Born in Athens, Greece, John and Sam Panagiotou came to Seattle, Washington, in 1946 where the family made their home in the Green Lake neighborhood. John’s wife Lisa came to the United States from Greece in 1950. Here are their stories.
JOHN AND SAM’S FATHER
Anastasios (Tom) John Panagiotou was born in Lefktra southwest of Thebes (Thiva), Greece. He was also known by the last name of Fillanos or tis Fillanas (from his mother’s family name) as maternal family names were also used as surnames at the time. His name was legally changed to Panagiotou by court order in 1930 when he obtained his United States citizenship. The name Panagiotou is not uncommon and is derived from Panagia (the Virgin Mary). His father, Ioannis (John), operated a kafenion (coffee shop) in Lefktra which is still operated by a cousin named John Panagiotou. Tom was born on November 9, 1884, into a family with five boys and two girls and attended school only to the age of 10 or 12.
As a boy of about ten years old, Tom had a serious infection with open lesions on his chest that would not heal and could have been fatal. Doctors in Thiva and Athens tried different remedies but were unable to completely heal the infection. One day a stranger came to the kafenion His father, in conversation with the stranger, told him about his son’s illness. The stranger told him to have a hunter go hunt for a fox, not to kill it, but only wound it. He said “when the fox is cut open, remove the lungs, coat them with sugar and place them on the infected area. ln the vineyards and ﬁelds there is a grassy plant with leaves that have ﬁve veins. From the plant make an ointment by boiling the leaves and adding incense until it is thick like a paste and put it on the infected area for the next few days.” His father asked the stranger to stay and help but he said he had to leave. The stranger left the village as quietly as he had arrived and was not seen again.
They did as the stranger had told them. The lungs drew out the microbes causing the infection and the ointment helped heal the wound. The people of the village thought he had to be an angel. This healed Tom of the infection.
When doctors in the United States asked Tom about the scars on his chest, and he told them about the infection and cure, they would say that’s “medicine man doctoring.” But, it saved his life and he lived to the age of ninety-nine.
In 1911 Tom sailed to America from Marseilles, France, with his brother Chris, on the ship Germania. He arrived in Seattle when the foundation for the Smith Tower, which became the tallest building west of the Mississippi River, was being laid. He also had another brother, Panagioti, who was working in a cement factory in Concrete, Washington.
Initially, the brothers knew no English but found work shining shoes in Seattle’s Pioneer Square area. From there they worked on the railroad and in saw mills at $.50 to $1.00 per day, always working overtime to send money back to Greece for their sisters’ prikas (dowries). In the late 1910s he took a ship to Seward, Alaska, and walked for four days to Anchorage. Finding the weather too cold, he returned to Washington, worked in a sawmill and operated a restaurant with the Charouhas family in Centralia, Washington, for a few years. He then moved to Seattle and worked at the City Grill near the Frye Hotel. The City Grill was temporarily closed but later reopened with a bar and cabaret until about 1938 when Tom decided to return to Greece. He first went to his village and then to Athens.
JOHN AND SAM’S MOTHER
Maria Soteriou Bovalis also lived in Athens and had six younger brothers. One brother, John, was informally adopted by a maternal aunt and her husband who could not have children of their own. Her family was from the horio (village) of Vaya near Thiva and her father had worked for a landowner named Platis. He later moved from Vaya to Ilioupoli, just south of Athens. Maria was able to complete the eighth grade of schooling. Then a proxenia (arranged marriage) followed between Tom and Maria on December 30 of 1939 as 1940 was a leap year in which marriage would only result in bad luck.
COMING TO AMERICA
While giving birth to her first son, John, in 1941, Maria experienced six hours of bombing and the firing from German aircraft. In Athens Tom used his earnings to invest in an apartment building. Then, as he knew some English, he assisted the International Red Cross by interpreting at their warehouses. During the communist involvement following World War II, President Harry Truman gave those United States citizens who were trapped in Greece the right to return. Initially, Maria resisted the opportunity but when another reprieve was granted, the decision was made to leave Greece.
Their second son, Sam, was born just before the end of World War II. In 1946 the family sailed on the ship Vulcania and arrived in New York in late December. As money could not be taken out of Greece at the time, Maria had hidden gold sovereigns among Sam’s diapers. Sam has been told he was a little diavolo (devil) on the ship and on one occasion wandered away from his family, later to be found in the company of some Italian passengers.
In New York they were held at Ellis Island during the Christmas holidays and John remembers receiving a set of “tinker toys” in a cylindrical box as a Christmas gift. They traveled by train through Chicago, Illinois, and Minneapolis, Minnesota, and on to Seattle where they were met by Tom’s friends. Initially, they stayed with the George Rockas family in the Wallingford neighborhood. Later, they were able to purchase their own home on Green Lake Way.
In Seattle, Tom bought the Seaport Tavern on First Avenue at Washington Street which he operated from 1950 to 1962. He worked nights while his partner worked the day shift and, as no liquor sales were allowed on Sunday, spent that day with his family. Tom died in 1993 and Maria in 1997.
