Nikolaos (Nick) Georgiou (George) Cooper’s surname was originally Kourkoutas but, when an American struggled with the name saying “Coo Coo,” the name evolved into Cooper. The family was from Beriko near Kefalovryson (now Thermo) in the western mountains of central Greece. Nick was 14 years old in the early 1900s when he came to New York wearing a pair of borrowed shoes with holes in the soles and stayed with his friend Mantho Babatsikos. Nick somehow traveled to Everett, Washington, where his brother Costa had preceded him. In Everett he found a number of Greeks including the Ramos, Scarlatos, Wells, Pappas, Langus families, most of whom came from the same part of Greece. Documents show that Nick went to Alaska and worked in a lumber mill where he also learned how to cook. He returned to Washington in 1917 and shared ownership of the Eagles Café in downtown Seattle with Pete Wells, Pericles Scarlatos and Don Andrews. When the Eagles Café building was demolished and replaced by the Northern Life Tower in 1928, Wells opened the Lotus Café and Nick opened the Orpheum Café on Fourth and Seneca. Nick had little money and his business venture was financed by an attorney and a customer at the Eagles who recognized Nick’s honesty and work ethic. Every Thanksgiving or Christmas Nick would deliver a turkey or ham to his benefactor. When Nick arrived with his last payment on the loan, the man refused the payment in appreciation for Nick’s ethics. Nick said “No! That’s not the Greek way.” and the payment was accepted.
Sam Pishue was a fairly wealthy Greek immigrant in Seattle when he returned to Greece and adopted his niece, Athena Phillips (nee Voltsis), after her father was killed in the war with Bulgaria. Athena then brought her sister, Tasia, and Gus’s mother, Alexandra, to Seattle. Alexandra was not seeking to marry and wanted to pursue her education. However, her uncle Sam took her to a Greek wedding and encouraged her to meet possible mates. He said, “There will be five men but look for the one with the patent leather shoes. They are all good men but that one is smarter.” Thus, Alexandra chose Nick Cooper and they were married in 1921. Nick outfitted Alexandra with nickers and hiking boots when they honeymooned at Mt. Rainier with the Scarlatos family. While many thought them to be twins, Alexandra and Athena were “inseparable sisters.” Alexandra was a fine seamstress. She would make identical dresses for her and her sister but in different colors. She took her own bridal dress and altered it for Tasia to wear at Tasia’s wedding. She also made Tasia’s son’s baptismal garment.
Nick and Alexandra’s first child, Paul, was born in 1921. Anastasia (legally Anna) “Tasia” followed on May 9, 1928, in Maynard Hospital (now closed) and Constandinos (Gus) was born on March 14, 1930, at their home on North 55th Street, in Seattle.
The Cooper and Phillips families lived only two blocks away from each other. The children felt at home at either place, even to go into each other’s refrigerators. Thea (aunt) “Thetsa” Athena was the better cook but Alexandra had a better ability to maintain and fix household items. Thetsa and Anastasios Phillips had a popcorn wagon and along with John Shuga would sell popcorn and other snacks at the University of Washington football games and at Ballard Beach during the summers.
Tasia attended MacDonald Elementary with her cousin Andromachi (Audrey) Phillips and friend Gena Katsikopoulos. One year older, Audrey became and still is Tasia’s closest confidant. Tasia went on to Hamilton Junior High and Lincoln High School until her mother said she had to attend Holy Angels Catholic School. Alexandra’s koumbara (matron of honor) Theodora Plumis had two girls at Holy Angels and felt it was the best choice for Tasia. Reluctantly, Tasia took two buses from Wallingford to Ballard but met new friends there. After high school Tasia worked at the Rhodes Department Store (now closed) then part-time at the Bon Marche (now Macy’s) and Frederick and Nelson (Nordstrom) as an elevator operator. She also modeled at Best’s Apparel (also now Nordstrom) and the Bon Marche.
Tasia worked as a receptionist for a doctor for a year and married Mike Prineas in 1950, a marriage that lasted 25 years. They had three children, Michael who was born in 1952, Alethea in 1954 and Stacy “Scootchie” in 1961 (so named because he would “scootch” across the floor on his bottom). Tasia has four grandchildren. Now she spends winters in Rancho Mirage, California, where she enjoys the company of many other Greek “snowbirds” who do the same. She retains her Seattle connection by owning a building in the center of Wallingford which the family bought in 1946 and which was Alexandra’s apartment home for many years.
