The three Kravas brothers, Bill, Harry and Gus, grew up on Washington’s Olympic Peninsula. They were poor by today’s standards but never knew it, thanks in large part to parents who provided them with a loving environment and a deep appreciation of their Hellenic heritage.
James (Demetrios) Kravas (Anglicized from Kravaritis) was born in 1895 in the tiny, mountainous village of Seleni, Greece. (His passport, however, reports that he was born two years earlier on August 3, 1893.) Havingmoved to Seleni from the Kravara region of Greece, his ancestors were known as “Kravarites”, in reference to being from the Kravara region. The family settled near the town of Seleni, located a few miles from the city of Lamia. Distant relatives have retained the name Kravaritis.
In 1910, James, along with several other young boys from his village, claimed to have stowed away on a boat headed for America. Because James and his young friends were listed on the ship’s manifest, (secured from the Ellis Island archives), it is more likely that they paid for their passage in advance of the trip or earned passage once they were discovered to be on board. Because James had no relatives living in the United States at the time, he was directed by the clerks at Ellis Island processing center to go to where the jobs were—the copper mines of Butte, Montana.
Working his way west as a water boy on a railroad he eventually found his way to Butte, Montana where he discovered that the work and the “poison” air was not for him. Fortunately there were other opportunities for those who were industrious and risk-taking. After teaching himself a little English, he deciphered from a posted flyer on a bulletin board that the Milwaukee Railroad was eager to fill a number of positions including several as section foremen (supervisors of small crews maintaining sections of railroad tracks). Claiming to be just what they needed—a seasoned section foreman—he was hired and offered the choice of one of two trains headed west to where the positions were in Weiser, Idaho and Twin, Washington, located on the Olympic Peninsula. The train to Twin, where large logging operations were in progress, left first. And so, his 42-year career with the Milwaukee Railroad began.
Like many Greek immigrants of his time, James soon became a citizen of the United States, serving briefly in the military during the latter stages of World War One. Like many of his Greek friends, he worked as a laborer, lived as a bachelor and kindled hopes of earning a fortune and, one day, returning to Greece to find a bride.
In 1936, many years after he started and without the fortune he had hoped for, he took leave from his job and returned to Greece to finalize a marriage he had arranged through communications with family members to Irene (Irini) Kostantopoulos, a beautiful woman, 16 years his junior. Irene was living with her family in the village of Kastania, located near James’ own ancestral village. Several months after their marriage the couple traveled to France by train, and then by ship to New York City where they landed on July 4, 1937. (Recalling the difficult ocean passage fifty years later, Irene would report feeling queasy just thinking about it!) From there it was off to Blyn, Washington.
The Milwaukee Railroad, serving the Olympic Peninsula, had three 15-mile railroad sections between Port Angeles, Washington, and Discovery Bay, each section serviced by Greek foremen. Charlie Sullis operated the first, Andy Kachanis (known to the boys as Theo Andrea) the second, and James the third. James’ section had the added benefit of a company house provided by the railroad. The house, long gone now, was located next to the highway across the road from what is today the S’Klallam Tribe’s cultural center. The Seven Cedars Casino, a popular gambling facility, is located a short distance west of the site.
Irene gave birth to five sons between 1937 and 1942. Twin boys named Vasilios and Konstantinos died at birth in 1937. The births of Bill (Vasilios Demetrios) (1939), Harry (Haralambos Demetrios) (1940) and Gus (Konstantinos Demetrios) (1942) soon followed. In accordance with Greek tradition, the three sons carried their father’s middle name. James was away at work much of the time and was not, as Bill recalls, the “baseball-throwing” American father. The boys were expected to help their mother with chores at home, and run errands for their father when necessary, including carrying important communications to railway employees living nearby. Bill recalls transporting such messages as early as the age of six.
With no other Greek families living in the immediate vicinity, Irene and her sons depended heavily on each other. At home only Greek was spoken, and to make certain the boys communicated appropriately, Irene instructed her sons in the language using elementary readers she brought with her from Greece. Bill remembers the window curtains drawn so the boys remained focused on their studies rather than the visual distractions outdoors.
