Greek-American Historical Museum of Washington State

Spokane’s Gentle Giant
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Spokane’s Gentle Giant

George Alex
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Dorothea and George Alex in front of the family hometIt’s not just George Alex’s height, but the extent of his generosity and honest reputation that earn him this title.  When a parking lot customer saw George standing near the pay box, he was in awe and said he would never violate the honor system that exists at Mary’s Parking.   He needn’t have worried.  George would have gently asked him to pay the fee.

There have been many stories written about George’s mother Mary Alex Gianetsas and the family home in Spokane, Washington.  However, the story of the family from George’s perspective adds another dimension.

George’s father Christo Alexopoulos (Alex) was from Christo, George, Mary and  Dorothea AlexSkopelos, one of the Sporades Islands in the Aegean Sea. He came to Yakima, Washington, where he had friends and relatives and worked on the railroad.  Telling him it was time to marry, a distant aunt had a photo of a cousin and one of Maria (Mary) Spanopoulou from Zagora on the Pelion Peninsula in Greece.  Christo chose Mary who was happy to leave Greece where she had worked making hats in what George describes as a “slave factory.”   Mary married Christo in a civil ceremony on the first day of her arrival in New York in 1924.  However, she would not let him “touch her” until after their Greek Orthodox wedding in Yakima, Washington.

The family settled in an area between Ellensburg and Yakima whePanagioti and  Mary Gianetsasre four children were born:  Frank (died shortly after childbirth), Constantine (Gus), George and Dorothea (Dorothy).  Their father died tragically in 1934 with four others, a result of botulism from beans that had been canned by a neighbor.  Fortunately, Mary and her children did not eat the beans and were spared.

Mary's houseMary had natural business skills and began real estate work in Yakima. In 1938 she married Pete Gianetsas, another railroader, and moved with him and her three children to Spokane.  She became active in real estate buying, repairing and renting apartment buildings.  She also purchased the 25-room family home overlooking downtown Spokane which became a “hold out” when threatened by expansion of the adjoining Sacred Heart medical complex. Another child, Xenia, was born.

Family in Greece 1939When George was six years old, the family visited Greece where he remembers running barefoot for six months.  However, when war broke out in Poland, the family left on the last ship to leave Greece.  The vessel was stopped by a German submarine.  George recalls the Germans boarding with tommy guns drawn, searching the ship for armaments.  Whistles were blowing and life boats were being manned but the ship was eventually allowed to continue on its voyage.  George vividly remembers this frightening event.

In Spokane most of George’s friends were not Greek.  He recalls a few Greek families in Spokane proper and several more in the adjacent Spokane Valley area.  There was not a specific area where Greek families settled.  Most of the contact with other Greeks occurred at Holy Trinity Church, visiting families and attending picnics on Sundays.  His only negative memory was being embarrassed by his mother scolding them in Greek and when non-Greek friends encountered strange foods while visiting the Alex home.  Dhascalo (teacher) Chakounas first taught Greek school at the Church, but later came to the family home as well.

George, Dorothea Alex, John Lallas and Constantine AlexGeorge was closest with the Panagakis,  Besas, Gulusis and Prekeges families.  Later he knew the Damascus, Zografos and Tsalaky families.   As young Greeks they loved to use broken Greek while laughing at peoples’ mistakes which added to having a good time together.  There was Greek dancing at church activities, but mostly American dancing at home with up to 50 or 60 people in the family home ballroom.

George attended Lewis and Clark High School in Spokane and then earned his degree in fine arts at Eastern Washington College (now University) in Cheney, Washington.  He retired from teaching after 25 years and began his second career in real estate and land development in which he is still active.

Over the years George has gained insights into the Greek spirit.  If Greeks sometimes have suspicious minds, he understands and believes those suspicions have basis in the difficult times they experienced in their homeland.  George values the intangible spirit that brings Greeks together anywhere in the world.  He believes his love of Greece, garnered from many visits there, and his family background have made him more well-rounded than many people.

With a wife, three daughters and seven grandchildren, George wants to be remembered as a good family man that did something worthwhile, both in his teaching and in his real estate work.

By John and Joann Nicon, July 2011

PHOTOS
1 Dorothea and George Alex in front of the family home
2 Christo, George, Mary and Dorothea Alex
3 Panagioti (Pete) and Mary Gianetsas
4 Mary’s House
5 Family in Greece, 1939: Front row; Dorothea Alex, Victoria Spanopoulou, Constantine Alex, Katherine Spanopoulou (on lap), Mary Alex Gianetsas, Evrethiki Spanopoulou, Maria Spanopoulou; Back row; Constantine Alex, Alexandros Spanopoulos, Panagioti Gianetsas, Victoria  Spanopoulou, John Spanopoulos, George (partly hidden), Theodora Spanopoulou
6 George, Dorothea, John Lallas and Constantine in George’s 1930 blue Oldsmobile roadster
Photo 1 by John Nicon, photo 4 from Spokesman-Review, all other photos from Alex family collection
SOURCES
Interview with George and Dorothea Alex by John and Joann Nicon, July 2011; The Spokesman-Review, June 30, 2011 http://m.spokesman.com/stories/2011/jun/30/determination-preserves-home-as-development/; The Seattle Times, March 7, 1991