FIRM, FAIR AND FRIENDLY
Louis Lallas’ first employer told him he would be successful in both life and business if he consistently followed the three “fs”. These three words – firm, fair and friendly – have guided him throughout a successful career in education and life in general.
Louie Tom (Thanasi) Lallas was born about three blocks from his present home in Bellingham, Washington, on February 11, 1932. His name should have been Louka after his papou (grandfather) Loukas; however, when baptized, he was named Louis and only later was he more commonly referred to as Louie. It is interesting to note that in Greece the Lallas name was spelled Lalas – with only one “l”; the second “l” was added to the Lalas name at Ellis Island by the immigration authorities.
Louie’s maternal grandparents Louis (Lukas) and Stella “Stravroula” Raptis immigrated to Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, about 1908. Louie’s mother, Eleni (pronounced E-le-nee) Raptis was born in a small village outside of Livthia named Bramaga but now named Therion. When the family immigrated to Canada, Eleni was eight years old. She was able to attend public schools through grade four which accounts for her early knowledge of the English language.
Louie is disappointed that he has no in-depth knowledge of his paternal grandparents.
Louie’s father Efstathios was also known as Tom even though he had a brother named Tom – this is a mystery still unsolved. Tom was born in Gravia, Greece, near Delphi (think Oracle) and came to the United States at a very early age, maybe 17 or 18 at the oldest. He was employed at the Bloedel Donovan Lumber Mills where he worked hard and was ultimately promoted to a significant production lead position. Unfortunately, Tom died at the age of 42 in 1935 when Louie was just two years old and his mother was only 32.
Nine years later Eleni married Peter Damascus. Louie was 11 years old at the time. Another mystery yet unsolved is that Louie did not attend the wedding, but his older brother and sister did attend the wedding. Louie only remembers that when everyone came home they would all have a “dad.” Peter Damascus was the only father that Louie ever knew and always has thought of his dad Peter Damascus as a really great dad and a kind and gentle person.
Peter was an exceptional still-life artist. His paintings hang prominently in the Lallas home. Known affectionately as “professor,” he was the first in his family to receive advanced schooling. He attended the prestigious Chicago Art Institute where he was noted for having great potential and skill. Although his true passion was painting realistic portraits, he became a self-employed business person earning his living as a sign painter. Some of his work remains even today in older buildings around Bellingham. It was a great loss to the family and Greek community when he died in 1958 just as he was ready to retire at the age of 65. “Professor’s” nephew, Nick Damascus, is also an artist who taught art at Seattle University and painted many of the Icons at Seattle’s St. Demetrios Greek Orthodox Church.
Louie’s understanding of the Greek immigration experience comes from the experience of his mother Eleni. As previously pointed out, she came from Greece to Canada at the age of eight attended elementary school through grade four and then – as was common to the early 20th century immigrant experience – began working to help support the family financially.
With little formal education, an arranged marriage with Tom at age 16, no real work experience and having lost her husband Tom during the depression, she raised three children on her own. Because there were no resources at her disposal beyond the mortgage-free home on Ellis Street to support her family of three children Eleni went to work as a domestic cleaning, washing clothes, ironing and performing other chores in the homes of others. She obtained her first permanent job as a waitress at the Bellingham Hotel coffee shop managed by another Greek immigrant, Charlie Andrews. It was at the Bellingham Hotel that she began her career in banquet waitressing. Despite the burden of a heavy metal brace worn daily on her right leg, she worked hard and always with a smile for everyone. Unfortunately, she never learned to drive a vehicle. This meant that she had to take a bus or walk the mile plus to and from her job which required that she stand on her feet all day long. Louie clearly remembers the day that she came home in tears because she had been replaced on the job by a younger person. Louie thought it was far past time for her to retire even though she was not ready to retire.
Eleni always referred fondly to Tom as “the kids’ dad.” Before his death during the depression Tom always placed a high value on education for the kids, John, Anna and Louie. Eleni felt rewarded and fulfilled when, before her death, she witnessed her children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren succeed as teachers, university professors and administrators, doctors, lawyers, hedge fund investors, engineers, nurses and accountants. Louie believes that his mother is the best example of what America is all about for immigrants, hope and opportunity.