Meals were magic in the Kravas household. Irene, well known among her Greek friends as an outstanding cook, made every dinner special. Even under the constraints of a modest family income, the boys enjoyed a cuisine that they today describe today as “mouthwatering.” Greek pilafs, and avgolemono (egg lemon) and fasolada (bean) soups were among their “melt-in-your mouth” favorites. Up as early as 4 AM, Irene would lay out filo (paper-thin sheets of dough) for the day’s baking, working early so as to avoid the distractions caused by three hyper-active boys. In the early years, the family depended on a vegetable garden, chickens running free in the yard, and bulk foods of rice, flour and dairy products from local merchants. No home task was beyond Irene’s expertise, including constant bicycle repair and the creation of simple toys to keep the boys amused. While strict with the boys, occasionally threatening them with the dreaded “sticka”, her love was unconditional. They were urged to live responsibly so as to honor their special heritage, and, heaven forbid, to never embarrass the family.
In the absence of a Greek Orthodox Church in the area, Irene believed her sons needed spiritual exposure. To that end, she arranged for them to attend several near-by protestant churches. “Everyone is a child of God, even if they aren’t Orthodox”, she would say. When Gus was six months old and fell ill with whooping cough, Bill recalls she was determined that he would recover. With dark circles under her eyes, wiping saliva from his mouth so he could catch his breath, she returned him to health with prayer and constant attention.
In 1948, with civil war raging in Greece, Irene regularly collected clothing from neighbors and friends to send off in bundles (with as much money as the family could afford) to poverty-stricken family members in Greece. Gus vividly recalls a time when she pinned the name of his cousin “Katina” on a little red coat. Forty years later when Gus was visiting Katina’s home in Greece, Katina recalled the coat and with tears in her eyes described what it represented for her. “As an eight-year-old in one of my darkest hours, it was a ray of hope for me”, she said. “I can still remember walking down the plaza in that coat feeling very special!”
After James died in 1963, and her sons off pursuing careers, Irene continued to cook and care for herself. In 1964 she traveled to Greece, the first of several trips to her homeland, and later twice to Brazil to visit a brother she had not seen in 30 years. On her second visit to Brazil, in 1970, she became seriously ill, and was given six months to live. Instead, she miraculously survived. The boys believe she willed her way to health in hopes of seeing her first grandchild (Heather Irene Kravas), who was on her way. Indeed, Irene died many years later in Vancouver, Washington, at the age of 101, nearly forty years after the dire diagnosis! To help in the recuperation, Irene was moved from Port Angeles to Portland, Oregon, where she lived with her son Bill. When Bill was married ten years later, he purchased a lovely home for her with fruit trees, a big garden, and roses along the sidewalk. Her grandchildren (Harry’s children) grew up around this house, learning to play ball, ride hot wheels, climb fruit trees and learn the Greek language– with the curtains drawn.
When Bill entered the first grade in Sequim in 1945, his English was less developed than his Greek. Most of the English he knew, he recalls, was learned from his father’s railroad employees. In primary and junior high school he quickly developed a love of sports. One of his most vivid early memories is how he was able to participate in sports, even though the school was located more than seven miles from their home. Leaving school at 5 pm each evening with a plan to hitch a ride home, he was often greeted by a state patrolman (Sgt. York), who would wait near the school before starting his patrol that would routinely take him by the Kravas home. Bill learned later that he did this to make certain the boy got home safely. Bill finished the seventh grade in Sequim and graduated from Port Angeles high school in 1957 as the family had moved there in 1952. Bill had no desire for further formal education and so volunteered for a two-year stint in the Army. While stationed in Germany, he took two leaves in Greece in 1957 and 1958 respectively where he spent “three weeks of precious time with my papou (grandfather) and other relatives.” He recalls his grandfather walking down the middle of the road in his village with cars honking their horns behind him. Bill recalls his papou saying, “I’m not moving. I was here walking on this path long before they were.”
