Greek-American Historical Museum of Washington State

It’s All Been A Plus
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It’s All Been A Plus

Chris Legeros
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1 Chris Legeros with awards, 2014Chris Legeros – 1952-2015

May his Memory be Eternal

With a 39-year career in broadcast journalism, Chris Legeros has experienced more than he ever expected in his life. He credits his culture and heritage (four generations of Greek ancestors) with giving him the strength and tenacity to be successful in his work.

Christopher (Christoforos) George (Georgos) Legeros was born in Minneapolis, Minnesota, on November 12, 1952.  While not confirmed, it has been said that the name Legeros refers to people who are tall and beautiful.  Chris does know that the Legeros name is common in the city of Patras, Greece, not far from his families’ homes.  Before being interviewed for this story, Chris conducted his usual level of research, this time into his own ancestry by speaking with his aunts and other relatives.  Much of his family history from his inquiries appears in italics following his story.

Chris’ father George was educated through the Navy and attended a number of universities.  He earned his master’s degree in business at the University of Chicago.  As a dutiful son he joined the family business at the Rainbow Café, as his father needed him and even passed up an opportunity to operate a McDonald’s franchise.  George met Constance (Connie) Nikopoulos and they were married on December 27, 1951.  Settled in Minneapolis, they had four children: Chris, the eldest, Nick in 1955, David, who died tragically at the age of two, and Doria. In Minneapolis, Nick is a renowned bronze sculptor and Doria is the pastoral assistant at St. Mary’s Greek Orthodox Church which her grandfather helped build.   George Legeros died in 2001 at the age of 76 while Connie died at the age of 45 from cancer.

GROWING UP

2 Chris, circa 1956As a November baby, Chris was almost held back for not meeting the school’s September birth deadline.  So, his parents sent him to an “all-girl” private school that allowed boys in kindergarten, and then to a men’s military school for first grade, before he began the second grade at Edina Highlands Elementary in suburban Minneapolis.  English was spoken at home and his parents spoke Greek only when they didn’t want their children to understand what they were saying, or in moments of frustration with their children.  Chris remembers a few Greek words, especially xilo (stick) which might be used during those frustrating moments. Chris joined the Sons of Pericles, the young men’s affiliate of AHEPA (American Hellenic Educational Progressive Association,) which had been formed in anticipation of a national AHEPA convention in Minneapolis.  As he was shy in school, the Sons experience increased his confidence through its various activities and also helped him establish close friendships with other young Greek men.  Some of those friendships continue to this day.

Chris was more of a scholar than an athlete.  In fact his physical education teacher, Stavros Canakes, once called him a “jelly doughnut” rather than an athlete.  His low grades in physical education were, however, offset by high marks in the sciences and communication.  After graduation from high school in 1970, he sought to become a veterinarian through studies at the University of Minnesota School of Agriculture.  However, he struggled with the chemistry courses but enjoyed the communications and journalism-related subjects.  One day, while riding the bus and considering a change in college majors, he saw a bumper sticker that said, “Jesus, set me Free,” and quickly transferred to the school of broadcast journalism.  After an extra quarter of school and internships at WTCN TV and WWTC radio he graduated in 1974.

CAREER BEGINNINGS

Finding few opportunities in the Minneapolis area, Chris applied for a job in Alexandria, Minnesota.  After a3 First job, 1975-1977 trying TV audition, where the station manager admonished Chris to “speak more authoritatively,” he faced a terrifying trip home. While driving back to Minneapolis in a severe snowstorm he had to abandon his car but was lucky to find the last available room in a roadside motel.  Despite the adversities, he got the job at KCMT, a small station serving 33 counties in west central Minnesota.  For 2 1/2 years, Chris “paid his dues” as one of three news people, filming his own stories like a “one-man-band” with outdated equipment, batteries that failed in the 20-to-30-degree-below-zero temperatures and constant travel throughout the area.  Looking for a better position, he sent out several inquiries and was ready to accept a position at an ABC affiliate in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.  While in Cedar Rapids he also went across the street to the CBS affiliate, WMT TV, where he was offered and accepted an even more desirable position as a reporter five days a week.  The ABC folks were upset but somewhat mollified when Chris refunded the air fare which they had spent to recruit him.  His new job required a daily 70-mile drive to Dubuque, Iowa, to conduct interviews and then a trip back to Cedar Rapids to edit the film, write and report the story.  After seven grueling 4 Julie and Chis wedding, 1981months, he took an opening for the weekend anchor position and reported on a variety of fires, floods and murders three days a week.

