Bill and Jeanne Kaimakis have shared many wonderful and challenging moments both in houses on land and on a 50-foot ocean-going vessel. Now settled in Seattle’s Wallingford neighborhood, they share stories of their Greek-American experiences.
Bill (Vasilios) Kaimakis was born on November 20, 1930, in Cordova, Alaska, where his family lived for four years. The family name may well have come from the word “kaimaki” which refers to the froth on Turkish/Greek coffee. Bill’s maternal grandfather was a fairly wealthy sea trader with four or five sailboats on the Black Sea. When Greeks were expelled from Turkey in 1923, he moved to Thessaloniki, Greece, and used the gold he saved to purchase a house for five of his six children. Mary, Bill’s mother, born in Aretsu, Turkey, on September 15, 1903, was the sixth child and a teenager at the time. Instead of a house, she was given a ticket to America. It is thought that her father had some connections in America and letters had been written to him indicating that his daughter would be happier there. Although she had little formal schooling in Turkey, teachers came to the family home and taught Turkish, Greek and some French to the children. That helped Mary when she traveled through the French-speaking provinces of eastern Canada but not as she continued west to Vancouver, British Columbia.
Bill’s father, Nick (Nicholas) Basiliou Kaimakis, was born on January 10, 1890, also in Aretsu, Turkey. Around 1915, before Greeks were exiled from Turkey, he worked on or was a passenger on ships travelling to Brazil, Peru and Argentina. He apparently came to the United States through Florida and, despite knowing no English, traveled to Seattle, Washington. Once in Seattle he purchased a boat and made his living by fishing for over 20 years. Then, just as he had avoided the Turks, he quit fishing to avoid problems with the Japanese who had dominated fishing in the Aleutian Islands of Alaska. Back in Seattle Nick purchased a kafenion (Greek coffee shop) in the old Prefontaine Building on Third Avenue which many Greeks visited.
Nick’s application for citizenship documents his marriage to Mary on August 27, 1929, in Portland, Oregon. Following Bill’s birth in 1930, a second son, Paul, was born in 1933. A third son, also Nick, was born in 1946, served for some time as a caretaker at St. Demetrios Greek Orthodox Church in Seattle and died at the age of 54 in early 2000. Their father died in 1947 when Bill was 17 years old.
The Kaimakis family lived in Seattle’s Rainier Valley, not far from several other Greek families: Dallas, Routos, Haikalis, Pallis and Makos. Bill began school at Hawthorne Elementary but flunked the first grade as he could not speak English. Nonetheless he graduated from Seattle’s Franklin High School in 1949. He was not big enough to play basketball or football but played intramural sports and ran in the high school “100-Mile Club.” He enlisted in the United States Air Force immediately after high school and wrote regularly to his widowed mother. His pay check was less than that of his peers because he authorized a portion of his pay to be sent to his mother to support her and his siblings. During that time Mary married Tom Angeles.
Bill had worked for Manolides Produce in Seattle and returned there after his military service. He moved for a better opportunity with Rosella Brothers Produce (they were friends from his childhood in Rainier Valley). In fact, he was rehired by the Rosellas four times over the course of his working years.
In 1960 he bought the Owl Tavern with George Manus which was a short-lived venture. Later he had the Publix Bar and Grill with Pete Routos until he sold his interest to Pete Mykris. He then returned to work at Rosella Brothers where he remained until he finally retired in 1995.
Jeanne’s maternal grandfather, Gregorios Hrones, was born in Kastri, Kynourias, Greece, in 1874. In 1904 he sailed to New York City on the vessel La Terrain and found his way to Chicago, Illinois, where he worked in a delicatessen. Gregorios’ wife Angeline and 10-year old child Lucy came to America later. Sadly, Lucy passed away at the age of 12. However, more children were born to the couple: Effie, Jeanne’s mother Panagiotia (Dorothy) and two sons, Bill and Nick. At the delicatessen Gregorios served sandwiches and wine (illegally during Prohibition) until the day Federal agents destroyed the barrels of wine. When he returned home that evening, he suffered a massive stroke and was bedridden until he passed away. The children had to quit school to care for their father. Dorothy later worked for the telephone company in Chicago and entered into an arranged marriage with George Bakopoulos (aka Iskos).
George came from Dara, Mandanias, Greece, at the age of 20 and operated a grocery store in south Chicago. He also worked on the Milwaukee Railroad for many years. After their marriage in 1935, the couple first lived in a room behind the Hrones delicatessen. Their first child, Margo (Maria) was born in 1937 and Jeanne (Evgenia) was born on October 31, 1940.
