At the age of 20, George’s father Panagioti (Peter) George Prekeges came to Warden, Washington, from Arakova, (now Karia) Greece, a town near Sparta and Tripoli in the Peloponnese. After working 20 years for the railroad and dating a girl from nearby Pine City, Washington, his roommates asked, “Is she Greek? Is she Orthodox?” In the video segment Parents’ Marriage George recounts the wonderful story of his father’s immediate and forced return to Greece to find an appropriate spouse. Peter married Paraskevi Anglesi on May 26, 1926, but only after he replied, “No” to her question, “Does he smoke?”
George was born on February 21, 1927, shortly after they arrived in the United States. Three younger brothers, John, Dimitri and Gregory followed. The family lived in several railroad towns in Eastern Washington and eventually settled on a four-acre plot in Warden, near Moses Lake, Washington. Unlike most destinations where Greeks clustered, there were no other Greek families in Warden. In fact, Paraskevi rapidly assimilated and spoke almost always in English save with her family and when visiting Greek friends. George began the first grade speaking no English and graduated from high school with only three others (all girls) in his class in 1944.
When George was 17, his father signed a “minor’s release” so George could work on the railroad which he did. Then, after 18 months in the U.S. Army he returned to work on the railroad. While most Warden students attended nearby Washington State College (now University), George attended the University of Washington across the state in Seattle. At the beginning of winter and spring terms he was able to use his father’s railroad pass, then pay ten cents to ride the bus from the train station to school. Then he would return to work on the railroad in the summer and fall. It took George seven years to complete his studies in accounting and business. In 1954 after Peter retired and their youngest son finished college the Prekeges family moved to Spokane.
George had several Greek friends on a basketball team and traveled with them to Salt Lake City for a tournament. There he met Connie (Constandina) Leonudakis and was instantly smitten. After a few meetings there, he asked her to marry him. She replied, “Lose 50 pounds and come back and see me.” Fifty pounds and six months later they married on June 7, 1959. George tells the whole story in the video segment Wooing Connie in Salt Lake City.
The railroad kept George busy as a brakeman and occasionally on passenger cars. One time, near Moses Lake he was knocked off a box car while switching crates of potatoes. A resulting leg injury led to his retirement from the railroad after 20 years of service.
Having met Jerry Costacos, then in the car rental business in Seattle, they decided to open a second rental business in the City Ramp Parking Garage in downtown Spokane. George also opened a franchise in Anchorage, Alaska, which took him away from his family for up to three weeks of each month. His hard work paid off and when the Spokane garage building came up for sale he purchased it. With seven floors of parking for up to 300 cars it was a very successful business. Connie and George worked together in the business which was sold in 2009.
The Prekeges family kept their Greek culture and traditions of cuisine, religion and language primarily through their association with Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church in Spokane. Their children are Penny, Peter and Maria. Penny testifies to her mother’s wonderful cooking and contributions to the annual Greek festivals. George’s participation was less direct because of his lengthy work hours. “I’d buy about a hundred tickets and sell them or give them to parking garage customers.” A huge hockey fan, George sponsored one or two teams every season. Both for and in addition to the Greek activities, “I traded a lot of parking in support of the Spokane community.”
Description: ConnieConnie succumbed to stomach cancer in 2003 and is honored through a foundation that bears her name. The foundation is dedicated to helping children with cancer simply be kids again.
George says there has been nothing negative about being a Greek in Washington. He has particularly enjoyed Greek events, his church and themed parties with his friends. Because of his burly physique and fun-loving personality there were a few occasions when Greek mothers were wary of George, the big Greek from Spokane. After having taken care of everyone else during his working life, he now enjoys the new friendships and care he receives at his retirement center plus the care from his family nearby. One of the finest tributes to George comes from one of his four grandchildren, Stephen, who wrote this poem about his “Papouli,” the endearment for Papou (grandfather).
Papouli who jokes like a kid
And asks who loves him
Who is dough and feathers
Who is a pair of glasses and a glass of water
Whose smile is made of sunshine
Is always happy to see his family
Who tells me in Greek you are my pride
Who tells me in English you are my joy
Whose eyes are marbles full of stories
Can’t live alone anymore
Lives in Seattle now every day
Is growing older but is still great
Becomes a part of my life
Comes to dinner on Sunday nights
Who smiles and greets me in Greek
In sweatpants and moccasins and hats
Pen moves across the crossword puzzle back and forth
Scribble, scribble, scribble, back and forth
Is the funniest man I ever knew
Still asking who loves him
Who loves him, who?
1 George Peter Prekeges and daughter Penny Peppes today
2 Peter and Paraskevi Prekeges, 1926
3 Family home in Warden, Washington
4 George, 1931
5 Peter Prekeges family: Dimitrios, George, John (rear), Peter, Paraskevi, Greg (front)
6 Brakeman George
7 George and Paraskevi
8 George Prekeges family: Peter, George, Paraskevi (Penny), Connie and Maria
9 George and Connie, circa 2000
10 Partying in Spokane
Photo 1 by John Nicon; Photo 9 from the Connie Prekeges Foundation web site; all others from Prekeges family collection SOURCES
Video interview by John and Joann Nicon, August 2011; Connie Prekeges Foundation, http://www.prekegesfoundation.org.