On his first day of school when Lazarus Stylianos Politakis was hit in the head with a baseball bat he cried out for help in his native tongue. Someone said, “That sounds like Greek to me.” Katherine Turlis, a Greek classmate and friend to this day, was able to contact Laz’s mother who promptly fainted when she arrived and saw the blood flowing from her son’s head. Fortunately, Laz survived his first day at school and went on to have a very successful banking career in Tacoma, Washington.
Laz’s father, Stylianos (Steve) Politakis, was the youngest of six siblings. His mother and the other siblings died of the plague when he was very young. Steve was cared for by relatives until the age of 11 when his father remarried and had four children from that marriage. The Politakis family came from Palatia on the island of Marmara where Laz’s grandfather Lazarus owned a marble quarry and a grocery store. Marmara was a small island in the Bosporus strait and became mostly a barren retreat location after the Greeks were banished by the Turks.
Lazarus, fearing his 16-year-old son would be grabbed and placed in the army, gave Stylianos money to go to Constantinople and continue on to the United States. That journey took him to Marseilles, France, where he hired on as a seaman to Buenos Aires, Argentina, where he had relatives. This South American destination provided Stylianos better access to the United States. He worked in a packing company there, then went to Montevideo, Uruguay, and again as a seaman, traveled to New York. Stylianos’ certificate of discharge is one of many family documents in Laz’s possession. Stylianos had friends in Tacoma and somehow traveled there where he worked in lumber mills and in commercial fishing. He and a Greek friend also worked as a team piling lumber for a short time in a McKenna, Washington, mill where they were paid for the amount of lumber they piled. In one month they earned $400 which they divided. This was a fortune at the time. His hard work and frugality became his trademark. He served in the military in 1918 and became a citizen without an examination, the procedure at the time.
Eleni Hagidrossou had made her way from Gallimi, Marmara to Constantinople where she secured work with a jewelry company. Her sister Evriclia Martigopoulos had married and was living in Tacoma. With the help of a cousin in Vancouver, British Columbia, they were able to work out plans that would bring Eleni to Canada to work as a domestic helper in her cousin’s home. Employment was a qualification for a single woman to enter Canada. Evriclia had met Steve and told him of her sister living in Canada. Steve had an interest in meeting Eleni, so a trip to Vancouver was planned. The meeting went well and within a few weeks plans were made for them to marry. In January of 1927 a civil wedding ceremony took place in Vancouver. This was necessary before Eleni could enter the United States as a permanent resident. Eleni was very religious and before she would live with Steve as man and wife they would have to marry in the Greek Orthodox Church. That wedding took place in St. Nicholas Church in Tacoma on February 26, 1927.
Born December 21, 1927, Laz says growing up in Tacoma was “tough.” When he was three, the family moved to McKenna where Stylianos had parea (Greek friends) and there was work in lumbering. They lived in a small home on the Nisqually River. Eleni was very disciplined and kept a tight rein on Laz and his younger brother, Eleftherios (Harry). After the family moved back to Tacoma, Eleni contracted tuberculosis and was placed in a sanitarium in Lakewood just south of Tacoma. Despite her isolation, when Stylianos and the boys visited, she would make sure they were keeping up with their Greek reading and writing from lessons she had prepared for them while she was at home and confined in the sanitarium. Eleni would also trace relevant photos from magazines, add instructions for the event pictured in the tracings in her perfect hand writing, and mail the pieces to her family.
Laz began school speaking no English and wearing a silk and velvet outfit. He began to adjust following his encounter with the baseball bat while struggling to translate things he heard into Greek and conversing in English with his older cousins.
The priest at St. Nicholas Church, Fr. Germanos, was Laz’s Greek school teacher. The priest also spent time at the family home, enjoying intellectual conversations with Eleni and partaking of family meals (Stylianos was an excellent cook). Laz and Harry resented being told “to krevat” (go to bed) as they wanted to hear the adult conversation. Laz was 11 when his mother died in 1939. When he was 15 years old he began working for Tony Arger and Pete and Jim Douvis (Davis) selling flowers. One Easter weekend Laz earned $50, representing his 20% of the sales, and amazed his father. While in high school there were many war-related industries in Tacoma and he would work a four-hour shift while attending school. He attended Stadium High School while his brother went to Lincoln (the family lived on the border between the two schools). Laz often had to watch over his energetic and often wisecracking younger brother.
