Greek-American Historical Museum of Washington State

TWO FOR THE MUSEUM

Since 2009, John and Joann Nicon have been conducting video interviews with Greeks and Greek-Americans in Washington State. With the help of many others, stories from those interviews have been shared worldwide. Now, here is a little information about John and Joann and their work with the Greek-American Historical Museum of Washington State.

JOANN GEORGES NICON

Joann’s father, Constantine (Gus) Georges (1892-1956) immigrated to Chicago from the small village of Kambia near Lamia in Central Greece. He returned to marry Ekaterini “Rina” Tsilifonis (1903-1975) from the neighboring village of Spercheiada. They arrived in Chicago in 1938, Rina pregnant with their first daughter, Helen (see SORTA LIKE THE VILLAGE). And Joann followed in 1942. The family moved to Seattle in 1945 and their home was in the Wallingford neighborhood with many other Greek families. After graduating from Lincoln High School, Joann attended the University of Washington (UW), earning bachelor’s and master’s degrees in speech pathology and audiology. She spent three years working as a research associate on an early language development project in Portland, Oregon, continuing with the project from Seattle after she and John married in 1969. While raising their children, she worked on and off at the UW Speech and Hearing Clinic, then in human resources for a non-profit educational institute and finally in an apparel design, manufacturing and retail business until retiring in 2008.

JOHN SPIRO NICON

Diamantis (Diamond) Nicon (aka Nekou) (1874–1929) and his wife Fotini (nee Moulas) (1880-1933) were from the island of Leros in the Aegean Dodecanese chain. Diamond made three trips to the United States, the first in the 1880s and finally, with his five children in 1921, the youngest being John’s father, Spiro “Spin” (1911-1994). John’s maternal grandparents, Christos Chakos (aka Tsakos) (1874-1915) and Polixeni (nee Mingas) (1875-1915) were from the small village of Avariko in Roumeli, in Central Greece. They came with their three children, and two more, the youngest being John’s mother Kleanthi “Clara” (1914-2013) who were born in Everett, Washington. Spiro and Clara were both educated in Seattle, married in 1934 and raised their children, Fotini (Faye) Stylianopoulos, (see BORN TO BE GREEK) born 1938 and John Spiro, born 1939 with a mix of Greek and English.

The Nicons also lived in Wallingford where John graduated from Lincoln High School and attended Whitman College in Walla Walla, Washington. He earned a master’s degree in education from Stanford University and began a 30-year career in the criminal justice field. After six years as a juvenile parole officer, he completed a master’s degree in public administration from the UW and continued with a variety of governmental positions in Seattle, King and Snohomish Counties and in Olympia, Washington, with the Department of Institutions. He describes himself as an itinerant criminal justice administrator. Finally, he combined his love of travel, customer service and cars by working as a travel counselor for AAA Washington until his retirement in 2008.

Their children are Spyridon and Georgia. Spyridon lives in Seattle with his wife Lisa and twin daughters Sofia Raban and Eleni Austin. Georgia lives in New Jersey with her husband Pascal and two children, Matthis Yiannis and Joanna Mado.

A GREEK MUSEUM

Joann’s involvement with the Ethnic Heritage Council of the Northwest, taking classes in archiving, oral histories and historical preservation from Seattle’s Museum of History & Industry (MOHAI), chairing the publication of the Seattle Greek Orthodox Church of the Assumption 40th Anniversary book and 60th anniversary panel display provided significant experience in museum-related activities. While working for AAA Washington, John prepared several photo/documentaries based on travel experiences around the United States. In 2007 John and Joann authored a photo compilation titled “The Collected Works of Tina Alexander, Stained Glass Artist. That same year, following the publication of the 75th Anniversary book of Seattle’s St. Demetrios Church, the establishment of the Hellenic Studies program at the UW and a substantial donation of AHEPA items from the Rakus family to the UW, Joann and Seattle attorney John T. John discussed the idea of continuing the historical documentation by establishing a museum. Ideas developed, and discussion continued into 2009 when John said, “Let’s just begin even if we have to use our basement for the museum.”

It began with visits to older Greek immigrants before their photos and memorabilia ended in thrift stores. They took a small digital camera along and used the video setting during those visits. Discussions with members of the Greek community with real estate holdings determined that the expense of establishing a physical site was not feasible. Meanwhile, John and Joann had become familiar with three online museum sites: DENSHO, HISTORYLINK and LAKE UNION HISTORY Thus, the idea of making the Greek-American Historical Museum of Washington State a virtual or online museum was born. A board of directors was formed from a group of volunteers. A non-profit corporation, a 501 (c) (3) entity and a web site were established. Then when the standing AHEPA (American Hellenic Educational Progressive Association) district governor, also an information technology employee at the UW was contacted, he joined the group and continued development of the site.

Video interviews were scheduled with the help of Greek residents in all parts of Washington State. Collecting items was not in the plan but some items were given and initially stored in the Nicon basement. Formal guidelines were prepared to assist narrators, those persons telling their stories. Several generous donations were received when the idea began. While the museum was never intended to be a member organization nor would fund raising be part of the process, many of those people interviewed voluntarily contributed financially to the program.