The Green Gable Inn in Cedar Rapids was a social meeting place where Chris and his friends would congregate.  Julie Dowd worked there while attending nursing school and the two began dating.  She had been raised in the Catholic Church and Chris’ priest in Minneapolis advised him that a Catholic wedding at her home church in Waterloo would be okay as long as his marriage was subsequently blessed in a Greek Orthodox Church. When the Catholic priest first required that their future children be baptized Catholic, contrary to the couple’s wishes, they were married at St. John the Baptist Greek Orthodox Church in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, on May 9, 1981.

THE MOVE TO SEATTLE

Chris knew he could not raise a family or purchase a home on the amount he was earning in Iowa, but could not find work in Minneapolis, where he wanted to be near his family.  Meanwhile, a friend had found a reporting job in Seattle and, when a news spot became available, urged Chris to send a tape to KIRO TV.  Neither he, nor Julie had ever been to Seattle.  However, in January of 1983, Chris traveled to Seattle, secured a new position, called Julie with the news and began working on February 13, 1983. Chris was both “shell shocked” and relieved to have a professional photographer accompany him and not have to haul the heavy equipment by himself.  However, the expectations were much higher than in Iowa.  The reporting responsibilities became challenging and exciting. There was a wealth of resources committed to broadcasting at the time.  KIRO even had a helicopter which sometimes served as a “taxi” taking reporters to and from distant stories.

5 Legereos family (l-r) Chris, Anna, Elena, Julie, circa 1988 6 Elena and Anna, 2013On November 11, 1984, Elena Legeros was born. She was followed by a sister, Anna, on September 11, 1987.  Elena lives and works in Los Angeles while Anna and her husband, Alex Fleet live in Kirkland.

Chris has taken a wide variety of assignments. Perhaps the biggest adventure came in 1991 when he was chosen to meet up with the 50th General Hospital unit in the Middle East during the Persian Gulf War to retake Kuwait from Iraqi forces.  Military flights were not available so Chris traveled on commercial air from Seattle, to Britain, to Athens and eventually landing in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, where he spent the next week covering the action.  He is still an honorary member of the 50th General Hospital though the unit has been disbanded.

7 Unknown and Chris at work,circa 1998             8 Chris at work, circa 2009

The broadcast industry was virtually unchanged from the time it began in the 1950s with manual typewriters, heavy film cameras and clattering teletype machines bringing news from the Associated Press and United Press International.  With the change to electronic and computer equipment, now news is sent by satellite or even with cell phone technology.  Reporters must meet a constant schedule of deadlines and make sure the viewers’ attention does not wander.  Still, Chris relishes the adventures including the joy of meeting and interviewing famous people, traveling on military planes, helicopters and ships, floating in a hot-air balloon, but never, with Julie’s admonition, jumping out of an airplane.  Among the many awards he has received are three Regional Emmys for news reporting by the National Academy of Television Arts & Sciences (NATAS). The KIRO video archives contain over 500 news stories that Chris has prepared over his years with the Seattle station and can be seen at www.kirotv.com/search/?q=legeros.

9 Mariners ball game, 2007  10 Julie and Chris, 2011  11 Legeeros siblings Chris, Nick and Doria, 2013

REFLECTIONS

For Chris his Greek heritage and Greek Orthodox faith are as one.  By going to church, celebrating the Greek holidays and traditions and emulating his family’s behavior, he believes he has been made stronger.  Chris has given of his talents to Seattle’s Greek community in many ways.  His clever and humorous style of presentation is always entertaining.  He even appeared as a Polynesian dancer with a coconut-shell brassiere and grass skirt while emceeing the All Saints Foundation Hawaiian fund-raising event.  He believes in hard work that is balanced with a family life, something his career has not always allowed him to do.