When Laz joined the Marine Corps he discovered there was no record of his birth. Interestingly his father had been known by the name of Steve Laigri. When his father came to the United States, immigration officials asked him for his full name. He responded in Greek, “Stylianos Lazarus Politakis.” They did not understand him so they decided his name would become Steve Laigri. His father accepted this which allowed him to enter the country. Laz spent his time in the Corps under that surname until it was changed legally at the time of his discharge. Benefiting from the GI Bill he attended Pacific Lutheran College (now University) and encountered more reading in one day than in all of high school. Though not a fast reader, his school work improved through a lot of concentration, discipline and a determination to graduate. After avoiding science he finally had to take Botany and was surprised how his Greek language helped him easily pass the class. He graduated in 1951 with a degree in business administration.
Laz worked as a commercial fisherman in the summers while in college. On one fishing trip where his father was a cook, Laz had to work exceptionally hard under a very difficult captain. Although he made good money, his father and Laz both knew this was not the work for him. In June of 1954, just before he was set to go fishing again, he learned that Puget Sound Bank (PSNB) was hiring. Laz applied and began work on July 1, 1954.
He began as an outside adjuster which entailed collecting chronic past due accounts and repossessing the uncollectables. While attempting to repossess a television set from a very belligerent client, a serious scuffle ensued and Laz fled from the knife-wielding man with a few lumps and a ripped suit. This was banking?? He made more money under the GI Bill called 52-20 which translates into $20 for 52 weeks during periods of unemployment.
With the rapid expansion of the bank, Laz took advantage of in-house training programs which gave him a better understanding of other departments. After becoming an officer he was given the opportunity to attend Pacific Coast Banking School (PCBS). This was a three-year program at the University of Washington from which he graduated in 1969. When VISA credit cards first came out, PSNB was one of the only small, retail-oriented banks selected to handle them. With an expected five-year “payback” time for this investment, PSNB made a profit in just two-and-one-half years. With only three branches when he began, PSNB grew to one of the strongest consumer credit banks in western Washington with over 100 branches. Laz retired as senior Executive Vice President and Chief Credit Officer in 1992 and PSNB became Key Bank a short time thereafter. He credits his success to treating people well and being willing to take a few risks.
Laz and Martha were married in a civil ceremony in 1958. They were married in St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church in Tacoma on July 15, 1962.
They have three sons, Victor (her son from a previous marriage), Steven and Christopher. Victor worked as a longshoreman for over 46 years, retiring in 2010. He has two step daughters. Steven is an Executive Vice President and Chief Credit Officer at Kistap bank in Port Orchard, Washington. He and his wife Kathleen have a six-year-old son named Christopher Lazarus Politakis. They live on Fox Island, Washington. Christopher is the Marketing and Communications Director for Tacoma Goodwill. He has a 21-year-old step daughter, Emy, who attends college.
Laz’s two words of wisdom are “persistence” and “no debt.” He knows that he has “never had toomany enemies.” He has always tried to be fair and is grateful to be blessed with enough money to live comfortably and make charitable contributions to his church and his college. Martha adds that everybody who worked for him said, “I might not always agree but he is one of the fairest bosses I have ever had.”By John and Joann Nicon, December 2011
1 Lazarus Stylianos Politakis with his mother’s writings, 2011
2 Maternal grandparents Eleftherios and Ekaterini Hagidrossou
3 Stylianos and Eleni Politakis, circa 1927
4 Stylianos’ seaman’s discharge, 1914
5 Greek picnic, Stylianos and Laz at lower left, circa 1929
6 Haralambos, Stylianos and Lazarus Politakis, circa 1930
7 Laz dressed for school, circa 1932
8 One of Eleni’s tracings, circa 1935
9 Laz just before retirement in 1992
10 Laz at home with bank memories, 2011
11 Steve, Laz, Chris, Martha and Victor, circa 2005
12 Kathleen and Steve Politakis, circa 2010
13 Christopher Lazarus Politakis, 2011
14 Martha and Laz, 2011
Photos 1, 10 and 14 by John Nicon; all others from Politakis family collection SOURCES
Video interview by John and Joann Nicon, December 2011; writings of family history by the late Eleni Politakis; family history notes by Laz and Martha Politakis