The name on Gus’s birth certificate reads Cosdenos as Alexandra had some difficulty pronouncing his full name, Constandinos. He also attended McDonald Elementary, Hamilton Junior High and Lincoln High schools. In study hall at Lincoln he sat alphabetically near Vicky and Kiki Carras who goaded him into whistling without moving his lips, a notable pastime. When the study hall teacher discovered his folly, he was sent to the vice principal, and with Tasia assigned to take attendance, she was told to take him home and “watch that kid.” Thus, Gus found himself transferred to the Puget Sound Naval Academy on Bainbridge Island, across Puget Sound from Seattle, which he attended along with Gus Argeres and John Lathourakis.
Upon graduation he began studies at the University of Washington but was one of the first to be drafted into the United States Marine Corps. With his Academy experience he was sent to the Marine Corps Sea School and stationed aboard the USS Bonhomme Richard aircraft carrier which was undergoing repairs in the Bremerton Naval Shipyard. As an orderly, his job was to stand in front of the Admiral’s quarters and greet and escort visitors into the office. Subsequently he had brig (Navy jail) duty on the ship in San Diego, California, although the brig was empty. He still recalls serving five decks below while the ship was heaving on the Pacific Ocean. He also saw duty in Korea. Back in San Diego he served as the opposition for training maneuvers and worked in the Post Exchange at Camp Pendleton toward the end of his service and was discharged in September of 1953.
Gus’s parents had picked out a Greek woman in Everett, Washington, for him. In fact, he bicycled from Seattle to Everett (about 20 miles) with Bill Raptis to see her when he was 16 years old. However, Gus had known Margaret Lawson since she was 14. They met at a dance at Keystone Congregational Church in Wallingford. They were playing a game of holding one’s breath until she almost passed out and fell into his arms. They began dating seriously when Gus was at the University.
Gus was one of the first in his Greek community to marry a non-Greek woman. When Gus asked his nouno (godfather), Gus Ninos, to be his koumbaro (best man), Ninos hesitated as Nick and Alexandra were strongly opposed to the marriage. The wedding was set for a Saturday, but the couple met with Fr. Gavalas at St. Demetrios Greek Orthodox Church who quietly married the couple the evening before on August 21, 1953 with a good friend, Nick Carras, as the koumbaro (best man). Subsequently, on his father’s name day, (day honoring the Saint after whom they receive their baptismal name) Gus and Margaret were invited to the family home. Nick acknowledged that the family’s concern was that Margaret would not uphold the Greek and Orthodox Church traditions. As Margaret was becoming increasingly involved at St. Demetrios, the family was satisfied. And, with four children born in a five-year period, Gus would often be at home with the children while Margaret volunteered at the church. Gus and Margaret have those children; Nick, Marco, Christina and Dino; 10 grandchildren; nine great grandchildren and one great-great grandchild.
In 1953 Gus was attending the University when Nick Carras told him he could make more money by operating a gas station that was for sale near the Wallingford home. Another Greek neighbor, John Melonas, also worked at the station. While Gus knew almost nothing about the business, he accepted the offer and spent the next 43 years with the Shell Oil Company. During that time he had as many as eight gas stations. In the 1960s Harry Lambert of AAA Washington approached Gus about providing towing services for AAA. That began another service which still exists. Today, his sons, Nick, Marko and Dino, operate the remaining two stations.
Tasia and Gus remember a number of Greek families who lived in their Wallingford neighborhood: Pishue, Katsikopoulos, (Gena was Tasia’s good friend) Papajani, Sourapas, Manus and Spiro. Not far away were the Gregores, (see TWO CLOSE COUSINS) Balodimas, George, Georges, Castas, Peters, Stavros, Zavalas, Carras, Fotinatos and Wells families.
Tasia and her cousin Audrey were not allowed to attend movies unless accompanied by their brothers. On one occasion when Gus and Tasia were supposed to be at their cousin Audrey’s home, the three decided to attend a dance at the nearby Green Lake field house, an activity not approved by their parents. A neighbor, Tino Sourapas was at the dance and apparently “squealed” on them. When word got back to their parents, the three were severely chastised.
The oldest brother Paul would tease Tasia and Gus “Kotcho” with Tasia occasionally in tears. Paul took the street car or bus to work at the family restaurant every weekend beginning at age 16. One time, when Gus had a baseball game on Saturday morning, Gus tried to do his restaurant job of peeling potatoes the night before. His father would not allow this and Gus missed his Saturday game.
As the Cooper children became older and Alexandra had more time to herself, she began taking basic English classes and found herself with more recent Greek immigrants including Manuel Xenos and Tom and Pete Economou. Gus and Tasia recall some people saying “Don’t speak your language.” Gus was the only boy in the sixth grade wearing knickers and a silk cream-colored shirt with a tie. Gus recalls wearing a one-piece “union suit” to school when other boys had T-shirts and shorts and having to totally undress to use the bathroom. Tasia’s teachers had difficulty pronouncing her name and one said, ”What kind of name is that?” Until she needed a social security card for work and looked at her birth certificate, she did not know her legal name was Anna.