GROWING UP IN BELLINGHAM
English was the primary language in the Lallas home. Because Eleni was a young child when she arrived in Canada her English was excellent and better than that of older immigrants. Notwithstanding this, Louie fondly recalls that she always remembered the Greek language and used it constantly within the Greek community.
Because Eleni worked regularly, Louie was mostly raised by his 90-year-old sister Anna (now Anna Southas) who lives only a few blocks away. Also contributing to Louie’s upbringing was his older brother John, now 92 years old, who lives with his wife Georgia in Eugene, Oregon.
Louie remembers that the Greek community in Bellingham was a close, connected community when he was growing up. At that time there was no Orthodox church in Bellingham. Periodically, a priest from Vancouver, British Columbia, or Seattle would hold services at a private home or at a community service location such as the Odd Fellows Hall, the YMCA or YWCA. Eventually, a church was built for the Orthodox community of Bellingham for which its parishioners were both thankful and proud. The AHEPA (American Hellenic Educational Progressive Association) played a major role in the lives of Bellingham Greek immigrants because the immigrants wanted to assimilate into the American culture and become good Americans and at the same time retain the culture and heritage of their Greek ancestors. This organization greatly contributed to that effort.
In all Greek community social activities, including name days (the holiday on which a persons’ namesake Saint is celebrated), dinner parties, picnics or poker parties, Greek was the language typically spoken. At social activities Louie understood Greek but spoke English because he thought he might be laughed at. When he visited Greece with his mother in 1970, Louie became immersed in the Greek language, understanding more, verbalizing better on his own and even holding conversations with his Greek hosts. As an educator, he believes that language should be taught earlier rather than later in life because the brain registers and stores information for future access and use. Now, even though his Greek vocabulary may be limited, Louie can use the Greek language with some degree of fluency.
Louie attended Sunnyland Elementary, Whatcom Junior High and Bellingham High School, all three within a few blocks of his home. Louie describes himself as a good student but was always being compared to his older brother John, an excellent student. Louie thought of becoming a lawyer but because of the high demand for teachers, he chose to major in Education at Western Washington University (WWU, previously Western Washington College of Education) knowing that a university degree would be helpful for entry into a law program. With a very rewarding student teaching experience, he discovered how much he liked working with young people and learned that young people greatly appreciated his efforts. After graduation in 1955, he took a position as a Junior High School teacher at Fairhaven Junior High School in South Bellingham with the goal of earning money for law school. The Fairhaven experience nudged Louie to move in a direction other than law school and he spent the next 12 years as a teacher, counselor and principal in the Bellingham School District.
In 1966 Louie considered a position at Lane Community College in Eugene, Oregon, where his brother was Executive Dean at the University of Oregon. However, when a position opened at the Registrar’s office at WWU for an Associate Registrar Louie decided to apply for that position. He was offered the position and accepted. For the next five years he worked as Associate Registrar. Because Louie wanted to retain his public-school experience he offered his services to the Education Department. In 1972 a position opened for the Director of Placement (the department that assists the graduating senior in connecting with the job market for both teacher and non-teacher graduates). Louie jumped at this opportunity because it included his public-school background and thought of it as a perfect fit.
When the Director of Placement retired Louie assumed the position. It was during this time that career planning for students became integrated earlier into the students’ university experience. At that time Louie was asked to expand the Placement effort which then became the Career Planning and Placement Center.
Louie often wondered how different his life may have been had he moved away from Bellingham. Except for short trips to Vancouver and Seattle, Louie rarely left Bellingham. However, one of the benefits of working at a University was with off-campus professional organizations. These organizations represented personnel directors from school districts as well as personnel directors from business and industry. These organizations would come to the campus to recruit graduating seniors. Campus placement personnel would also be invited to visit the workplace so that key personnel could all be part of the process. Two off-campus organizations were closely related to Western’s placement efforts: 1) Northwest College Placement Association NWCPA representing 14 Pacific Northwest states and (2) The Association for School University Staffing (ASCUS), a national organization for all 50 states. Louie served as president of both organizations. This commitment required that Louie leave Bellingham periodically to learn more about the hiring process and use the knowledge gained to improve the services offered by Western’s Career Planning and Placement Center.
