As a youngster in Tacoma, Washington, JoAnn Tryfon’s Greek school lessons did not stay with her. However, in her retirement years she has come to understand and appreciate what she missed as a child. She has also compiled over 25 books of family photos and documents.
JoAnn’s father, John George Tryfon (Trifonopoulos), was from Kamenitsa, a small village in Arcadia in the Peloponnese of Greece. He was born into a large family in 1898. His older brother, Pete, had been in New York but returned to Greece dissatisfied with the United States. John, however, not wanting to remain in Greece as a shepherd, moved to Italy to learn to make saddles. That was not a successful endeavor and in about 1917 he sailed on the S.S. Saturnia to New York and stayed with an uncle for a short time. Discovering that New York was too busy for him, he headed west, staying with relatives and patriotes (countrymen) along the way, working in the copper mines and on the railroad. He learned his hat-making trade in Missouri. He opened a hat shop in Seattle, Washington, at about age 25 and then settled into his shop, TRYFON The HATTER, in the Pantages Building on Commerce Street in Tacoma. He spent over 50 years in the business and made the complicated process of hat making look easy.
On his way west, John, then about 19 years old, had visited distant cousins in Pocatello, Idaho. There he met Martha Limberopoulos who happened to be the step child of John’s third cousin. The Limberopoulos name was shortened to Lagos at the suggestion of school officials. Martha was born on January 24, 1916, and had seven sisters and one brother. Her father was from the village of Granitsa, also in Arcadia, Greece. Martha’s grandmother, Julianna Bajornoff was from the Ukraine and married Leonidas Stavropoulos from Sparta, Greece. Leonidas went into business in Romania with two of Julianna’s brothers. Some of the Stavropoulos family members settled in Idaho from Ostrov, Romania. Thus, Martha Lagos had a combined Russian, Romanian and Greek background. Martha’s mother, Urania, married her first husband in Pocatello where they had a bakery and a small grocery store. They had four children before he passed away. As a fairly wealthy and desirable widow, she remarried and had five more children.
John and Martha were married in the Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church in Pocatello in 1937. John returned to Tacoma with his bride and continued his hat business. A routine was established. Martha would drive John to work, return home to do her house chores, drive back to bring John home for lunch and a brief rest, then drive him back to work. She would then return home, prepare dinner and again drive to the hat shop to bring him home in the evening. As time allowed, Martha hosted a rotating sewing circle in her home where she and her friends would crochet, knit and talk.
TRYFON The HATTER was a successful business and contributed significantly to the community. John’s work was widely recognized. He knew all the businessmen in Tacoma and often received financial advice from local bankers. As an active member of AHEPA (American Hellenic Educational Progressive Association) John participated in many events. Following World War II he played a major role in the Greek War Bond Committee. According to the Tacoma Public Library, “In June of 1944, you could get a free hat at Tryfon’s Hat Shop, 944 Commerce St., if you purchased $1,000 or more in war bonds. Tryfon’s was the headquarters for the Greek War Bond Committee in Tacoma which had set a sales quota of $400,000 in bonds. Pictured above (left to right) are Sam Bulldis, Chairman of the Greek War Bond Committee, George B. Cicovich first $1000 war bond buyer at Tryfon’s, and John Tryfon holding a $1,000 war bond hat.”
When John became ill, Martha assumed more responsibility for the shop by handling its financial matters. Their children also helped by cleaning the windows and sweeping the sidewalk in front of the store. John’s business was recognized in a congratulatory letter from the Stetson Hat Company in St. Joseph, Missouri, which may have been the location of his original training. He was also featured in a Tacoma News Tribune article. When John retired at the age of 82, he and Martha enjoyed five more years together until his passing. Martha then went to work for Mr. Michael Kouklis at his restaurant on Commerce Street.
JoAnn (Ioanna) Tryfon (Trifonopoulou) was born at St. Joseph’s Hospital in Tacoma, on April 26, 1939. Her brother George was born in January of 1941. With her own loving parents, a very close Greek community through St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church and a very friendly neighborhood it was as if she was living in a little cocoon until she went away to college. She first attended Franklin Elementary, three blocks from home, then Jason Lee Junior High and Stadium High School from which she graduated in 1957. She attended Greek school for a while but “It didn’t stick.” JoAnn spent one year in Seattle at the University of Washington and took a few classes at community colleges.