Primarily four people perform the work of the museum. John and Joann conduct the video interviews and distill them into exhibits with narrative, photos and video segments. Helen Georges is the editor. Ted Maroutsos was the web administrator and now Andrea Christensen serves in that role. At its busiest time, a new exhibit was posted on the museum home page every two weeks. By the end of 2018, over 200 interviews had been conducted and over 150 exhibits had been posted. Along the way over 600 items have been donated and those photographs, documents, newspaper articles, bound volumes, costumes and textiles are housed in a climate-controlled archive at the Church of the Assumption in Seattle. Major parts of the collection include AHEPA materials and Greek War Relief memorabilia. Most of these items have been digitized and placed in a database which may be viewed from the home page.

The Museum has also conducted several outreach projects. One was a presentation by Taso Lagos who researched the life of and wrote a book on Alexander Pantages, the movie and entertainment mogul. Two history competitions were held in cooperation with AHEPA where young people were invited to document their family’s Greek history via a variety of forms including media and writing and received monetary awards for their work. A five-month exhibit titled “A Place at the Table” was staged at MOHAI in 2015 and featured displays of items depicting the over 300 Greek-owned or Greek-operated restaurants that existed in Washington State beginning in the early 1900s. In 2018 Greeks in Washington held a panel discussion titled “Preserving our Culture in a Changing American Environment.” With the recent engagement of a UW intern, plans are being made to publish a book on Greek restaurants and to develop and show a display of archival materials. In 2018, a Greek community calendar was established with the purpose of coordinating and planning the various activities in the community. While the focus of the museum is on the secular Greek experience, Greeks in Washington maintains a close relationship with the Greek Orthodox churches in the state.

Greeks in Washington has been recognized by the Washington Museum Association, the Association of King County Historical Organizations and the Ethnic Heritage Council of the Pacific Northwest. Inquiries and commendations from around the world have been received, many from Greece. Exhibits and photos are now being shared on Facebook and Instagram. Several people who have been interviewed have also prepared their own autobiographies either independently or when inspired by the interview process. In May of 2016 a joint celebration was held to recognize those who have been interviewed for Greeks in Washington and to honor long-time AHEPA members. After interviewing many older Greek immigrants and Greek Americans there are many more stories from younger folks who have diligently kept their heritage.

As Greeks in Washington enters its 10th year, its Board of directors is considering what the future may bring. A University of Washington intern has been engaged to help promote the items in the archive and the possibility of a publication and traveling displays are being considered. A closer association with the Hellenic Studies program at the UW is being investigated.

In John and Joann’s words, “We are pleased to be using our skills to showcase our ethnic background in a manner that uses the latest technology. Meeting with Greeks in Washington as they share their stories has been incredibly rewarding. Accolades and inquiries from around the world show that there are ways to achieve the goals of collecting, preserving and sharing the Greek heritage without the expenses associated with a physical site.”

By John Nicon (date when posted)
PHOTOGRAPHS
1 John and Joann, circa 2017
2 Rina and Gus Georges wedding, 1937
3 Chicago Relatives, (l-r) Standing: George Demos, James Demos, Joy Demos, Rina Georges, Paraskevi Kalas, Eftihia Demos, Tom Demos; Seated: Betty Kalas, Joann Georges, Helen Georges, James Kalas,  1949
4 Diamantis Nicon family (l-r) Rear: Irene Nicon, Olga Moulas, Maria Nicon, Annetta Moulas; Front: Fotini Nicon, Spiro Nicon, Irene Nekou, Mike Nicon, Diamond Nicon, Nick Nicon.
5 Chris Chakos family (l-r) Rear: Unknown, Chris Chakos, Unknown, Unknown; Front: Clara Chakos, Unknown, Efthemia Chakos, Jim Chakos, Polexeni Chakos, Cleopatra Chakos, Unknown, circa 1915
6 Joann, Georgia, Spyridon and John Nicon, late 1970s
7 John Nicon family (l-r): Rear: Joanna Madiba, Pascal Madiba, Lisa Nicon, Spyridon Nicon, John Nicon; Front: Joann Nicon, Sofia Nicon, Eleni Nicon, Helen Georges, Georgia Madiba, Matthis Madiba, 2017
8 Taso Lagos, 2009
9 Shawn Carkonen and Sophia Looney, 2016
10 A Place at the Table exhibit, 2015
11 Washington Museum Association award presentation, 2013
12 Association of King County Historical Organizations award presentation, Ted Maroutsos, Helen Georges and John Nicon, 2013
13 Ethnic Heritage Council award presentation, (l-r) Stephanie Stafford, Joanna Pulakis, Joann Nicon, John Nicon, 2015
14 Greeks in Washington and AHEPA recognition event, 2017
Photos from Nicon and Georges family collections and Greeks in Washington collection
SOURCES
Video interview by Steve Frangos, October 2018 with added material from John and Joann Nicon