Greek-American Historical Museum of Washington State

HER DAD LIKED HIM

When Demetrios Voltsis visited the family of his new friend in Seattle, Washington, the friend’s sister was not impressed. That impression has improved immensely over 50 years.

LIFE IN GREECE

Demetrios “Jim” or “Jimmy” Voltsis was born in Argos Orestiko, Greece, about 20 miles south of the Albanian border, about 80 miles from Thessaloniki to the east and Ioannina to the south. He was born on October 24, 1943, or October 23, 1944, the latter being the official date. The dates were transposed and he can claim to be one-year younger than he really is. He has been unable to trace the origin of the name Voltsis as his paternal grandfather was killed by the Bulgarians when Demetrios’ father was just five years old. The name may have been Votsis, without the “l” at one time.

Demetrios’ father, Evangelos, was born in 1905 and his mother, Anna, was born in Turkey in 1912. Her family moved to Greece when ousted by the Turks in about 1917. Evangelos and Anna died in 1988 and 1991 respectively. Demetrios’ younger sister, Martha, still lives in the village with her husband and their two daughters live in Thessaloniki.

Evangelos distributed the mail in his hometown and thus the family lived a fairly comfortable village life. However, at the end of World War II and during the civil war there was a lot of fighting. There was much damage to buildings and churches. Demetrios remembers walking to school and seeing bodies on the street being loaded onto horse-drawn wagons and hauled toward the river to be buried. After the wars, as a middle-class family with free health care, life in the village improved for the Voltsis family. The population of the village increased with a thriving fur business and plentiful orchards. Many families also grew tobacco on their land.

Because of his younger official age, Demetrios had to pass special examinations to enter high school with his peers. He was a fair student but struggled with math and algebra until he received some private lessons. Many students traveled from the surrounding area to the high school in Argos Orestiko. When he finished high school in June of 1961, the plan was to go to the United States for college. A Seattle, Washington, relative, Alexandra Cooper, (see WALLINGFORD REVISITED) was a first cousin to Demetrios’ father, Evangelos. Their fathers were brothers who owned a mill in Darma, Thraki. Both were also killed by the Bulgarians.

COMING TO AMERICA

Demetrios’ thea (aunt) Alexandra offered to sponsor him and in October of 1961, with his parent’s realization that a better life waited in the United States, Demetrios sailed on the OLYMPIA to New York. He was met by cousins from Hartford, Connecticut, where he spent a week before his cross-country train trip to Seattle. Having traveled only to Thessaloniki, and knowing only a few words of English, the trip was a very difficult one and Demetrios had no idea what to expect.

On his first day in Seattle his thea called John Limantzakis who came to take Demetrios for a ride in John’s new car to become familiar with the city. Demetrios attended Edison Technical School (now Seattle Central College) taking classes in English with several other Greek immigrants, an experience that helped in his transition to his new country. As he learned English, he recalls wondering about the saying “Father forgive them for they know not what they do,” thinking it should be “for they don’t know what they are doing.” He passed the required examinations for college and began taking classes at Seattle University and at Seattle Central Community College (now Seattle Central College), the latter being much less expensive.

While attending school, his first job was cleaning an attorney’s home, a position passed on to him by another Greek. He then washed dishes at the Virginia Pines restaurant (later Steve’s Broiler), at Von’s Café and at Kim’s Broiler as a bus boy. He worked much more than the 20 hours required of his student visa status as he needed the money for school. In 1963, following the Seattle World’s Fair, jobs were scarce and Demetrios left Seattle for New York where he had relatives and where jobs were more plentiful. He transferred his credits to Queens College and was working toward a degree in engineering while also working as a waiter at the International Hotel at Kennedy Airport.

In 1964, a cousin was going to Greece for Christmas and asked Demetrios to come along. Previously, in 1962, he had applied for a military deferment to continue his education. However, when he arrived in Greece the required documents were still in San Francisco and had not been sent to Greece. Thus, on January 11, 1965, Demetrios was a Greek soldier. After basic training in Corinth, he was trained for quartermaster duties in Patras. Now a sergeant, he was transferred to Neapolis, a technical Army base for vehicle and equipment repair. He then served with the 15th Division in Kastoria, near his home in northern Greece, performing clerical work with classified documents.

ASPASIA COMES TO GREECE

Demetrios had been corresponding with Aspasia Limantzakis, his friend’s sister in Seattle. She had come to Seattle from the island of Crete with her parents, her brother John and three sisters when she was eight years old. She has vivid memories of a difficult five-day bus trip across the United States, none of the family members speaking English and with little assistance, even from another Greek traveler. When Aspasia first met Demetrios on that rainy day in Seattle, she was 13 and he was skinny and not attractive to her. However, her father liked him and, over time, they became better acquainted. They began writing to each other while Demetrios was in Greece and, at 18 years of age, Aspasia made her first trip back to Greece to marry Demetrios. It was a scary trip for her as she knew only Demetrios and her aunt and uncle who came to Argos Orestiko for the wedding on October 30, 1966.