Dorothy was born and raised in America; George was born and raised in Greece. And with a large difference in their ages, the marriage did not last. When Jeanne was four years old, she moved to Seattle with her mother and sister to live with Dorothy’s uncle in a grand old house in Seattle’s Wallingford neighborhood. Dorothy’s sister Effie, her brother Nick Hrones and yiayia (grandmother) Angeline also lived in the home. An aunt, Evgenia Kotsogene, lived on the Phinney bus line a short distance away and relatives George and Sofie Zavalas lived nearby across the street from Green Lake. Jeanne loved the home and remembers visitors sitting in the kitchen nook drinking coffee and eating paximadhia (twice-baked almond butter cookies). Her grandmother would make yaourti (yogurt) the old-fashioned way by covering the containers and keeping them warm on the radiators, not something Jeanne was willing to show her friends. Mr. Milonopoulos, the Greek school teacher, was often at the house.
Meanwhile, George maintained close contact with his Seattle family and provided financial support. He made several trips from Chicago and would take Margo and Jeanne on long train rides in the summer. When he retired in 1963, he moved to Washington and lived with Margo and her husband, Fote Koutlas. Later he lived with Jeanne and Bill in Edmonds, Washington, for a while and, when the Kaimakis home overflowed with children and pets, moved to an apartment in Everett. He became a fixture at the Everett Public Library near his home and was a voracious reader despite limited formal education. George was not a wealthy man. He worked hard, saved every penny and shared all he had with his family and with relatives, several of whom he brought from Greece to the United States. He also provided financial assistance for the education of his two grandsons: Barry Kaimakis, now a dentist, and Theodore Koutlas, now a cardiovascular surgeon.
Jeanne began kindergarten at Interlake Elementary School (now the Wallingford Center). She was small and had a dark complexion, a contrast among many taller, lighter-skinned children. On one occasion she even ran home and her grandmother had to take her back to school. The family moved several times within the Ballard and Wallingford neighborhoods of Seattle. Jeanne transferred to West Woodland Elementary then attended Hamilton and James Monroe junior highs. After settling in a small home near Lincoln High School, she graduated from there in 1958.
When Bill finished his military service, he met Jeanne’s sister, Margo, at St. Demetrios in Seattle. Although he dated a few other Greek girls, he was taken with Jeanne when he went to pick Margo up for a date. Jeanne was cleaning the floor at the time. In 1959 Bill attended the wedding of Margo and Fote Koutlas where Jeanne was the maid of honor. Several of Jeanne’s friends had gone to Santa Monica, California, to work for the airlines, of which her mother did not approve. Instead Jeanne had decided to go to Chicago to stay with her father. When Bill invited her out, she declined as she was to leave for Chicago the next morning.
In Seattle Jeanne had worked at the soda fountain at G.O. Guy Drugs, as an elevator operator at the Olympic Hotel (now Fairmont Olympic Hotel) and as an usherette at the Fifth Avenue Theater. When she arrived in Chicago and applied for a job at the Merchandise Mart Bank, she claimed to have had some banking experience. Three months later her misrepresentation was discovered and her boss asked why she lied. “I needed the job,” she replied. After a short probation period she continued with the bank and was promoted to bookkeeper and to teller. Her life in Chicago seemed permanent and her father had even purchased a house for them in Oak Park. However, when Dorothy came to visit, Jeanne was dating a Greek man of whom Dorothy disapproved. And with Margo pregnant back in Washington, Jeanne decided to return to Seattle.
When Bill learned she was back, he asked her to attend a boat show with him. She again declined his offer. Fortunately, Bill persisted and they finally went out on New Year’s Eve to Rosellini’s 410 restaurant and later to Charlie Puzzo’s jazz tavern. On November 12, 1961, they were the last couple to marry in the old St. Demetrios Church in Seattle’s Cascade neighborhood.
When their first child Barry (Vasilios) was six months old, Bill left the Owl Tavern and became a house husband. Jeanne took a job as a hostess and cocktail waitress at Kim’s Broiler on Westlake Avenue. Fortunately Jimmy Markenzinis and Harry Conom were bartenders there and helped her considerably. She was working from 4 pm to midnight and Bill was back at Rosellas from 4 am to 4:30 pm. They “passed in the night” with the help of a baby sitter for the half-hour lapse. Their three children were born in Edmonds: first Barry (Bill liked Barry Goldwater) in 1962, Gena (Evgenia) Marie (because Jeanne liked the name) in 1965, and Nikoletta (Nicole) (in the Greek tradition after Bill’s father) in 1969.
