Greek-American Historical Museum of Washington State

1 Nick and Holly, 2015Hariklia “Holly” Poulias shares a unique Greek and Japanese heritage. She and her husband Nick share their stories of international travel and their lives in Seattle, Washington.


Holly was born in Tokyo, Japan, on September 19, 1955.  She was given the name Keiko Sano by her maternal grandmother to help her assimilate when she attended school in Japan. Sano (instead of her father’s surname, Dendrinos) was her maternal grandparents’ last name and her mother’s maiden name.  The name Hariklia was given to her by her godfather, Demetrios Zizimatos, in honor of his grandmother.  When she began school in Seattle, the name 2 Anastasia, Holly godfather Captain Zizimatos, unknown, Aleco Pesmazologou, 1956Hariklia would have been easy for a Greek speaker to say but was very difficult for others so she just said, “call me Holly please.”

Holly’s father, Gerasimos Ioannis Dendrinos, was born on the Greek island of Ithaca in the Ionian Sea.  He was a merchant mariner working for Vergottis, a shipping company from Cephalonia.  As several Greek-owned ships were being built in Japanese shipyards, his travels took him to Japan on a number of occasions.  He learned to speak Japanese and was the chief steward and supplier for the IOANIAN SKIPPER which was built in 1963.

On an earlier trip to Japan, Gerasimos became ill, underwent appendix surgery and was recovering when Astuko Sano and some friends were visiting the hospital.  The visit evolved into a mutual attraction.  As he had been married previously in Greece, Gerasimos obtained a divorce from his first wife and married Astuko in 1955.

3 Noriko, Koshiro and Haru Sano, 1989Astuko was born in 1932 in the Northern Prefecture of Japan.  She took the name Anastasia when she was baptized in order to be married in the Greek Orthodox Church. When she married Gerasimos, she had to give up her Japanese citizenship as Japan did not allow a dual citizenship at that time and became a Greek citizen. She was one of six siblings, the youngest of whom thought of Holly as a “Kewpie doll” or little sister, and would strap her on the back of his motorcycle to take her for a ride.  Anastasia came from a very traditional Japanese family who found it 4 Holly on the CEPHALONIA, circa 1958hard to accept her Greek husband.   However, when the mischievous Holly came along, the relationship softened.

Gerasimos worked on several ships during Holly’s early years when the family moved from Chiba to Yokohama, to Yokosuka and to Tokyo.  Holly was somewhat of a novelty for her father as he was often away at sea for long periods of time. When his ship was in port or during short voyages the family could join Gerasimos for a few days.   Consequently, Holly grew up without his Greek traditions.  Anastasia and Gerasimos had two other children, Angeliki “Lilian” Dendrinos who lives in California and Christo who lives with Anastasia, not far from Holly, in Shoreline, Washington.

Gerasimos’ good friend was Alexander “Aleco” Pesmatzoglou, a tall, dignified black man who might never have been imagined to be of Greek descent. He came to play a major role with the Dendrinos and Poulias family.  Born to a Greek mother and African father in South Africa, Pesmatzoglou was an ambassador to Greece and worked in the Foreign Service in China and Japan.  His parents sent him to be educated on the island of Corfu, Greece.  He spoke 14 languages and was able to switch between Chinese dialects to be fully understood.


5 Holly's baptism, 1956As a child in Japan, Holly was considered hakujin or gaijin (a foreigner).  She and her siblings did not consider themselves “white” as their skin color was a bit darker than their Japanese classmates.  Holly initially spoke only Japanese through the fifth year of school and the few Greek words the Dendrinos children learned were mostly from Aleco. She attended Santa Maria school in Yokohama, Japan, a private Catholic school associated with 6 Holly, Anastasia and Gerasimos, 1957William and Mary University in Virginia.  Holly had many gaijin classmates and it was here that she began learning English in 1966.  Other children were occasionally cruel, thinking she was half Japanese and half American.  (World War II was still on the minds of many.) When she was known to be half Japanese and half Greek, things were better for her.

By 1969 Gerasimos decided a move from Japan would be better for his children.  The family almost moved to Baltimore, Maryland, where he would have been sponsored by a cousin who owned a restaurant.  Instead the family put their household belongings on the ship IONIAN SEAFARA and came to Seattle, Washington.  It was a floating playground for the Dendrinos children.  The family occupied one of the ship owner’s cabins and the children were treated wonderfully.  One of the seaman, Nick Poulias, was almost part of the family and was to become even more closely related.  Holly remembers the strange experience of having two Wednesdays when crossing the International Date Line.

Gerasimos’ friendly manner and numerous contacts with marine suppliers were helpful when they arrived in Seattle.  He had previously made deals for supplies and purchasing, often shopping at public markets early in the morning.  In Seattle Holly remembers her father’s associations with Western Marine Supply operated by Greeks: Manolides, Kourkoumelis, Neckas and Hadzikiriakos.