Soterios (Sam) Anastasios Panagiotou was born in Athens on March 4, 1945. His stories of infancy in Greece and traveling to America come only from what his family has told him. His first childhood memories are of living on Green Lake Way in Seattle with Woodland Park across the street as his playground. In addition to the Rockas family he remembers the other Greek families in the area: Laskares, Xenos, Asimakopoulos, Delimetros, Pallikaris, Sourapas, Georges and Cooper.
It was all Greek at home which was sometimes awkward but never interfered with his playtime with neighborhood friends. With no television in the Panagiotou home, Sam and his brother could often be found up the street watching TV programs at the Cooper home. He attended McDonald Elementary School for three years, then Green Lake Elementary when the school boundaries were changed. He took the bus on his own to attend Hamilton Junior High where Greek School was also taught and walked home, with no thought of any danger. He finished Hamilton and then graduated from Lincoln High School in 1963 along with two other Greeks, Harry Stasinos and John DeLong.
For a couple of years during high school, Sam worked at the Olympic Hotel (now Fairmont Olympic) for Louie Carras and Pete Farmasonis. He then worked for Attorney’s Messenger Service near the King County Courthouse. His education continued at Everett Junior College (now called Everett Community College) and Shoreline Community College. He began a six-year Army Reserve service at Fort Ord in California for basic training and then served as a truck driver instructor. He held a number of jobs including time at the Demetre Sweater Company. In 1962 the Panagiotou family was able to purchase the home next door to their own home and Sam later purchased additional properties. Property management continued, including some rental property in the Ballard neighborhood. For a period of time Sam and John operated under the name of Delphi Properties. Finally, until his retirement in 2008, Sam worked as shipping manager for the Ed Wyse Beauty Supply Company. From his first marriage, Sam has two daughters, Maria, born in 1975 and Connie, in 1978. He has two grandchildren. When Sam attended his 25th class reunion at Lincoln High School, he reconnected with Colleen Rafferty. They were married in 1995 and now live in the Ballard neighborhood. With an Irish heritage, Colleen has incorporated her own background into an active Greek family.
Ioannis (John) Anastasios Panagiotou, the first son, was born on March 13, 1941, in Athens. His earliest memories are of hearing the airplanes and seeing the rubble in the streets toward the end of World War II. In Seattle he remembers learning some English while playing with the Rockas children and non-Greek children around Green Lake. There was a young neighbor girl who loved eating Greek food at the Panagiotou home until Maria gave her some yoghurt claiming it was Greek ice cream. That ended the uninvited visits. With little help learning English, he was immersed in classes at McDonald Elementary. From there he attended Hamilton Junior High and Lincoln High, graduating in 1959. He also attended Greek School at Hamilton two or three times per week.
At age 12 he began a Seattle Post-Intelligencer paper route, up at 5:30 am to deliver papers up the hill next to his home on 55th Street and back down on 54th in time to clean up before school. Later, during the summers, he worked at the Seattle Athletic Club cleaning and preparing vegetables and serving meals at the Men’s Grill. With the assistance of Mr. Pallikaris, another Greek neighbor, John and several other young Greek men worked at the American Can Company.
After high school he attended Everett Junior College and finished his bachelor’s degree in business at Seattle University. He worked for a short time at a liquor store not far from his home and then began working for the Boeing Company as an industrial engineer. Boeing had just begun the 737 program and his job involved observing workers, charting their performance and recommending improvements in work habits. He was transferred to the 747 program in Everett in 1969 but was laid off during an economic downturn. Meanwhile, John had married Lisa (nee Calogeros) who was a teacher. Having to work a lot of overtime, and with Lisa not working during the summers, he decided a career change was necessary. So, he returned to Seattle University in 1970 and completed his education certification. He chose teaching at the elementary level and taught in the Edmonds and Renton School Districts for ten years before settling in with the Marysville District. There he taught mostly fourth and fifth grades for the next 20 years, retiring in 2001. While administrative work may have been possible, John found the classroom and salary increases with seniority to be equally, if not more, satisfying.
Lisa (Triandafilia) is the second child born to Demetrios (Jim) George and Anna (nee Katsoris) Calogeros. Their first daughter, Maria, died at the age of two after drinking contaminated milk. Born in Piraeus, Greece, on June 30, 1945, Lisa moved with her parents to the nearby island of Spetses where her parents had met during World War II. Demetrios, (1918-1997) was a seaman. He had a small kaiki (boat), which he used to smuggle food items from the mainland during World War II and for fishing to support his family. With limited education, he developed a lot of common sense which helped him survive in difficult times. Jim and Anna decided to move to New York for better opportunities. However, the Greek law at the time prohibited children younger than five years old from leaving the country. Thus Lisa remained with her grandparents on Spetses until 1950 when her father came back to Greece to get her.
