George, Andrew and Angelo Ballasiotes’ youthful escapades were occasionally overlooked as their father Christos was well known and respected in Aberdeen, Washington. The three brothers grew up at a time when the Grays Harbor logging camps and sawmills provided significant wealth for its residents and where a surprisingly large number of Greeks settled. Their love and admiration for their father who they say was the kindest and most generous person you would ever meet permeates their stories.
The first brother, George Alexander, was born in Aberdeen on July 26, 1931. When he finished the second grade, the family moved to Yakima, Washington, for better economic opportunities but eventually returned to Aberdeen. He graduated from Weatherwax (aka Aberdeen) High School in 1949 and attended Washington State College (now University). He earned a Bachelor of Science degree in pharmacy from the University of Washington in 1954. After his military service in the Army, he returned to Aberdeen in 1956 and worked there for one year. He worked in Tacoma for the next six years. In 1963 George with the help of his brother Andy opened Key Pharmacy in the Kent-Midway area between Tacoma and Seattle where George eventually focused on compounding (the preparation of prescriptions from scratch using United States Food and Drug Administration [FDA] approved drugs in their raw chemical form and individualizing doses). This also entailed an innovative process from Switzerland of trans-dermal passage of medication into the body, thereby by-passing the stomach and liver first time around and going directly into the bloodstream. The process has since been adopted nationally and internationally with many different medications including natural female and male hormones and anti-inflammatory drugs. This also enabled physicians to titer individual doses to the patient. George married Eleanora Ogan in 1953. They have four children: Katherine, Emilie, Clara and Christopher, 12 grandchildren and one great grandchild. George retired in 2004.
Andrew “Andy” was born at St. Joseph Hospital in Aberdeen on November 4, 1932. Following graduation from Weatherwax he spent a short time at Grays Harbor Community College before joining the Air Force. He was stationed in Phoenix, Arizona, with one year in Greenland. In Phoenix he met Ida Canepa. They were married in 1956. Andy’s initial employment was in Phoenix as a riveter with Good Year Aircraft. He then worked for a decorator service as an estimator for draperies and furniture. In 1963 he went into business with his brother George at Key Drug and became interested in the greeting card department of the store. He partnered again with George to open a Hallmark card shop in Seattle’s Ballard neighborhood. A second store was opened in Bellevue Square, a shopping center east of Seattle. When Andy retired in 2001, the business had expanded to 26 shops in Washington, Idaho and Montana. Andy and Ida had three children, Diane, Michael and Stephanie. Following the tragic death of their daughter Diane, Ida served in the Washington State Legislature from 1993 to 2002 and was instrumental in passing legislation to require the registration of sex offenders. There are six grandchildren: Alex, Anna, Michelle, Sofia, Katie and Michael.
Angelo (Evangelos) was born on March 25, 1942. He joined the U.S. Marine Corps after high school and believes it was one of the best things he ever did. Back in Aberdeen in 1961 he attended community college and then transferred to Central Washington University in Ellensburg, Washington, where he earned his bachelor’s degree in economics. He worked as an insurance adjuster for two years before returning to Central for prerequisites. Then he transferred to the University of Washington in Seattle where he graduated with a degree in pharmacy in 1972. He worked in Tacoma, Seattle and Federal Way, Washington. In 1987 he took a risk and moved to Othello, Washington, where he worked for eight years as administrator for a community health center. In 1995 Angelo continued his education at Washington State University in Pullman, Washington, where he earned his doctorate in pharmacy. For the next 14 years he taught in Yakima, Washington, through an association with Washington State University. Presently he works as a psychiatric pharmacist. Angelo has two daughters, Rebecca, from his first marriage and Kristina from his marriage to Lisa in 1987. He also enjoys a grandson, Zane.
