Greek-American Historical Museum of Washington State

The Gentleman From Bellingham
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The Gentleman From Bellingham

John J. Franks
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THE GENTLEMAN FROM BELLINGHAM

John J. Franks was born in Bellingham, Washington, on July 24, 1929, where he attended both high school and college. After finishing his education, he served with distinction in the United States Army, including two years in the Korean War. After being discharged, he moved to Seattle, Washington, and began his lifelong employment in the convenience store business; first as a manager, then as an owner and operator of stores. After a long and full life, he passed away on March 6, 2018.

He is remembered by Eleni Carras, whose family maintained a close relationship with John and his wife Soula. An edited version of that eulogy follows.

In memory of Mr. John Franks

I have known John Franks, or as I call him, K Yianni, ever since I can remember. And ever since I can remember, K Yianni has always been just that, a kyrios (gentleman) and a gentle man.

My earliest memories are from the holidays during my childhood. He and Soula would arrive for dinner at our home with arms full of gifts and of food to share. As Soula would quickly and completely take over in the kitchen, K Yianni would settle in on the couch to get an update on the score of the basketball game. There would be talk of current events, but sports dominated the conversation. When called to the table, he would rise with words of self-encouragement “Ach Yiannaki” (affectionally, oh little John). He was jovial and kind.

Dinners together were year-round. No matter how casual or formal the occasion, I fondly remember him well-dressed. K Yianni was always put together. My Mom would joyfully exclaim: “Yiannaki, you make the clothes!” And he would beam. He loved that compliment. But it was true. Whether it was basic burgers or Easter dinner, K Yianni was dressed to the nines every time.

During these dinners over the years, I would learn about him in various ways: about his family of course, the mother he adored, the father he respected, and the brothers he loved, always referred to as “Brother Bill and Brother Gus, eh.” I learned about his experiences in business, how he worked early on for 7-11 (convenience stores), learning the operation from top to bottom—staffing, inventory, all of it—only to launch his own convenience stores called “Super 24.” Not until I became interested in business myself did I start to understand how these stores reflected micro-economies of the neighborhoods in which they were located. I learned about the differences between the Delridge and Juanita communities just by hearing him talk about his stores. He was a proud entrepreneur. He took immense joy in the jobs he helped to create and the difference he could make in the lives of his employees. He would later say the same thing about the house he and Soula built in his home village in Greece, that what they did helped to make a difference for others by creating so many jobs.

K Yianni was also a natural competitor. I witnessed this quality in action–deliberate and decisive action during Greek card games that can, and do, elicit passionate play and extreme excitement among its participants. Greeks are vocal and don’t always observe the rules. But K Yianni, dapper and disciplined, usually kept his cool. As I look back now, I am not sure how much was his style or his strategy, because during his turn he also took… his… time…. And then another pause, at times a little longer than necessary—a sign of his confidence. As he selected a card to play from his hand, he pinched it and kept it close to his chest. Upon the card’s release, his turn would finally be over. And if it didn’t go his way, he knew in the end, it was just a game.

K Yianni was a proud Greek too. It’s worth knowing how this Bellingham native met his future Greek wife. It was 1970. John’s mother and father had the occasion to meet a young lady who they took a real liking to. These excited Greek parents told their son about this fantastic Greek girl, named “Soula,” and urged him to find her, as she too lived in Seattle. Aristotle teaches us that everything we do, we do with an eye toward something else. After hearing about this “Soula,” John started attending St. Demetrios Greek Orthodox Church services every week for months. No luck! Ever a supporter of Greek culture and maybe looking for a break from services, John attended the Church of the Assumption’s bazaar. There, he spotted a young, dark-haired woman near the records and said, “Hello. My name is John Franks.” John suddenly found the need to expand his Greek music collection. They get to talking, and after a little while, he finds out her name: Soula! THIS is THE Soula! She was at the other church all this time. He called his mom to tell her he finally found her! Now, he needed an in with her so he could take her out.

At the time Soula was preparing for a trip to Greece when John, meanwhile, found a mutual friend, Virginia Pantages, to help him arrange an introduction. She passed along his request to Soula for her phone number, but Soula said, “No.” After some back and forth, John to Virginia, and Virginia to Soula, Virginia to John, (you get the idea) Soula relented and gave Virginia the ok to pass her number to John.

On their first date, both are impeccably dressed for dinner at the famous Rosellini’s 410. They get settled and order a glass of wine. Dinner follows, and conversation escalates. She asks him, “John, do you speak Greek?” Their exchange until now had been in English. He says, “Yes.” She says, “OK. I am going to tell you my whole life story in Greek.” Soula proceeds to share her life story including the loss of her dad, the loss of her mom, her time in Australia, how she came to the United States, and everything in-between. It takes her two hours. She didn’t eat a bite. On the other side of the table sat John, who sipped his wine, finished his dinner and just stared at her. He had remained expressionless throughout her story telling, and Soula began to think that something might be wrong with him. “John, are you sure you understand Greek?” Finally, the truth, “No, no I don’t. But I am enjoying listening to you.”

Soula did go to Greece but John didn’t back down so easily. He pursued her. He went to Greece, too, and he found her. They were engaged, returned to the United States and were married at St. Demetrios.

As individuals and as a couple, K Yianni and Soula have been a positive influence and a formidable example throughout my life. When you’re young, you do what you’re told. You listen to the grown-up conversation at the dinner table with little hope of participation. You ask to be excused so you can go play. But as you age, you begin paying attention. The adults that surround you influence you, for good or for bad. If you’re lucky like me, it’s for good. You begin to recognize qualities in people that matter, that differentiate them from one person to another, and that you want to emulate. As I look back, I see that the kind of person I want to be as an adult was at my childhood dinner table all along. How fortunate can I be that I didn’t have to go looking for it? Before me all this time has been the example set by K Yianni, by how he presented himself, by what he talked about and of course, by how he behaved: a gentleman and a gentle man.

K Yianni and I met for lunch a long while ago. Upon arrival, I was ushered to the table by the hostess. I was on time and he was early. There he was, wearing a jacket and slacks, polished shoes, and that unforgettable smile. I still remember the embrace he gave me when I arrived. I remember how he treated the servers and those around him. I remember how much I enjoyed the conversation that day, how much fun I had just talking with him about all kinds of things, about business, about family, about Greece.

Kindness. That’s the word I associate with K Yianni. When I picture him coming through the front door of our home, I remember a smiling, graceful, and grateful man. I remember a man who, time and again, helped his wife from the car, and who late in life, accepted her help to get back into that car. I remember a man who lovingly gave back to his community, who helped his brothers, his family, his relatives in Greece, his church and countless others. I remember a man who I never once heard curse. I remember a man who kept himself healthy and fit. I remember a man with a competitive spirit and giving heart. I remember a man who valued and even outwardly praised his wife. I know now that these were choices made by a gentleman.

Alexander the Great said: “Whatever possession we gain by our sword cannot be sure or lasting, but the love gained by kindness is certain and durable.”

I will miss the sound of his soft voice. I will miss his warm presence and embrace. I will miss teasing him that no chocolate was safe if left near him. I will miss the grin that appeared when he knew he was about to play the winning card. I will miss all of these things. And because of the love I got from him and Soula, the kind of love that is certain and durable. I will aspire to express gratitude for that love and for the example I will always have. I will aspire to choose kindness.

May his memory be eternal.

SOURCES
Obituary notice from Church of the Assumption
Eulogy by Eleni Carras, given March 10, 2018