A GOOD LIFE IN CASHMERE
Christos (Chris) Roumeliotis was born in Athens, Greece, on December 17, 1925. His experiences in Greece during World War II and his work in Cashmere, Washington, combine for a long life of hard work and gratitude for the blessings he has received.
Chris, the oldest, is one of three children born to Kiriakos and Frosini. His brother, Nikiforos, has passed away and his sister, Panagiota, still lives in Athens. Following Greece’s expulsion by Turks in 1921, Kiriakos moved to Athens. Kiriakos’ horse and buggy were confiscated when the Italians occupied Greece in World War II. Conditions deteriorated when the Nazis entered Greece and Chris, with no money or food, had to work for the Nazis just to get a piece of bread to eat. Greeks had to be in their homes by 6 pm and were stopped and interrogated if out past that curfew. If found to be a communist, a Gypsy or Jewish, people were killed by the Gestapo. Frosini, one of six sisters, was born in Athens. She became ill and died at age 42 in 1942. Kiriakos died in 1985 at the age of 90 after a very hard life.
Chris’ first job was in a grocery store, then he worked in a machine shop for the Nazis. In 1947 he joined the Greek Army for what was to be an 18-month period. As the forces had been depleted, his term was extended to three years. In the Army he was based in Kastoria near the Albanian and Bulgarian borders where his job was to deliver the mail, packages and newspapers which he did on a motorcycle. After being discharged, he spent five months as a supervisor in the Army reserves behind the royal palace in Athens.
He spent the next two years working with his brother in a motorcycle shop. He had finished high school and attended night school with thoughts of becoming a machinist. However, his future took a different direction in 1952 when Katherine Valissarakos came to Greece for a vacation with her parents and her brother, Dimitri. Her father, Gus Valissarakos, had previously left his horio (village) of Vitalo for the United States when he was 18 years old. He first worked as a cook in Seattle, Washington, but preferred the smaller town of Wenatchee, Washington. Gus had purchased a small restaurant, the Cashmere Cafe, in Cashmere, Washington, in 1920. Katherine had attended the University of Washington and worked for two years as a secretary for the United States Navy in Seattle. So, in July, during the 1952 vacation, a match was made and, after a two-week engagement, Chris and Katherine, ages 26 and 25 respectively, were married.
After some difﬁculty in securing the necessary documents from the Greek authorities, Chris traveled by train through Italy and then by boat to New York. With only two suitcases and speaking no English, he arrived in Cashmere with no ideas or plans of how he would adjust to his new life. Fortunately, the Cashmere Café provided his employment. With a 70-seat restaurant, separate banquet room and seven apartments above, there was plenty of work to do. Chris began washing dishes in the kitchen and slowly learned English and the restaurant business. He missed his parents and friends in Greece but, in his words, “I made a choice. I had to be a good man and had to try and be patient.”
Chris began speaking with the customers as he learned English. He slowly learned the business, preparing, cooking and serving the food and, with time and patience, was able to purchase the café from his father-in-law in 1962. For the next 11 years Chris and Katherine operated the Cashmere Café with five or six waiters and provided a meeting place for the Rotary and Lions clubs until selling the business in 1973. He also became friends with the Tertsagian family that owned Applets and Cotlets, producing a jelly candy covered with powdered-sugar like the Greek loukoumi. The fact that they were Greek-speaking Armenians and that their fruit concoction was very similar to the Greek sweet made for a close relationship.
Over time, Chris developed many good relationships with customers coming into the cafe. Prior to selling and even after the sale of the business, one daily customer, Bud Schmitten, who was the owner of the Cashmere Saw Mill, had an appreciation for Chris’ work ethic. He would quite often tell Chris,” come to work for me.” Not sure what he might do after selling the business, Chris took some time to reflect and for the first two months helped the new owner transition into the business. With more time and convincing from Bud, months later he took a job at the saw mill and worked for the next 16 years until hard times hit the industry and the mill closed its doors. Chris retired at that time.
Chris, with the advice of businessmen who came to the restaurant, put his earnings to work. He purchased some property in Wenatchee and sent both his sons, Konstantine and Kiriakos, to university. Konstantine, a retired teacher, now lives in Tacoma, Washington, and Kiriakos lives in Mukilteo, Washington.
There are four grandchildren: Kayla, Chris, Krista and Katlynn. Chris sent money to his father in Greece to help his sister with the care of his father. In 1960 he brought his father from Greece to visit and see if he might like it enough to stay. Convinced of his own decision to marry and be content in Cashmere, Chris tried unsuccessfully to persuade his father to stay. Another relative, one of Katherine’s cousins, Vasili Varlamos, one of seven children who suffered as a young child and almost starved in Greece, was able to come to Cashmere at age 10 under the sponsorship of Katherine’s father, Gus. Vasili is very closely associated with Chris and remains part of his family here. Chris was also close with Gus’s brother, Nick Valissarakos (Valison) and his wife Anna, who owned the building in which the Cashmere Café was located (see 100 PIES FOR APPLE DAYS).
Chris’ first trip back to Greece to visit his family and to introduce his sons was in 1979. The family home, which he kept after leaving Greece, has been given to his sister. He made an additional trip in 1982. In between those trips he was able to bring his sister from Greece to stay and visit for a few months.
Chris tired of the small town of Cashmere and preferred the larger town of Wenatchee where he and Katherine purchased a duplex. Later, with a desire for a larger residence, they moved to an almost new home on what was an apple orchard. He remembers the Lolos family (see NICHOLAS GEORGE LOLOS – HIS LIFE AND TIMES), and Bill Lolos still lives in Wenatchee. Another close friend of the family, Loula Barker, lives nearby in East Wenatchee.
At 93, Chris still drives his own car, at least for short distances for groceries, doctor visits and other errands. He is eternally grateful for his marriage to Katherine and the good fortune she brought him. He remembers how surprised the Cashmere friends were when she brought her new husband from Greece. Despite the confines of the small town of Cashmere compared to the large city of Athens, his life has been very rewarding. In recent years, Katherine’s declining health placed a significant burden of sadness on Chris. After almost 61 years of marriage she passed away in 2013 following a series of illnesses.
As a boy he attended church regularly and, when in Cashmere, he attended the Episcopal Church, finding the services very similar. He keeps a Greek Orthodox icon in every room of his home.
By John and Joann Nicon, January 2018 VIDEO SEGMENTS
1 Chris Roumeliotis, 2017
2 Chris, 1940s
3 Chris in the Army, 1940
4 Chris in the Army Jeep, 1940s
5 Chris on his Harley, 1948
6 Katherine, at a young age, 1930s
7 Katherine and Chris wedding, 1952
8 Olga Valissarakos, Helen Krinis, Anna Valison, 1950s
9 (l-r) Kiriakos, Chris, Konstantine, 2014
10 Katherine and Chris at Kayla’s college graduation, 2007
11 Kayla, Katlynn, Chris and Krista at “A Place at the Table” exhibit (MOHAI) 2015
12 Katlynn with Youla and Pavlos, sister and brother-in-law of Chris, 2010
13 Katherine, circa 2010
14 Cousins Kayla, Krista, Katlynn and Chris with papou Chris, 2017
15 Chris and Vasili Varlamos, 2016
16 Kayla and Chris, 2016
17 Chris with great grandson Nicholas Andrew Sophinos, 2017
18 Kayla’s wedding (I-r) Konstantine, Kim, Krista, Katlynn, Andrew, Kayla, Chris, Kathy, Chris Kiriakos, 2016 Photo 1 by John Nicon, all others from Roumeliotis family collection SOURCES
Video interview by John and Joann Nicon, September 2017