for every chocolate she hand-dipped, she would be a millionaire. Alexander also opened a movie theater in nearby Garret, Indiana. He and his brothers ultimately owned five theaters in Indiana and Ohio. Alexander died in his early 50s when he was given the wrong type of blood during a hernia operation. The family was devastated.

Andrea describes her mother Fay as a “firecracker,” and full of life. She was one of only five women who studied accounting in the business school at Indiana University. She worked for a few companies, including the several movie theaters that her family owned.

Kalafat cousins knew of a nice young man from Milwaukee who they thought would make an excellent gambro (groom). Fay had met Nick Topetzes at a few Greek parties but did not consider him as a husband until he came to dinner at the Kalafat home. From there, the relationship developed and they were married in Fort Wayne, Indiana, on January 31, 1953. They settled in Milwaukee and raised three children: Andrea (Andromache) Sophia, born May 6, 1954; John Nick in 1956; Sophia Angela in 1960. John is the president of a metal and steel extrusion company, and Sophia is a fund-raiser for performing arts. Both live in Milwaukee.

Fay taught Sunday school and sang in the church choir. She loved playing the piano, singing, cooking and entertaining. She had earned a teaching certificate and a master’s degree in guidance and counseling and  she taught business classes to high school and college students. She retired as chair of the counseling department of a large suburban high school. She was the first woman in Wisconsin to serve on the church parish council. Both Fay and Nick were active nationally with AHEPA (American Hellenic Educational Progressive Association). Fay continued to live near her children in Milwaukee but loved her occasional visits with Andrea and her family in Seattle until she passed away in 2012.

ANDREA’S LIFE

Andrea was named after her maternal grandmother, Andromache. She enjoyed a happy childhood where her parents enriched her life with experiences including private ice skating lessons from, ironically, Ms. Winter and art lessons at the Milwaukee Art Museum. The language in her home was primarily English but Greek when yiayia (grandmother) Andromache would visit. Andrea took Greek lessons as a young adult at UW Milwaukee. Church attendance was very important for the family including most night services during the Easter Lenten season. She loved singing the Greek liturgical music with her mother and grandmother. She fondly recalls visits with friends and relatives on Sunday afternoons, especially during Green Bay Packers football games.

She attended the UW Milwaukee Laboratory School and University School of Milwaukee and keeps in close touch with friends she made during those elementary and high school years. In high school she enjoyed drama and art activities. After two years at Ripon College, she finished her studies in speech pathology and education at Marquette and obtained a master’s degree in special education. She found teaching in public schools very rewarding and was studying leadership administration. She taught special education for seven years with elementary school students and reading and study skills for college students. In the late 1970s She wrote grants for programs to assist students with learning disabilities. In addition to teaching Sunday school and volunteering at her sons’ school, Andrea was very active in the Milwaukee community. She served on several non-profit boards and served as president of the Junior League of Milwaukee.

FROM TOPETZES TO MANN

As a young woman, Andrea frequently attended Greek social events (dances, picnics, dinners, scholarship fund raisers). Milwaukee’s Philhellenic Society of Wisconsin, the Hellenic Professional Society of Illinois and several groups of patriotes (those from the same areas of Greece) were among those who held events to honor or celebrate all things Greek. These gatherings also served as informal “matchmaking” sites for young Greek professionals. It was at one of these events that Andrea was dancing with a tall, handsome young man when Philip Manolopoulos (Mann) noticed her from afar but thought he could not compete with her partner.

Phil grew up with the name Mann instead of Manolopoulos. All four of his grandparents were from the Peloponnese. His upbringing was “very Greek.” His mother’s aunts and uncles were a part of his daily life and his father’s parents also lived nearby. His grandmother tragically died in an airplane accident when Phil was just four years old and his grandfather died young from a heart attack. While he didn’t grow up attending Church on a regular basis, his upbringing was strong in Greek culture, values and pride. Greek was spoken only when older relatives were around and, while Phil attended Greek school, his speaking of Greek is limited. Still, he understands na fas xilo (I’ll hit you with a stick or you will get a spanking) but is more comfortable with his parents’ positive approach when things go wrong by saying this too will pass and “the sun will come up tomorrow.”

His parents, Basil and Nausica (Nancy), were both lawyers and expected their son would be either a doctor or lawyer. Phil has always been good at mathematics and science. Thus, his choices of engineering and law. At a subsequent Greek event he confused Andrea with a former acquaintance and awkwardly approached her saying, “Isn’t your name Mary?” On another occasion, when Andrea and Phil were at an apokreas (Greek for pre-Lenten Mardi Gras) Phil learned that her former dance partner was her brother and asked for her phone number. They had an “80-mile” courtship between Milwaukee and Chicago, were engaged in January of 1984 and married on the following Memorial Day weekend.