CHRISTOS “POP” AND KATINA
The Ballasiotes brothers have heard various stories about their father Christos “Pop.” Christos was born in Prosymni (Prosymna) near Argos in the Peloponnese. It was also known as Berbati by Albanians who ruled over the area during Turkish domination in the late 1800s. Only baptism papers exist so there is no official birth certification but there is some verbal evidence that he was born as early as 1892.
Christos was four years old when his mother died. He attended school until the third grade. He was an excellent shot with rocks and was severely scolded by a neighbor who witnessed him killing a chicken with a rock on the way to school. This was one of several rock-throwing stories. Early on he apprenticed as a maker of leather harnesses for donkeys. That work did not suit him so when Christos was about 15 years old, his father and four sisters encouraged him to go to America for a better life.
Christos landed in New York, traveled west to Chicago, Illinois, met an older cousin and then continued to Portland, Oregon. In Portland he worked in a bowling alley for 10 cents an hour setting pins. Then he joined a railroad gang of fellow Greeks, working on the Oregon Electric from Portland to Albany, Oregon, for a while, then with the Southern Pacific Railroad. Although popular with the foreman who wanted him to remain, the work ended and the gang of patriotes (countrymen) moved north together, first to Sedro Wooley, and then Burlington, Washington.
After five years in Burlington, Christos found a better situation in Aberdeen, Washington. Christos had saved money in Portland, enough to buy a restaurant with James Heliotis who had married Christo’s mother’s sister. Aberdeen was a booming territory with logging and fishing. Reportedly there were about 1500 Greeks in the surrounding towns of Aberdeen, Hoquiam, Raymond and Chehalis. Christos was frugal with his money and was able to purchase the fixtures, furniture and even the Seattle Café sign from the defunct restaurant under the Smith Tower building in Seattle and thus furnished the Seattle Café on Heron Street in Aberdeen in 1920.
In 1930 Christos was 36 years old and went to Greece to find a bride. In Argos he met a man and mentioned his desire. The man said, “I have a sister.” The sister was Katina Kouretsos, a popular young maiden who sang like a bird, danced like a courtesan and told paramethia (folk tales) like a loving grandmother. She also had a business teaching other young ladies seamstress skills. After a complicated hide-and-seek ritual, a meeting was finally arranged. As the story goes, a young lady stood behind Christos at this gathering and nodded approval. Katina and Christos were married on October, 5, 1930, and sailed to the United States with the intention of returning in a year or two. They arrived in Aberdeen in January of 1931.
Around the late 20s and early 30s there was a famous Greek wrestler by the name of Jimmy Londos. He traveled all over the tank towns (where trains stopped to load water from storage tanks) of America getting top billing. One day he came to Aberdeen because Aberdeen was known as an ‘open’ town and very rough. Of course all the Greeks had to come in from miles around to see the patrioti (countryman) and so every Greek present said that Jimmy Londos came from his village. Londos created quite a lot of patriotism and lots of drinks all around. After a couple of months, another wrestling match came to town and they needed some locals to participate. Matches were sold as “win-win” propositions because you didn’t have to win to make money. If you won you made pretty good money but if you lost you still made some money. Pop heard about it and he thought he had a pretty good chance to make some money and keep the Jimmy Londos Greek spirit alive in Grays Harbor. George remembers his mother was bawling Pop out for a week and he was very quiet and reticent for a long time. They never heard how things turned out and never asked in all the years after.
One day in early 1931, Christos took the Café’s weekly revenue to the Hays National Bank at closing time. The next day the bank closed its doors for good and all was lost. They recouped five cents on the dollar in six months. Things were tough for a long time. In 1939, Christos left Aberdeen for better work in Yakima, Washington. He worked for George George at the Strand Café. After six months Christos called for his family and they lived in Yakima until 1941, when he was called back to Aberdeen and the Seattle Café. The business was able to support the families of James Heliotis, James’ cousin Angelo and the Ballasiotes family.