Tasia and Gus remember the Rigas family bakery on nearby Queen Anne Hill that made the best donuts they can remember. Gus remembers the Golden Gate restaurant operated by Nick Constantine and Harry Vellias on Pike Street and two other Greek-owned restaurants on Third Avenue, one called the Vienna operated by John Callas and George Zavales. There was also the Dinner Bell, Don’s Oyster House operated by Charlie Andrews and the Lotus Café by Pete Wells.
The Cooper family was active in GAPA (Greek American Progressive Association). Initially the organization was mostly for women but expanded to include a basketball team coached by Nick Dallas. The GAPA team competed with the local AHEPA (American Hellenic Educational Progressive Association) team. Both organizations strove to maintain the Greek traditions, AHEPA using more English in an attempt to assimilate and GAPA using more Greek.
A popular summer vacation spot was Soap Lake, Washington, where many Greeks gathered to enjoy the mineral waters and sunshine of Eastern Washington. Gus remembers the Athans, Shilous, Barbas, Stamolis and Zavalas families while visiting Soap Lake. The rustic cabins, while more than adequate when he was young, seemed very primitive when he visited in later years.
Tasia remembers her father telling her “ta matia su decka” or your eyes ten times to remind her to be aware of things around her. If Gus wasn’t paying attention or was not very observant, his father would say “xeris o vlahos, ti eine o spongos?” (the fool asked what is the sponge?) meaning a fool might see a dry sponge very differently from a wet one unless he paid attention to know it was really the same object.
For Tasia her Greek associations in Seattle have diminished as friends have passed away and now she shares many Greek friendships in the California desert during the winter months. Gus believes his upbringing gave him a different way of living, one of maintaining a friendly and happy personality. He continues his friendly and honest relationship with the informal Greek-American Golf Club in the Seattle area where he walks and plays golf with good friends on a regular basis. Tasia and Gus both believe they have the habit of being honest almost to a fault when expressing their opinions. They recall the importance of name days where Greeks would open their homes and welcome friends for food and drink. While their children drifted away from the Church and the Greek culture as they attended college or entered the work force some have returned to the Church as they matured. Greek cooking and some holidays still play an important role. While Greeks may have been looked down upon in earlier years, Gus and Tasia believe they are now often viewed with some envy. For them being different is not a problem, it is a privilege.
1 Gus and Tasia, 2013
2 Nick and Alexandra Cooper wedding, 1921
3 Cooper and Phillips families (l-r) rear; Nick Cooper, Anastasios Phillips; sitting: Alexandra Cooper, Athena Phillips; front: Paul Cooper, Tom Phillips, Bill Phillips, circa 1925
4 (l-r) Nick Cooper, Athena Phillips, Tasia, Navy visitor, Alexandra, early 1940s
5 Audrey Phillips and Tasia, mid 1940s
6 (l-r) Tasia, Gena Katsikopoulos, Audrey, circa 1946
7 Tasia on an airplane, date not provided
8 Tasia, granddaughter Alexandra Platis and Audrey, early 2000s
9 McDonald Elementary patrol boys (Gus just above left stop sign), circa 1942
10 GAPA basketball team (l-r) rear: Nick Castas, Harry Jeffries, Jim Delegan, Peter Conom, Harold Kousoulos, George Pallis, Perry Scarlatos; front: Don Stratis, Jim Makis, Paul Cooper, Nick Dallas, Tom Macris, Gus Cooper, 1948-49
11 Nick Castas, Gus, Paul Sava, circa 1950
12 Margaret and Gus, 1951
13 Gus caricature, 1960s
14 Gus and Margaret, 1990s
15 Gus playing golf, 1990s
16 Gus Cooper family (l-r) Dino, Christina, Margaret, Marko, Gus, Nick, 1960s
17 Gus and the first truck, early 1950s
18 Cooper tow truck, 2013
19 Seattle GAPA women, 1940s
20 Seattle GAPA women, 1950s
21 GAPA men and women, 1950s
22 Margaret and Gus, 2013
23 Greek American Walkers and Golfers, (l-r) Bill Kaimakis, Jerry Blanton, Steve Mallos, Gus, Nick Castas, Santa, Louka Gianolis, Jim Voltsis, Tom Barbas, Dave Parrish, 2012
Photos 1, 18 and 22 by John Nicon; all others from Cooper family collection SOURCES
Video interview by John and Joann Nicon, September 2013