Beginning in 1962 she worked for over nine years for the Boeing Company and then in the insurance business for two years before realizing she was not suited for secretarial work. A 19-year career with the Boeing Employees Credit Union (BECU) was to follow. With her insurance background, she began as a teller and soon learned about the loan business. In 1983 JoAnn attended a three-year program at the Credit Management Center at the University of Wisconsin in Madison, Wisconsin. This was the result of a scholarship given by a women’s credit union association of which she was a member. The program was a two-week session during each of three years. In Joann’s words, “It was a wonderful experience.” She moved to supervision of tellers and loan officers, became manager of member services and then supervisor and manager of collections. It was a very fast-paced environment which included assisting many Boeing executives who were under tight time restraints to borrow money in order to finance stock option purchases.
In 1964 JoAnn had moved to Kent, Washington, rather than commute from Tacoma and decided to buy her own car. While her father wanted to help, she ventured out on her own and drove home $2408.25 poorer but elated, with a shiny new Ford Mustang. One bright sunny day in the 1970s she was broad sided. The Mustang spun around several times and the car was totaled. Her love of the car showed in the tears that flowed when the car went to the junk yard. The Ford experience must have foretold her next job. She left the BECU and began working for the Fleet Manager at Sound Ford in Renton, Washington. (Except for one Chevrolet, she has always driven Fords.) Most of her work was with multiple car purchases for schools and corporations. One exciting and confidential part of her work involved the sale of unmarked vehicles for undercover police operations and meeting city and county police officers who worked in vice and narcotics. She also worked evenings for ten years selling coats at Nordstrom. JoAnn spent her final working years with several credit unions and with Wells Fargo Bank until 2004.
In the late 1970s and early 1980s JoAnn’s family life and her friendly Tacoma neighborhood were changing rapidly. Her parents’ home on the edge of the increasingly problematic Hilltop area had been burglarized. At the same time her father John suffered several illnesses. After he passed away in 1985 Martha lived alone in the home until JoAnn moved back to Tacoma in order to assist her mother. JoAnn’s brother George owned several barber shops not far from the Tryfon home. He passed away in 2010. Martha died three months later.
JoAnn’s faith and the security she experienced in her early life have held her in good stead. She has been very active at St. Nicholas Church, serving on the parish council several times, as an officer with Philoptochos (women’s auxiliary) and Daughters of Penelope (AHEPA women’s affiliate). She actively supports the International Orthodox Christian Charities (IOCC). She also serves on the AHEPA scholarship committee. For her it is fulfilling to be active in the church with a much deeper understanding of the faith than she had as a youngster. With a less than successful Greek school experience behind her, she re-enrolled after her retirement. She may have been the oldest person in the class, but despite some reservations came to love the experience. Her teachers, Mr. and Mrs. Kipelidis, have inspired young and old alike with their enthusiasm and knack for teaching.
While growing up, JoAnn thought the ethnic Greek part of her life had more meaning than the Orthodox faith. As she has learned more about the faith, the Church has become increasingly important. In grade school she didn’t want to draw any attention to herself. Her Greek was hidden at school. She wasn’t ashamed but didn’t want to be different from others. Now she realizes how proud she is of what her parents provided. Had she not been raised in a Greek family with its cultural traditions she “would have missed a great deal.” She believes the strong foundation she received provided a framework for making decisions. Her friends have asked, “Why do you get so involved in each other’s lives?” For JoAnn, one cannot go wrong with a strong family connection (including the larger Greek “family”) where all depend on each other. In her church community, “We care about people from birth to death and after. I don’t know of any other groups that emphasize those qualities.”By John and Joann Nicon, March 2014
2 John Tryfon, early 1920s
3 Dakota Hat Works (John at right), circa 1923
4 Tryfon the Hatter, Commerce Street, 1927
5 Martha, early 1930s
6 Martha’s family,(l-r) Standing: Martha, Pat Mouritsen, James Lagos, Connie Morris, Peggy Taylor; Seated: Julie Epperley, Irene Bates, Elaine Mlynek, Florence Hill, 1952
7 John and Martha wedding, 1937
8 AHEPA members in front of St. Nicholas Church, 1940s
9 AHEPA war bonds document, 1942
10 (l-r) Sam Bulldis, George Cicovich, John, 1944
11 Tryfon family (l-r) JoAnn, Martha, George, John, circa 1943
12 JoAnn, high school graduation, 1957
13 John and Martha, late 1970s
14 Tryfon men (l-r) grandson Jon, John, George, grandson Tod, early 1980s
15 George and Martha, 1980s
16 First cousin Vasiliki Karpouzos and JoAnn, 1980
17 Niece Sandra Ciarochi and JoAnn, early 1980s
18 JoAnn’s Greek school certificate, 2006
Photos 1 by John Nicon; 9 courtesy Richards Studio Collection at the Tacoma Public Library; all others from Tryfon family collection SOURCES
Video interview by John and Joann Nicon, June 2013