12 Legeros family Christmas 2013 13 Paul Plumis, John John and Chris, the three amigos, circa 1000

With a smile on his face he fondly recalls his papou (grandfather) chanting “klapseme mana, klapseme, nickta then pernai” (cry for me mother, cry for me, the night is never ending) while driving Chris and his un-comprehending, wide-eyed, non-Greek friends to a fishing adventure.  Except for the occasional teasing, being Greek has never presented any obstacles in his life.  He says “It’s always been a plus!” Chris enjoys the saying eleftheria e thanatos (liberty or death) as it shows the spunkiness of a small people up against overwhelming forces and is indicative of Greeks in general.

MY FATHER’S FAMILY

My paternal great grandparents were George Christ Legeros and Eleni Rendas Legeros. It is believed they headed for the hills to escape the Turkish invasion of 1897 and found their home in Paleoxarion, near Nafpaktos.  George was the “law” in the village and the unofficial mayor, probably appointed by some higher-up. This was a very remote village you could only reach by foot or donkey.   Natural mountain springs provided the water and heat came from burning wood.  The family tended goats and grew grapes.  One can now reach the village with a 45-minute drive on a new road.

14 Great grandparent family (l-r) Betty, Ioanna, Gus, George and Anna Legeros, 1900sGeorge and Eleni had five children, one of whom was my grandfather Christ George Legeros. He had two brothers, John and Harry and two sisters, Mary and Vasiliki.  My paternal grandmother, Anna Flogeros, was from near Sparta in the Peloponnese.  My grandfather was sent to America after his father died around 1908, with the mission of sending money home and eventually bringing his brothers to America. I remember him saying that he came with only “God in his pocket,” a crucifix and little money. We know he went to work in Portland, Oregon, at first, probably at a restaurant.  He then went to Milwaukee, Wisconsin, working as a bus boy, but ran from the restaurant rather than risk being fined for breaking a rack of plates. He quickly boarded a train to Minneapolis, Minnesota.  In Minneapolis he was working at the Radisson Hotel as a waiter and while dusting a crystal chandelier, rotating it to get to each pendant, unscrewed it from the ceiling.  When it came crashing down to the floor he fled again.

15 Paternal grandparents, Anna and Chris Legeros 1930s 15 Paternal grandparents, Anna and Chris Legeros 1930s  16 Rainbow Cafe postcard, date unknown   17 Chris Legeros with customer at the Rainbow, 1940s

In Minneapolis, he worked hard and eventually brought his brothers to America.  Together, my grandfather, Christ, and his brother, John, opened a restaurant called the Rainbow Café in 1919 which stayed in the family until 1979.  It was small, the size of a coffee shop.  Eventually my grandfather 18 Eleni Rendis and Chris arriving in New York, 1949bought out his brother and the restaurant expanded to seat 300 people. It had 100 employees.  The food was homemade with a bakery downstairs and a big butcher shop where they cut up the beef for steaks and ground their own hamburger. My father, George, his brothers John and Conn went into the same business. Conn eventually managed the car wash and gas station on the property. The family had the whole corner in the Uptown neighborhood with apartments, offices, retail stores, and a gas station which was large enough to support not just my grandparents, but my father, George Legeros’ family, and the families that belonged to my uncles John and Conn Legeros. The restaurant was sold and my father retired in 1979.