Christos had the stamina of the proverbial donkey. He arose at six in the morning, lit the wood stove in the kitchen and walked to work. A cup of coffee with two lumps of sugar was his breakfast. He would arrive home late at night anytime between 8 pm and midnight. It was said that he could pick up a 100-pound sack of potatoes with his teeth and throw it onto the back of a truck. He found it relaxing to sleep on the floor or on wooden benches.
Christos was the most genial, kind-hearted, quiet person one would ever meet. During the Depression, it was common to see raggedy men shivering from the cold and rain walking up alleys looking for something to eat or find work. Wood for the cooking stove would be dumped in the alley behind the restaurant. Christos would first warm and feed the shivering man and, if the man was able, would then have him throw the wood into the shed.
An example of Christo’s choice of a simpler life occurred when his son George announced he was going to use the $1000 dollars he saved to go to college. Christo’s expectation was that George marry the local kukla (doll) and remain in Aberdeen.
Business began to decline and the Seattle Café closed in 1960. Christos worked at a few other restaurants including the Royal Café in Hoquiam until 1965. He and Katina moved to Tacoma where George and Andy lived. It would be the first time in 35 years they would be near a Greek Orthodox Church. They lived independently from George and Andy for 23 years until the tragic loss in 1988 of Diane Ballasiotes, Andy’s oldest child. That December Christos and Katina moved in with George and Eleanora. In 1991, Katina moved to spend her remaining years in a memory care facility passing away on March 6, 1996, at the age of 87. Christos was 101 at the time.
In retirement Christos tended his garden, picked blackberries, gathered dandelions for his beloved rabbit from throughout the neighborhood, often walked three to five miles a day to shopping centers, chopped wood and helped his sons in yard work. He spent several summers working and cooking at the Greek Orthodox All Saints Camp and Retreat Center on Raft Island near Tacoma. He was known as papou (grandfather) and greatly admired. He had nine grandchildren and 12 great grandchildren who adored him. Christos passed away at the age of 107 on July 6, 2001. He lived in three centuries and often said, “great things, great things.”
George and Andy began the first grade speaking only Greek while Angelo remembers learning both Greek and English from birth. George remembers being asked questions in English and responding in Greek. When Andy’s Greek language skills faded, he was embarrassed when his usage was criticized and he stopped speaking Greek though the language does surface when he travels to Greece. Angelo knows that Greeks can be very critical when others misuse their language. George recalls asking for directions in Greece and people staring at him trying to understand. This is in part because the boys had heard people in Aberdeen speaking Arvanitika, a dialect derived from both Albanian and Greek. A number of people from Prosymni who lived in the Grays Harbor area would use Arvanitika as a means of keeping information from others around them.
In Hoquiam Louie George had the Royal Café which was later sold to the Carkonen family. The Docsanes family owned the Rainbow Café in Aberdeen. Many Greek bachelors worked in the saw mills and logging camps. The larger Greek community included Raymond, Longview and Chehalis, also logging and mining towns. There was a kafenion (Greek coffee house) where mostly bachelors would spend their time drinking coffee, telling stories and playing cards or dice. Greeks would come from as far as Seattle and play barbouti (a fast-paced dice game). A large annual event with food and dancing would be sponsored by AHEPA (American Hellenic Educational Progressive Association) and held in the Moose Hall. Occasionally Greeks would rent a pavilion at Copalis Beach on the Pacific Ocean where families would gather. People had money when Grays Harbor was booming. The loggers may have worn old working clothes during the week but on Saturdays and Sundays they would be seen with blue pin-striped suits, white collars, ties and ruby-topped stick pins. The brothers remember these “dandies” and their Bay Rum cologne.
Christmas (Christos’ name day–the feast day of his namesake saint) at the Ballasiotes home would begin at 11am with an open house. First there were sweets, ouzo (an anise-flavored liqueur) and a turkey meal. Then the table in their small living room was pushed back and the music, drinking and dancing would begin. Even with extensive drinking, no one misbehaved. The men were real gentlemen. There was an old oil stove in the corner that took two hours to warm the house and when one man accidentally bumped into the stove, he promptly got his hat and coat, said goodbye to all, and left.