Bill was 20 years old when he was discharged and began work at the Crown Zellerbach Paper Mill in Port Angeles. He remembers a lecture from George Johns, a Greek foreman at the mill, who told him “I got the personnel manager to hire you and as a Greek you have to set a good example. You must carry the torch for others who will be following you.” Six months later, with a desire to play professional baseball, Bill followed his dream and attended the San Francisco Giant’s spring camp in Arizona. While his baseball career did not develop, he went to California and worked for the Worthington Corporation. He later moved to Portland, Oregon, and worked for Georgia Pacific where he became salvage manager. In 1979 he began his own business buying and selling surplus pulp and paper machinery. Today he owns two companies, Northwest Pulp and Paper Equipment Company and the Kravas Equipment Inc. where he is joined by his brother Harry and two of his nephews, Demetri who is general manager and Kosta who is operations manager. They have now assumed leadership of the businesses and Bill is semi-retired.
Bill was the last of the brothers to marry. He married Jean Seamans, a buyer for Georgia Pacific who lived in Baileyville, Maine. Bill tells a delightful story of their wedding in a Greek-owned Las Vegas chapel by a moonlighting Greek Orthodox priest. Jean and Irene became the best of friends and enjoyed each other on a daily basis and always at all family get-togethers usually at Bills central location in Vancouver until Irene’s passing. Now living in Vancouver, Washington, Bill contributes significantly to his Greek community in adjacent Portland, Oregon. He has been especially active in volunteering time and resources to improving Camp Angelos, an independent camp operated by the Greek Community serving children of all denominations, disabled children and numerous outdoor school programs. His contribution of heavy machinery and personnel in particular has resulted in significant improvements to the facility. In Bill’s words this work has provided him with “personal gratification to be able to give to the facility and the Greek Community in the memory of my dear mother who made the sacrifice not for herself but only for an opportunity for her children.”
Harry remembers Blyn as very cold in the winter, thanks to the cold air blowing off Blyn Bay. He recalls a very warm home, however, thanks to a coal-powered pot-belly stove.
Harry vividly remembers a loving mother who, when he misbehaved, would be reassuring with a hug and a kiss—until the next time.
Living by the railroad track gave the boys an opportunity on occasion to ride the train when it paused by a sidetrack. Harry remembers a friendly engineer (Mr. Olman), who would occasionally ask Irene if the boys could ride the train for a couple of miles. The steam engine, with the boys on board, traveled up the hill pulling half the cars and then returned to fetch the others, while dropping off the boys. Harry still remembers the thrill of pulling the throttle for the train as it lurched forward, and blowing the whistle at road crossings.
In 1952 when James retired, the family moved to Port Angeles. Harry recalls how in Port Angeles he and his brothers learned to play, love and become adept at sports. He recalls in particular one summer when he and his brothers made and participated on the same Port Angeles all-star baseball team. As the star pitcher, Harry had the responsibility for not only winning the game, but also pleasing his demanding brother, Bill, who served as the team’s catcher. Gus, a shortstop, remained focused in the field in hopes of not disappointing either of his older brothers by making an error– which Harry recalls he rarely did.
Harry remembers beginning to work early in life, to help his family generate income and pay for his personal expenses. He washed cars at a car dealership at 14, bagged groceries at a local market at 15 and worked fulltime at a local Tradewell grocery store at 16, all to assist the family.
In 1963, Harry moved to Portland, Oregon, to work and be nearer to his brother, Bill, who was by then working in Portland. During this period of time he was able to travel to Greece and visit withfamily relatives. He remembers finding Greece in chaos at the time, with rioters daily protesting the loss of the democracy to hands of the ruling junta. Even with the backdrop of the chaos, he found it to be a wonderful opportunity to connect with extended family, who received him warmly.
After serving two years in the United States Army, Harry returned to Portland to begin a career with Tradewell. It was during this period he met his wife Linda and was married in Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church in Portland on August 18, 1968. Celebrating their 45th wedding anniversary recently, Harry and Linda are the proud parents of Demetri, Konstantinos and Katina, and grandparents to six grandchildren.
Harry eventually began work for brother Bill at Northwest Pulp and Paper Equipment Company (NWPP), and is still doing so today. Several years ago, Harry was joined at the firm by his sons Demetri and Kosta, who today assist their Uncle Bill with managing the companies.