In 1988 Louie was asked by the President of Western to join his advisory staff and work as a liaison between Western and the Washington State Legislature. This was in addition to his continued responsibilities for Western’s Career Planning and Placement Center. While far removed from his first love of working with students, it added a new dimension to his work background. Louie believes that if he had it to do over again, he wouldn’t change a thing. Louie retired in 1992.
LOUIE MEETS EVELYN
Evelyn (Evangelia) (nee Drossos) was born in Penticton, British Columbia, Canada. Hers was an “all Greek” family. Her father, James (Demitrios) (1900-1976) immigrated from the small village of Lithoriki in central Greece and came to Canada to join his two brothers in Penticton where the brothers owned a small hotel called the Three Gables. Her mother, Maria (nee Kandas) (1908-1988), immigrated to Winnipeg, Saskatchewan, when she was very young. She was only in Winnipeg for a short period of time when an arranged marriage took place and she then moved with her husband Demitrios to Penticton. She was born in a small Greek village, Korkilion, near her husband’s village. They had three children, Evangelia, Gracia and Themeos, all born in Penticton. After a few years Demitrios decided to open his own restaurant in Vernon B.C. Vernon was a very small town, having no church and very few Greeks so Maria convinced Demitrios to move to Vancouver where there was family and a church. Demitrios opened another restaurant, lost his lease and decided to move to Toronto, Ontario, with his family and, of course, open another restaurant without checking with Maria! As the story goes, Maria did not like Toronto at all; the weather was number one on her “don’t like” list. In fact, she never unpacked. So, once again Demitrios picked up his family and moved back to Vancouver. Demitrios never had any problem opening a restaurant and life in Vancouver now seemed to settle down.
Evelyn began working for the Bank of Montreal in Vancouver in 1953 where she was a loan officer until 1956. That’s when Louie came into the picture. Louie, his cousin John Lallas and friend John Franks were at an AHEPA sponsored dance in Vancouver at the Commodore Cabaret. It was at this night club with its beautiful stairways, red carpets, tiered dining levels, a dance floor (designed to float when people were dancing) and a 12-piece black tie orchestra where Louie saw two identically dressed young women, one in pink and the other in blue. The young women (sisters) joined the table. When it was time to leave, Louie asked for and received Evelyn’s phone number. On the drive home, he “blurted out” to his friends “tonight I met the girl I’m going to marry”.
Louie and Evelyn kept in touch with occasional visits to either Bellingham or Vancouver and also met at an AHEPA convention in Aberdeen, Washington. Their parents were well acquainted, and Louie’s mother told him, “if you don’t wise up, you will receive an invitation to Evelyn’s wedding and it’s not going to be with you.” On a winter weekend in 1952, Louie cleaned up his black Mercury (James Dean style) with white wall wheels with skirts on the back tires and drove north to see Evelyn. He picked her up at her parents’ home and drove to the Georgia Hotel where he proposed. It was a very snowy night and the couple returned to her home to tell her parents.
It was a very joyous evening but when Louie went to his car to return to Bellingham, it had disappeared, Louie thought it was his future brother-in-law playing a joke on him. However, the car had been stolen by two young boys and wrapped around a telephone pole. Fortunately, Louie was able to drive the car back home late at night and share the engagement news with his parents. So, that’s how it all began, and it was four years (Louie had just started his University education) later when they were married on October 25, 1956. Louie and Evelyn celebrated their 62nd anniversary on October 25, 2017.
While Louie pursued his career, Evelyn worked as lead cashier for the National Bank of Commerce (later Sea First). She also completed an accounting program at Whatcom Community College and then joined Louie at WWU where she later supervised the University’s Banking Services programs. Evelyn enjoyed her time at Western and was a highly respected employee.