MY MOTHER’S FAMILY

My great great grandfather on my mother’s side was Andoni George Nikopoulos. We don’t remember what my great great grandmother’s name was, but they had three sons: my grandfather, George, his brothers, Harry, Pete, Paul, and sisters Smyro and Kristina. They lived in Tripoli. George, Harry and Pete were sent to the United States as young men to earn money so that they could pay the dowries for the sisters.  They shined shoes and worked in restaurants to save their money and settled in Chicago, Illinois. My grandfather George started buying rental properties and became very wealthy.  He was one of the organizers of a bank in downtown Chicago and then established a company of his own.  It was called First State Savings and Loan and was located where North Clark Street and North Broadway intersected with West Diversey Parkway. During the depression, when many people were hurting financially, my grandfather was in good shape.

When he was about 40 years old, he travelled back to Argos, Greece, looking for a bride. There was a place in the city square where mothers would often “parade” their daughters in the hopes they would catch the eyes of suitable husbands. My grandfather caught a glimpse of Nikolitsa Gatsopoulos and that was it. He had his representative approach her family and they were engaged even before Nikolitsa had a chance to get a look at his face or meet him!  My grandfather refused to accept a dowry for her and bought all the things that usually came with a bride: clothes, jewelry, etc.  They lived in a 5,000-square-foot apartment on Wellington Street in Chicago, with a maid and nurse for the children.

I don’t know much about the Gatsopoulos family. My great grandmother’s name was Daria. They were educated, but we don’t know what their profession was in Argos.  I personally met two of my grandmother’s siblings, Bill Gatsos and Marika Potari. There were at least two other siblings, Sotiro and George. When another aunt asked Marika what she could remember about other siblings, she got frustrated because she couldn’t remember. She said the man in Argos who kept birth and other family records left town and took the books with him.

My maternal great grandparents were George Konstantine Flogeros and loanna Geovanis Flogeros. They lived in a village very near Sparta. George was described as a “Kentucky gentleman.” He was stately, strict, and expected a hand kiss from the kids. Respect was everything to him. loanna’s family members were all doctors and teachers. My great-grandfather had vineyards in Greece and was a wine maker, but his wines soured for seven years so they came to America looking for a better life. Once they arrived in New York City, George found someone who used to pick grapes for him. The man now had a restaurant and my great grandfather asked him for a job washing dishes. The man said, “Kirios (sir), I can’t give you this job, it is beneath you, you are the Kirios.” My great grandfather replied, “Don’t think of me as I was then, think of me as I am now, I need a job.” He got that job, worked hard and eventually had three of his own businesses in Brooklyn.  At least one of those businesses was a restaurant.  One day a robber entered the restaurant and broke my great grandmother’s arm while he was in the process of stealing cash from the register.  My great grandfather and great uncles hired some thugs to track down the robber and “teach him a lesson.” The thugs came back later and said they had killed the robber “by mistake.”  Terrified, my great grandfather packed up his family and moved to Minneapolis. Their children included Gus, Bertha, my grandmother Anna and Betty.

By John and Joann Nicon (September 2014)

PHOTOS
1 Chris Legeros with a few of many awards, 2014
2 Chris, circa 1956
3 Chris at his first job, circa 1976
4 Julie and Chris wedding, 1981
5 Chris Legeros family (l-r) Chris, Anna, Helena, Julie, circa 1988
6 Helena and Ana, 2013
7 KIRO photographer Jim Waltz and Chris at work, circa 2010
8 Chris at work, 2009
9 Chris at Mariners game, 2007
10 Julie and Chris, 2011
11 Legeros siblings (l-r) Chris, Nick and Doria, 2013
12 Chris Legeros family (l-r) Julie, Chris, Helena, Anna, Alex  (last name), Christmas 2013
13 Three amigos, Paul Plumis, John John and Chris, circa 2011
14 Great grandparents family, (l-r) Betty, Ioanna, Bertha, Gus, George, Anna Flogeros, 1900s
15 Paternal grandparents, Anna and Chris Legeros, 1930s
16 Rainbow Café postcard, date unknown
17 Chris Legeros with Rainbow customer, 1940s
18 Eleni Rendas Legeros and son Chris arriving in New York, 1949
Photos 1, and 16 by John Nicon; all others from Legeros family collection
SOURCES
Video interview by John and Joann Nicon, September, 2014;  family research by Chris Legeros