When Gus was six, he followed his two brothers off to primary school in Sequim, seven miles from their family home. In the first grade when he was asked his name he proudly replied, as his mother had instructed, that his name was “Ntinos”, phonetically pronounced “Dino”. And, for the next 12 years it was, much to the confusion of teachers who on the first day of school each year struggled to understand the phonetic oddity. The family moved to Port Angeles in 1952 where Gus attended junior high and high school. Of her three sons Gus appears to have been the most studious. It was in Port Angeles that the Kravas boys first began to associate with other Greek families living in the area.
In high school Gus played basketball. Without sacrificing his studies, he dedicated himself to perfecting his game in hopes of securing a college scholarship to join his high school friends who were already talking about going to college. Leading his team in scoring for two years, Gus was offered scholarships to Olympic Community College, and later to Pacific Lutheran University (PLU) in Tacoma, Washington, where he became an all-conference player. Irene later revealed that even though she never understood the game and often could not understand the English being spoken, she rarely missed a radio broadcast, and would smile proudly when she heard her son’s name mentioned.
When Gus graduated from PLU with degrees in political science and history and was walking down the aisle with his degree, he remembers blocking the line of graduates for a few seconds when he was surprised to see his thea (aunt) Fenerly (see LEARNING THE HARD WAY under Making a Living) applauding the departing graduates.
While an undergraduate at PLU Gus met and married the “prettiest and smartest girl” he had ever seen, Connie Farnham. A fifth-year-senior at the time, Gus met freshman, Connie, at PLU’s first dance in its history. By Halloween, they were a campus “item”. Forty-six years later, Connie and Gus remember how stressful and exciting the announcement of their plan to marry was for their mothers, one a strong Greek Orthodox and the other, firm in her Lutheran faith. Out of practicality, the wedding was performed in the less-expensive setting of a Lutheran Church.
Gus’ first job after college was teaching high school in the North Thurston District in Olympia, Washington. Because he especially enjoyed the interaction with students, he became the high school’s counselor. After several years in this post he applied for and received a two-year National Defense Education Act scholarship to attend Indiana State University in Terre Haute, Indiana. Gus and Connie both earned their masters degrees in Indiana. From there Gus received another scholarship and obtained his doctorate in Counseling Psychology from the University of Michigan, while Connie worked as a residence hall director at nearby Eastern Michigan University. It was in Ann Arbor where their first child Heather Irene was born in 1970. Their second child, Khristina, was born in 1973, in Pullman, Washington.
After graduate school the couple achieved their desire to return to the Northwest when Gus was offered an appointment as a psychologist at Washington State University (WSU). When Connie completed her PhD at WSU, several years later, the couple began their higher education administrative careers together, Gus, as a vice provost and Connie, a vice president. Their careers have taken them to WSU, the University of California, Riverside, and, most recently, the University of Washington (UW).
Connie remains active as the vice president of advancement at the UW. Gus, recently retired, has directed his interests elsewhere. In retirement he has stayed active in volunteer organizations such as the College Spark Washington Foundation, the UW Encore Careers Project, and, most especially, the UW Hellenic Studies program where Gus and Connie have established the Irene Konstantopoulos Kravas Scholarship Fund. Gus’ current passion is being a great Papou for their grandson Gus (Konstantinos Seneca Starkie), son of Heather and Jason Starkie.
When Bill visited Greece in 1957, he noticed an errant stream of water flowing in the middle of a village street in Sperhiada. Out of curiosity, he found a large rock diverting the flow of water and with considerable effort he and his cousin removed it. When the water dried up, none of the villagers said anything, even though Bill expected no thanks. However. Bill learned later from his Papou (grandfather) that the villagers were embarrassed that an 18-year-old boy would solve a problem the village had been living with for years. On the same visit to Greece, Bill was able to fix a vapor lock problem on an overheated truck. He was surprised with the appreciation that followed this simple fix.
As a child in Blyn, Bill remembers being a little confused as to whether he was Greek or American, and felt caught between two cultures. Young American friends, however, were more amused than confused by these differences. Bill recalls that they very much enjoyed the roasting of Easter lambs and other Greek traditions, even if they weren’t quite sure what to make of it all. After his first visit to Greece, Bill knew he was not like many of the Greeks he met there. His own “Greekness” he believes, was shaped more by the experiences he had growing up Greek in rural America. As Bill has aged, he reports that he has grown more interested in his own roots. He states proudly, “The village of Ypati where my parents are from can trace its roots to the Golden Age of Greece!”