Their first child, Helen Maria Lallas, was named (Eleni, after her father’s mother and Maria, after her mother’s mother). Helen and her husband Chris Zervas live in Bellevue, Washington, where she has enjoyed a successful teaching career with the Lake Washington School District. Helen and Chris have two children, Thomas and James.
Their second child, Peter James, was named after his father’s stepfather “professor” and his mother’s father (Demitrios or James).
Peter James and his and wife Jody live in Redmond, Washington. Peter is a podiatric surgeon at Evergreen Health Medical Center. Peter and Jody have three children, Jacob, Matthew and Luke.
Louie became an AHEPA member at the young age of 16 and found it to be an excellent resource for Greek-American immigrants and American-born Greeks. The AHEPA conventions provided the means for both young and old to share their heritage and work together for common cause and love of country. Plus, Louie loved the traditions of his heritage. He believes the Greek immigrants have a stronger patriotic feeling for their homeland than those born in the United States without that homeland connection. He does see participation in AHEPA events declining but is proud to see Greeks and Greek Orthodoxy represented at national political events. A friend once told Louie he was lucky to be half Greek and half American. However, he does not believe he can be half of anything. When with American friends, he is all American and when with Greek friends, he is all Greek. After his first visit to Greece, he came to truly understand his “roots” and confirm his Greek identity. Louie and Evelyn are also very proud of their St. Sophia Greek Orthodox Church and the importance it plays in their lives. They believe that if one is truly Greek, it is almost impossible to separate the church from their ethnicity. Louie knows, that wherever you travel around the world, one will find the Greek Orthodox faith represented.
Bellingham used to have two prominent restaurants operated by Greeks – the Royal Café operated by the Trames family and the Imperial Cafe operated by the Pappas family. The old Public Market was operated by the John Mastor family; the Stop and Shop Fruit and Vegetable market was operated by the Tom Lallas family; ice cream parlor and a beer tavern were operated by the Franks brothers; the Rainbow tavern was operated by George Carlos; and GPK Candy was operated by George Kotsogeans. There were other Greeks who owned and operated businesses but Louie could not recall the specific names of the businesses and families that ran the businesses. Many Greek businesses have replaced those now gone and continue to represent an important part of the Bellingham business community.
While traveling by train in Greece, Louie gave his seat to an older woman in an overcrowded compartment and overheard another woman say about Louie “afto to pethi exhi philotimo” (that young person has the love of honor). This comment reminded Louie of his favorite saying that came from his first employer who told Louie to always practice the three “Fs” be firm, fair and friendly 365 days a year. He has done his best to follow that advice and build on the ideas and strengths from his heritage and life experiences.
By John and Joann Nicon , December 2017 VIDEO SEGMENTS
1 Evelyn and Louie, 2017
2 Efstathios Lallas family, (l-r) Anna, Stavroula, Efstathios, Louie, 1930s
3 Peter Damascus, circa 1930s
4 WESTERN FRONT article, 1972
5 Louie, 1978
6 Louie at work, 1980s
7 Vancouver, B.C., GOYA group (Evelyn in center) 1950s
8 Evelyn and Louie, 1950s
9 Evelyn and Louie, 1950s
10 Evelyn and Louie wedding, 1956
11 Louie, Evelyn, Helen, Peter, 1980s
12 Lallas Grandsons (l-r) Thomas, Matthew, Luke, Jacob and James, circa 2015
13 Bellingham Herald Article, date unknown
14 Bellingham Herald Article, 1990
15 Louie Lallas family, (l-r) James Zervas, Helen, Louie, Tom Zervas, Chris Zervas, Evelyn, Peter, Jacob, Luke, Matthew, Jody, 2012 SOURCES
Video interview by John and Joann Nicon with Louie Lallas: GREEKS OF BELLINGHAM AND THEIR CHRISTIAN FRIENDS, by Stephen Margaritis, 1993