During his 30-day leave from the Army, Demetrios and Aspasia traveled to Kavala and took the boat to the island of Thasos for their honeymoon. At the hotel, the couple was denied a room as it appeared this Greek soldier was there illegally with an American girl. So, it was back on the ferry to Kavala for the honeymoon. By January of 1967 Demetrios had finished his military obligation and Aspasia, now back in Seattle, had filed for his permanent residency in the United States. As the military coup was being staged in Greece, Demetrios returned to Seattle and became a permanent resident. In 1970 their son, Evangelos (Evan) was born and a daughter, Eleni, followed in 1978. Both live near their parents. Eleni has three children, Robert and twins Demetre and Aspasia.

When first married and in Seattle, Demetrios continued to work in restaurants: the Sheraton Inn and the Greek Village (see A GREEK VILLAGE FOR TWO). In 1970, he opened his own restaurant, the Rooster Tail, at a truck stop in south Seattle. Six years later he opened the Coach House in Bellevue, Washington, and operated it until 1985. It was then he began working in real estate, first for First Western Properties and then on his own.

Demetrios had performed some real estate work for another Greek, Spiro Aliagas, who operated several pizza restaurants in Seattle that sported his name. Spiro was developing a pizza restaurant in the West Seattle neighborhood which would carry his name and which he planned on selling, even before it opened. Demetrios purchased the restaurant, in part as an opportunity for his son Evan to enter the business. Despite his parent’s reservations, Evan saw his future in the business. From the age of 13 Evan was helping his parents in their restaurant. They had to obtain a special permit when an agent from the Department of Labor and Industries required the permit to employ the underaged minor. For Evan, a restaurant provides a place to entertain and enjoy time with his friends. At SPIRO’S, Demetrios began training Evan and has continued to work there with his son since October of 1991.

Demetrios then purchased a delivery-only restaurant in Richmond Beach, north of Seattle. And, when a Chinese restaurant in Shoreline, Washington, closed, the family opened a second SPIRO’S in 1995. The third SPIRO’S was opened in Mukilteo, Washington, in 20O3. Aspasia and Eleni have worked alongside Evan and Demetrios in the restaurants. The three SPIRO’S and the family properties still require active involvement by all the family.

LOOKING BACK

Demetrios partially credits his engineering and mathematics training for his business success. Beyond that, he, Aspasia and their children have a very strong work ethic, something they used from their early days in Seattle in order to succeed. Along with Gus Boutsinis, Peggy Tramountanas (see FIVE GENERATIONS AND COUNTING) and Maria Barbas, Demetrios helped establish the Greek Folk Dance program at St. Demetrios Greek Orthodox Church in Seattle. He remembers the first fundraiser they held to purchase costumes from Greece for the dancers. He also served as secretary of AHEPA (American Hellenic Educational Progressive Association) for two years. He remembers selling hot dogs at the baseball games in the KingDome (replaced by SAFECO Field) to raise money for the Church and, as a member of Rotary International, raising over $5000 for hearing aids for those in need in Ioannina, Greece. All this while operating their businesses.

Travel to Greece was a regular occurrence when Demetrios’ parents were alive. Trips have been less frequent since then but have included their children and grandchildren, most recently in 2017.

When their son Evan began school, he spoke no English. His use of Greek has diminished with time. However, by visiting Greece several times as a child and as an adult, the language comes back quickly. Eleni speaks and writes the language with ease.

Except for a few unpleasant incidents, life for Demetrios and Aspasia as Greek immigrants has been rewarding. In the video “Demetrios on the Bus” he recounts a rather humorous experience when a bus driver became very angry with him as Demetrios did not understand the driver and failed to respond to the driver’s questions. Aspasia recalls a few problems she and her siblings experienced at school before the authorities recognized their plight and provided some assistance.

Demetrios and Aspasia have been very successful in their businesses and in providing for their children. Aspasia’s parents set the tone for their children reminding them to “work hard, help your children and spend less than you make.” She also maintains a strong parental role, affectionately telling Evan and Eleni “tha se vraso” (I will boil you) when they misbehaved. For her, “one is lost without family to love and to love you.” Demetrios has reminded his children to be “up front, open and not lie because if you lie once you have to lie again and again.”

By John and Joann Nicon (October 2017)
VIDEO SEGMENTS
 
PHOTOS
1 Aspasia and Demetrios, 2017
2 Voltsis home in Argos Orestiko, date unknown
3 Voltsis family and friends in Greece, (Demetrios in center with glasses) 1961
4 Limantzakis family arrives in Seattle, Aspasia in front, 1956
5 Aspasia and Demetrios, 1968
6 Limantzakis grandparents Alexander and Eleni with Evan and Eleni, 1972
7 Demetrios, Evan and Aspasia, 1988
8 Eleni, Demetrios and Aspasia, 2003
9 SPIRO’S Shoreline, Evan Voltsis, 2014
10 Evan‘s friend Jan, Demetrios, Robbie, Evan, Aspasia, Eleni and Joshua Blanchard, 2007
Photos 1 and 9 by John Nicon; 4 from Limantzakis family collection; all others from Voltsis family collection 
SOURCESVideo interview by John and Joann Nicon, June 2017