Gus remembers going grocery shopping with his mother as a young boy. She would regularly speak Greek to him in public, and he in response, would speak English to her. In retrospect, he believes it was a child’s way of communicating to those around him that he was not so different from them. Gus recalls with some amusement, that as an adult, nothing pleased him more that speaking Greek with his aging mother whenever they would go shopping. At a 30th high school reunion Gus overheard one of his “aging” classmates ask another, “Who is that ethnic-looking guy over there. I don’t recognize him?” He was surprised to hear another classmate whisper in response, “I think that’s Ntinos Kravas.”
As a young boy Bill sometimes asked his mother why he couldn’t be like all the other kids. He recalls that she would say to him that he was NOT like everyone else and that he was to be held to a higher standard, not only because he was Greek, but because he had to be a model for his younger brothers. Bill and Gus remember their mother’s Greek warning, ta matia deka-tessera not just matia tessera meaning “fourteen eyes” (not just “four eyes)” indicating that they should be extra specially aware and careful.
Harry observes that Greeks have a way of finding each other wherever they are. While stationed at the Army induction center in down Los Angeles he lived off base and to make ends meet he worked at a Greek Restaurant. This experience also introduced him to the horse racing business and a life-long hobby. Harry has owned horses and raced them regularly at Portland Meadows, and at other racing venues.
Bill, Harry and Gus always spoke Greek at home. “Occasionally,” Gus recalls, “a little English would creep in.” When traveling in Greece, Gus remembers using the words “banca” and “groceria” to reference a bank and grocery store. He was quickly corrected by an amused cousin, who reminded him that those were not Greek words.
Connie Kravas describes herself as an “adopted Greek.” “My sisters-in-law, Jean and Linda and I have loved being part of the Greek experience”, she says. “And, even though the three of us never understood every word that was being spoken around the extended family dinner table, we always understood what was being communicated. Greeks have a wonderful capacity to express their feelings,” she adds. Even though Jean, Linda and Connie never learned to speak Greek, they enjoyed a wonderful relationship with their mother-in-law, Irene, who often thanked the Lord for coming into the lives of her sons.
Gus and Connie’s youngest daughter Khristina, proud of her Greek heritage, recently became a Greek citizen, and now holds a dual citizenship status. She visits Greece frequently and maintains close friendships there. “I feel close to my roots when I’m there” she says. “I always feel renewed when I return home again” she adds.By John and Joann Nicon, January 2013, with additions from Gus and Demetri Kravas
1 Gus, Harry and Bill Kravas with AHEPA photo, 1952
2 James Kravas passport photo, circa 1910
3 James and Irene passport, circa 1936
4 James and Irene, circa 1940
5 James Kravas Family, (l-r) Gus, James, Bill, Irene, Harry, circa 1948
6 Greek Independence Day in Port Angeles, Bill standing at upper left, Harry and Gus squatting in front of Irene and James in front of the Greek flag, 1952
7 Heather, Yiayia Irini and Khristina, 1986
8 Bill and Jean Kravas, 2005
9 Camp Angelos deck work, 2011
10 Bill preparing food for his workers, 2011
11 Bill fishing with nephews Demetri and Kosta, 2011
12 Harry Kravas family; (l-r) Back: Demetri, Konsantinos, Katina; Front: Harry, Linda
13 Harry and Linda Kravas, 35th wedding anniversary, 2003
14 Gus Kravas, high school, 1960
15 Gus Kravas family, Heather, Gus, Connie, Khristina, 1974
16 Gus Kravas, Puget Sound Business Journal, 2012
17 Gus Kravas family in Greece, Gus, Khristina, Connie, Heather, 1999
18 Harry, Bill and Gus Kravas with their mother Irene, 2004
Photo 1 by John Nicon, 13 from Puget Sound Business Journal, all others from Kravas family collection SOURCES
Video interview by John and Joann Nicon, January 2013 VIDEO SEGMENTS
Spelling Dino’s Name
Bill Begins Working
Sending Packages to Greece
The Moonlighting Greek Priest