In New York Anna worked in a factory while Jim was in the Merchant Marines. Their marriage ended and Lisa remained with her mother, stepfather, Gerasimos Totolos, and eventually two younger half-sisters in the Washington Heights neighborhood. When she began kindergarten in 1950 at Public School 189, she knew no English but, by the first grade, had learned English from her classmates. People had trouble pronouncing her nickname, “Litsa.” Thus, when she obtained her United States citizenship, she changed her name legally to Lisa Rose, rose being the literal translation of the Greek word for the flower. During her time at George Washington High School she had planned to work using her business skills as there were insufficient funds for further education. However, Lisa really wanted to be a teacher and wrote to her father who was now remarried and living in Seattle. At 18 years of age she moved to Seattle and graduated from Shorecrest High School in 1964.
Lisa also attended Everett Junior College for one year, partly to complete her high school mathematics requirements and then transferred to Western Washington University (formerly Western Washington College and originally a teacher’s college). She graduated with studies in both elementary education and English in 1968 which allowed her to teach all levels. She began teaching in the Edmonds School District with first graders for 12 years, taught classes up through the sixth grade and retired in 1999 after 31 years.
In Seattle, Lisa missed her Greek Orthodox Church and went to St. Demetrios one Sunday with her stepsister Georgiana. John Panagiotou happened to greet her as she entered the church and asked for her name and phone number, supposedly to invite her to join the Greek Orthodox Youth of America (GOYA) in which he was active at the time. The invitation led to a deeper relationship. They married where they met on June 16, 1968, at St. Demetrios. Lisa and John have three sons: Anastasios “Tommy” John born in 1972; Demetrios (James) Nicholas in 1975; Chris John in 1977. They have eight grandchildren, of which six are boys to carry on the Panagiotou name. John and Lisa have shared the religious, cultural and traditions of their Greek heritage with their children and grandchiidren as much as possible by celebrating all holidays and special occasions with their families.
John and Sam have always been active at St. Demetrios serving as acolytes, attending and teaching Sunday school, singing in the choir and helping at the annual Greek Festival. John counseled and assisted at All Saints camp for many years and served on the St. Demetrios parish council. Sam was a member of the Sons of Pericles, the young men’s affiliate of the Greek fraternal association AHEPA (American Hellenic Educational Progressive Association).
John and Lisa have traveled to Greece regularly. They can count 31 first cousins almost all of whom live in or near Ilioupolis. A condominium there, owned by the family, serves as a central location from which they have visited much of Greece in addition to parts of Europe and Africa. Sam fondly remembers his first trip with his mother in 1961. At the time Maria had purchased few items in Seattle, believing the family would ultimately return to Greece. On that trip, she realized her permanent home would be in Seattle.
John believes that, had his parents not brought them to Seattle, at worst he may well be picking olives or herding sheep in Greece. He has observed that the Greeks seem to have little ambition to work unless they can secure a position with the government. Lisa still has friends on Spetses whose lives are rather comfortable and routine. Friends and relatives living in small apartments or condominiums in Greece are surprised if not envious that the Seattle Panagiotous can live in homes with expanses of property around them.
As with many children of Greek immigrants, John, Sam and Lisa were always encouraged to pursue their education. John’s father told him to “work with his brains, not with his brawn.” A strong work ethic was also expected and Maria said, “Always know where your next meal is coming from before you get hungry.” Lisa remembers the saying hari tou vasilikou potizete ke e glastra (if you water the basil you also water the pot) meaning what may benefit one marriage partner will also benefit the other.
John, Lisa and Sam have documented their ancestry through photos, Lisa’s writings which include five-generation family trees, legal documents and a video interview with her father-in-law. Their Greek family history has been preserved for the generations that follow.By John and Joann Nicon, July 2016
1 Colleen, Sam, Lisa, John, 2016
2 Tom’s citizenship certificate, 1930
3 Tom and Chris Panagiotou, 1916
4 Paternal grandparents, John and Maria Panagiotou, late 1920s
5 Maternal grandparents, Soterios and Marthetsa Bovalis, pencil drawing, 1930s
6 City Grill, Tom Panagiotou leaning against counter, 1930s
7 Maria and Tom wedding, 1939
8 Tom and Maria, 1985
9 Maria, circa 1946
9a Passport photo, John, Anastasios, Sam, 1946
10 Sam, 1946
11 Sam, circa 1954
12 Sam, early 1950s
13 Colleen and Sam wedding, 1995
14 Connie, Yiayia Maria, Maria, 1995
15 Sam and John, circa 1949
16 Harry Platis, George Platis, Billie Platis, John, Sam, late 1940s
17 Sam, Maria, Tom, John, circa 1960
18 Lisa and John wedding, 1968
19 John in elementary school, circa 1950 and teaching, 2000
20 Drawing of Spetses, date unknown
21 Demetrios (Jim) Calogeros and Lisa, 1950
22 Demetrios, 1955
23 Lisa, 1958
24 Tom, James and Chris, 1979
25 Tom, John, Chris, Lisa, Jim, 1979
26 John Panagiotou family (l-r) Standing: Elizabeth, James, Ursula, John, Lisa, Chris, Kim, Anne, Tom; Inserted: Daniel; Sitting: Joseph, Zachary, Jacob, Nicholas, John, 2014
27 Panagiotou family name history
Photos 1, 20 and 27 by John Nicon, all others from Panagiotou family collection SOURCES
Video interview by John and Joann Nicon, January 2016; writings of Lisa Panagiotou