7 Dendrinos family, 1975The family first rented a home in Seattle’s Ballard neighborhood and Holly spent the summer of 1969 in ESL (English as a Second Language) classes at Marcus Whitman Middle School with the Trapalis and Lebesis children and some Polish children.  It was there she became “Holly.” Pronouncing English words was very difficult for her as the “r” sound was not a part of the Japanese language.  Distinguishing between the words chicken and kitchen was almost impossible and learning the grammar was equally difficult.    Regardless, she entered Ballard High School at age 14 with limited English and graduated in 1974.  She then studied accounting in Lynnwood, Washington, and began her career in bookkeeping.  Before her children were born she worked at Price Waterhouse.  Holly then worked for a local accounting firm, for a group of doctors and in 1985 she took a substitute position with the Seattle School District.  This evolved into a job with the Vocational School/Industrial Arts office where she placed orders and kept books for those programs in all Seattle middle and high schools.  She passed up an opportunity to work at Roosevelt High School as a counseling secretary and said, “call me when an accounting position becomes available.”  Six months later, in 1988, the call came and Holly became the Fiscal Specialist at Roosevelt and is now looking toward retirement.


Nikolaos (Nick) Poulias was born on June 11, 1951, in 8 Ioanna and Evangelos Poulias, circa 1955Samiko Elias near Olympia in the Peloponnese region of Greece.  His father was Evangelos Nikolaos and his mother was Ioanna Constandino (nee Badunas).  His mother died when he was young, leaving Evangelos with four children to raise, Nick being the eldest.  Despite his father’s reservations, Nick entered the merchant marines as a teenager in 1968.  He began as a mess boy for the officers on the IONIAN SKIPPER and his boss, the chief steward, was Holly’s father, Gerasimos.  Most of the seamen were from Cephalonia and it took a while for Nick to understand 9 Nick aboard ship, circa 1969 10 Nick in the GreekArmy, 1970their dialect.  His work took him to Japan and the Philippines where he worked up to 12 hours a day, seven days a week.  When a promotion to deck boss came his way, he first declined as he feared the older seamen would not follow his orders.  However, his captain encouraged him to take the job and offered to help if needed.  After a year and a half as deck boss, he returned to Greece to serve in the Army.  Following his military service Nick returned to sea, working on ships serving Mediterranean and European ports.

Nick and Holly first met in Japan when he was 16 and she was just 12 years old when the Dendrinos children would come on board and travel from port to port with their father.  As time went on, they kept in touch by mail.  In 1973 Holly traveled to Greece to visit her siblings from Gerasimos’ first marriage.  At the same time Nick was on a ship harbored in Piraeus when Holly’s stepbrother and ship captain, Nick Dendrinos, came on board asking for Nick Poulias.   Dendrinos invited Poulias for dinner with the family as Holly was leaving the next day.  Nick joined the family and continued his relationship with Holly.

11 Nick and Aleko, 1988In 1974 Nick had the opportunity to work on a ship traveling between Seattle and Japan.  He was scheduled to fly to Seattle but the Greek agent pulled him aside saying he was needed on the KASTRIAKI as a deck boss at a higher pay rate.  Nick declined as he wanted to go to Seattle to be with Holly.  Meanwhile, his airline ticket was canceled.  So he took his seaman’s book and traveled alone, flying to Seattle, finally arriving in the cold January winter just in time to board his ship.  By this time Holly was a 12  Nick and Holly wedding, 1975naturalized citizen. and able to sponsor Nick’s trip to the United States.  Nick applied for his Greek passport which would be more useful than his seaman’s book and also needed when the time came for Holly to petition for him to come to the United States.  By November of 1974 he had completed all of his paper work to receive his Greek passport from the Greek Embassy in Tokyo, Japan.  However, the staff there was reluctant to issue any passport as the junta government in Greece was not issuing new passports.  It took a phone call to family friend Aleco who in turn called his friend the Greek ambassador and the passport was issued immediately.

Holly and Nick were first married in a civil ceremony in Seattle’s City Hall and, on September 20, 1975, in the marriage sacrament at St. Demetrios Greek Orthodox Church in Seattle.

When Nick first visited Seattle in 1971, Gerasimos had opened the Crown Hill Café.  This establishment was the only one in Seattle that featured a unique combination of Greek and Japanese items on the menu. Holly loved the people contact when helping at the restaurant and grew up doing her homework there.  However, she had no time for herself and knew she did not want the restaurant life for her children.  When Nick left the merchant marines in 1975, he also worked at the restaurant and had plans to continue in a new lease with Gerasimos.   However, Gerasimos died of a heart attack in 1976 and, while Anastasia operated the restaurant for a short time thereafter, Nick began searching for another position.