They lived in Chicago for two years where Andrea taught in the Northbrook School District. Phil had attended Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri, then the University of Illinois where he studied electrical engineering. After college he spent a year with Stanford University, conducting research in the Antarctic. He returned to Washington University for law school. In Chicago, Phil received a call from a patent law firm in Milwaukee. As this was his primary interest and, with her family there, the couple moved back to Wisconsin. Their two sons were born in Milwaukee. Peter was born in 1988, attended the United States Merchant Marine Academy and is a ship captain delivering oil up and down the west coast of the United States. His younger brother, Nick, is an artist and fine woodworker.

Phil was practicing patent law litigation when computer technology was an emerging field and few attorneys were working in the area. He also knew that there were better opportunities for his work on the west coast. On a vacation in Seattle he observed ferry boats on Elliot Bay and, when he learned they took commuters to and from various spots in Puget Sound, he was impressed with the possibility of living on an island. He was later fortunate to receive a job offer from the largest patent law firm in the Pacific Northwest. With their families having been in the Midwest since 1897, a move to the Seattle area was tempting but foreboding. Now, after living on Bainbridge Island for nearly 20 years and with their sons established in the area, returning to Milwaukee is not a consideration. They enjoy boating and all related activities in the area. Andrea continues to take an active role in the Junior League of Seattle. While Phil continues his patent law work, she also spends her time as a docent at the Seattle Art Museum (SAM), playing tennis, swimming, practicing yoga and has taken up painting, something she enjoyed as a little girl. She has been active in the arts community on the island serving on boards and at the library.

LOOKING BACK

The Greek Orthodox Church and Greek community events were integral parts of Andrea’s upbringing. Phil’s experience has been very Greek but not religious. Both have been raised in America and are generations removed from the immigrant experience. Andrea did observe some subtle discrimination in high school as classmates questioned her different-sounding last name. Very few people think Phil is Greek. Andrea has kept closer to the Greek traditions. Her parents taught her philoxenia (love of strangers). After Church or at holidays, often they would invite someone in Church or visiting from out of town. If an elderly person was waiting for a bus after Church, the Topetzes family would offer to drive them home. Recently, Andrea organized a memorial service for those from Asia Minor who suffered during the expulsion from and population exchange with Turkey in the early 1920s. She also helped organize gatherings of Greeks and Greek descendants who live on Bainbridge Island and enjoyed the interchange with another Greek who saw her reaching for the endive in the grocery store with which she made the Greek horta (boiled greens with olive oil and lemon). For both, they appreciate the values of close family ties and education which have supported them in their own lives.

By John and Joann Nicon, August 2018
VIDEO SEGMENTS
PHOTOS
1 Andrea and Phil, 2018
2 Great grandparents Panagos Topetzes and Anastasia Beltsos in Vyzikion, 1800s
3 Paternal grandparents, John and Sophia Topetzes, early 1900s
4 At Indiana University – John Topetzes, John Poulos, Spiro Siafacas, 1940s
5 John Topetzes family (l-r) standing: Peter, Andrew, Nick, Jim, Gregory, George; seated: Anastasia, Sophia, Christine, Alice, 1940s
6 Nick and Fay Topetzas wedding, (l-r) Barbara Farris, Nick, Fay, Nick Farris, 1953
7 Fay and Andrea, 1955
8 Nick Topetzes family (l-r) Tom Strelka, Angela Strelka, Phil Mann, Fay Topetzes, John Topetzes, Nick Mann, Laurie Topetzes, Nick Topetzes, Andrea, Peter Mann, 2001
9 Phil as a baby, 1956
10 Phil and Andrea wedding, 1984
11 Phil and Andrea wedding, 1984
12 Peter, Andrea, Phil, Nick, Christmas 1988
13 Nick, Phil, Peter, Andrea, 2001
14 Andrew Drakopoulos, Phil, Nick, Peter, Andrea, Philip Dracopoulos in Vyziki, Greece, 2001
15 At Peter’s graduation,2009
16 Andrea and Phil, 2013
17 Andrea as docent at SAM, 2016
18 Bainbridge Island Greek picnic, 2002
Photo 1 by John Nicon; 5 by George Karides; 13 by Pete Saloutos; all others from Mann family collection
SOURCES
Video interview by John and Joann Nicon, March 2018