Jeanne tried selling real estate and worked as a bookkeeper until the 1972 recession hit Seattle. She attended a “brown-bag” lunch for displaced homemakers and was advised to follow her real passion, nursing. So, she could be found studying algebra, chemistry and other subjects and giggling with her fellow students in study sessions at the Kaimakis home. Jeanne credits Bill’s sweetness and patient support for her completion of an associate registered nursing degree from Shoreline Community College in 1983. She worked for Providence Hospice as a registered nurse for 12 years and is currently at Mirabella, a retirement community in Seattle, two days a week. She tells a warm-hearted story of caring for a reluctant Greek patient, until the patient learned she was Greek and that he had fished with Bill’s father.
Jeanne’s nursing training has been of great importance to the family. In 1993 Bill had a massive heart attack. At the same time Jeanne was diagnosed with breast cancer and her mother Dorothy was in the late stages of Alzheimer’s. At the time, they owned a 42-foot Marine Trader. The couple sold their large home in Seattle’s Ravenna neighborhood and moved to the boat. It was like being on a honeymoon, living with no central heating, sharing a moorage with many younger couples and being relieved of much stress in their lives. They later moved to a larger boat and their sea travels included a 1998 April-to-September Alaska voyage.
Then, in 1999 Bill and Jeanne moved back to land as Bill had a stroke while working on the boat at the Queen City Yacht Club. It was the week before their son Barry’s wedding. The wedding was held as scheduled despite Barry’s protestations and Bill, on leave from the hospital, wore his own wedding tuxedo. And, he can still get into it.
Jeanne and Bill both grew up in Seattle’s St. Demetrios Church, were married by Rev. Neketas Palassis and had a strong relationship with him. When Rev. Palassis left to establish St. Nektarios Church under the Orthodox Church outside Russia, Jeanne, her sister and other family members decided to join him. Since then Fr. Palassis has baptized and married their three children and baptized their seven grandchildren. While they miss some of the Greek cultural programs at St. Demetrios, they have kept their Orthodox faith and their friendships with many who attend St. Demetrios. For the past 16 years, Bill has maintained his association with his Greek friends: Pete Farmasonis, Nick Castas, Tom Barbas, Steve Mallos and Gus Cooper, to name a few, through walking with them three mornings a week.
One of Bill’s favorite sayings is Yeorgos piges, Yiannis irthes (George went and John came back) meaning a person tries to find something, forgets what the item was and comes back empty-handed. He also enjoys the words from the song O Yeorgos eine poniros (George is tricky or sneaky).
Looking back on their life together, Jeanne and Bill are happy to be on land again, living in her old neighborhood of Wallingford with family and friends nearby.By John and Joann Nicon, March 2013
1 Jeanne and Bill with their stefana (wedding crowns), 2013
2 Mary Kaimakis (center rear), 1920s
3 Nicholas Basiliou Kaimakis, circa 1936
4 Nicholas’ citizenship application, 1936
5 Hawthorne Elementary School baseball team (Bill fifth from left), 1944
6 Hawthorne kindergarten pals reunion (l-r) Bill Carraba, Lauren Harrington, Bill, circa 2010
7 Camping with friends (l-r) Al Schaeffer, Mike DiLazzaro, Bill Carraba, Bill, 1940s
8 Nicholas Kaimakis family, 1940s
9 Lord’s prayer seal, cross and maternal grandparents Gregorios and Angeliki Hrones
10 George Bakopoulos Iskos (second from left) with friends in Pocatello, Idaho, circa 1920
11 Jeanne and Margo Iskos, 1942
12 George Iskos obituary, Seattle Times, December 25, 1990
13 George Iskos, 1980s
14 Panagiota (Dorothy) Iskos and her daughters Margo and Jeanne, circa 1943
15 Iskos family and friends (l-r) standing: Fotini Karabetsos, Bill Karabetsos, Milton Karabetsos, Margo Iskos, Harry Iskos, Pierre Iskos, Jeanne; seated: Andrew and Yianoula Karabetsos, George Iskos, 1950s
16 Bill and Jeanne wedding, 1961
17 Bill at the helm of Monk McQueen Yacht, 1965
18 Jeanne at her nursing school graduation, 1983
19 Bill and Jeanne in Glacier Bay, Alaska, 1998
20 Bill and Jeanne at Barry’s wedding, 1991
21 Kaimakis grandchildren (l-r) Isaac Henderson, Francesca Schmidt, Natasha Kaimakis, Dominic Kaimakis, Marika Henderson, Harry Schmidt, Theo Schmidt (inset), 2010 and 2012
Photos 1 and 9 by John Nicon; all others from Kaimakis/Iskos family collection SOURCES
Video interview by John and Joann Nicon, February 2013