13 PI article, 1973 14 PI article, 1976

He first worked at the Pioneer Bank Restaurant as a low-paid dishwasher, the only one with an ever-increasing pile of dirty pots and pans.  He was ready to return to his seaman’s work when he was introduced to Steve Gerovasilis, the restaurant manager at the Olympic Hotel (now Fairmont Olympic). He began working in the banquet room for $8.00 an hour plus tips, more than he ever expected.  He remained at the Olympic for two years while hoping for his “dream job” on the Washington State Ferry System.  Meanwhile, he had met a neighbor, Pete Dikeakos, with whom he rode to work.  Dikeakos urged Nick to apply for work with the railroad, and he did in June of 1977.  His work included mechanical repair, carpentry, painting, and finally as an inspector in the railroad yard until he retired after 34 years in 2010.


The oldest Poulias child, Ioanna (Joanna) was born in 1979 and Evangelos (Evan) followed in October of 15 Poulias family (l-r) Evan, Holly, Nick and Joann, 19891981.    As much as Holly and Nick left the restaurant business for better opportunities, their children, inheriting their parents’ work ethic, have done the opposite.  Joanna is operations manager for Neighborhood Grills and Evan is their executive chef.  Nick and Holly were told by their children’s boss, if there were a few more like them, he could reduce his staff considerably.  Both children were raised in the Greek Orthodox Church.  Evan was very active in the Greek dance program and Joanna less so as her school activities and athletics took up most of her time.

Greek women who knew her father would take Holly to the Greek Orthodox Church services.  Holly’s marriage to Nick furthered her involvement with the Greek Orthodox faith while her siblings chose to follow other paths.  Holly became involved with the Daughters of Penelope (the women’s counterpart to AHEPA [American Hellenic Educational and Progressive 16 Joann and Patrick wedding, 2011Association]) through the invitation of Anna Rakus.  Holly’s father Gerasimos was a member of the Everett AHEPA chapter and joined Gus Rakus to attend chapter meetings.  Thus, Nick and Holly participated in “Ever on Sunday,” the Greek community event in Everett.   Holly has been president of Seattle Aclides Chapter of the Daughters for over 10 years.  In June of 2015 she assisted with a large AHEPA district convention in Seattle.

Holly and Nick value their combined heritage and work ethic.  Nick began his work at sea from the age of seven while fishing from a small row boat.  He believes that immigrants, whether from 17 Holly and Nick, 2000Greece, Japan or other countries, succeed in the United States because of that work ethic.  Both have been treated somewhat differently because of their backgrounds.  Holly never really felt she belonged either in Japan as a gaijin or in Greece, partly because her father was separated from his family there. For Nick, he felt taken advantage of as an immigrant dishwasher and not initially accepted in his railroad work.  However they have clearly overcome any problems they 18 Granddaughter Annabelle, 2014encountered.

In his retirement Nick works around the house and cares for their 80-pound Boxer dog, Zeus.  Holly has finished a number of needlepoint projects, including a complex, free-hand piece of a Byzantine city and looks forward to more free time with Nick when she retires.  They both maintain contact with relatives in Greece and are considering a visit for a nephew’s upcoming wedding.  And, their granddaughter, Annabelle, receives her fair share of their time as well.

By John and Joann Nicon, December, 2015
1 Nick and Holly, 2015
2 Anastasia, godfather Captain Zizimatos, Holly, unknown, Aleco Pesmatzoglou, 1956
3 Noriko, Koshiro and Haru Sano (aunt and grandparents), 1989
4 Holly on the CEPHALONIA, circa 1958
5 Holly’s baptism, 1956
6 Holly, Anastasia and Gerasimos, 1957
7 Dendrinos family (l-r) Angeliki, Gerasimos, Anastasia, Holly, Christos, 1975
8 Ioanna and Evangelos Poulias, circa 1955
9 Nick aboard ship, circa 1969
10 Nick in the Greek Army, 1970
11 Nick and Aleco, 1988
12 Nick and Holly wedding, 1975
13 Seattle Post Intelligencer article, 1973
14 Seattle Post Intelligencer article, 1976
15 Poulias family (l-r) Evan, Holly, Nick and Joanna, 1989
16 Joanna and Patrick Schmidt wedding (l-r) Constantine Poulias, Anastasios Poulias, Holly, Evan Poulias, Anastasia, Joanna Poulias Schmidt, Nick, Christos Dendrinos, Teresa Withers, Bruce Yamamoto, Angeliki “Lilian” Dendrinos,  2011
17 Holly and Nick, 2000
18 Granddaughter Annabelle, 2014
Photo 1 by John Nicon; 13 and 14 of Seattle Post Intelligencer articles; all others from Poulias family collectionSOURCES
Video interview by John and Joann Nicon, May 2015