In his teen years Angelo was frequently embarrassed when his mother spoke Greek in public and he often felt he didn’t really fit into the community. However, after college, when he went to Greece with his parents, he came to understand his heritage and became very comfortable with his ethnic background. In fact, he came very close to having an arranged marriage while visiting Greece. His mother’s claim that Angelo must return to serve his time in the Army and the lack of proper baptismal papers fortunately interrupted the plan. George and Andy remember the generous hospitality they experienced in the towns of Argos and Prosymni, Greece. With very little in the way of western comfort, their relatives insisted they sleep in the family bed on a mattress stuffed with corn husks while the hosts slept on the kitchen table. Donkeys would bray at night keeping them awake. George and Andy also recall two photos on the wall, one of Marilyn Monroe and the other of Andy and Ida’s wedding.
With the exception of one instance where a local bully told Andy he couldn’t go out with a particular girl, he can’t remember being treated differently as a Greek in Aberdeen. George deeply appreciates how much their father overcame to assimilate in the United States. He believes it is important for younger people to understand their roots and their family history. Once they know who they are, they will succeed. For Angelo, his trip to Greece and coming to understand who he really is gives credence to his older brother’s advice.
Whether it was being saved from throwing mud balls at a police car, driving without a license, visiting the kafenion or experiencing the closeness of family in Greece, the Ballasiotes brothers truly value their father’s strength and wisdom that remains a part of them today.By John and Joann Nicon with George, Andy and Angelo Ballasiotes, September 2012
1 Andrew, George and Angelo Ballasiotes with a family scrapbook, 2012
1a Andrew, George and Angelo, circa 1980
2 George as a baby, circa 1932
3 George’s University of Washington graduation, 1954
4 George in the Army, 1954
5 George and Eleanora wedding, 1953
6 Key Pharmacy & Home Care brochure, circa 1990
7 Andrew at six months, 1932
8 Andrew’s high school graduation, 1951
9 Andrew in the Air Force, 1955
10 Andrew’s baptism with family and friends (l-r) Back: Angelo Heliotis, Jim Heliotis, August Pantages, George, Christos “Pop”; Front: George Heliotis, Anastasia Heliotis, Evelyn Heliotis, Katina (holding Andrew), Gus Demetrius, circa 1933
11 Andrew and Ida wedding, 1956
12 Ida and Andy, 2012
13 Angelo, 1944
14 Angelo, circa 1950
15 Angelo’s high school graduation, 1960
16 Angelo and Lisa wedding, September 19, 1987
17 Angelo receives his PhD in pharmacy, May 13, 1995
18 Christos Ballasiotes, circa 1916
19 Christos “Pop”, 1990s
20 Katina Ballasiotes, circa 192821 Katina (left) others unknown in seamstress shop, 1930s
22 Seattle Café, 1940s
23 Seattle Café Menu, 1946
24 Christos and great grandchildren, 1990s
25 Seattle Café on Heron Street, 1920s
26 AHEPA float in Aberdeen parade, circa 1939
27 AHEPA convention, circa 1950
28 AHEPA monument, Aberdeen, erected 2005
29 George Ballasiotes family, (l-r) Katherine, Eleanora, George, Clara, Christopher, Emilie, circa 1990
30 Andrew Ballasiotes family, (l-r) Sitting: Andrew, Ida’s mother Francis;, Standing: Michael, Stephanie, David, Ida, Michelle, Katie, Sofia, Michael, Anna, Alex, Mary Kay, 2008
31 Angelo Ballasiotes family, (l-r) Lisa, Kristina, Rebecca, Angelo, 2012
Photos 1 and 12 by John Nicon; all others from Ballasiotes family collection SOURCES
Video interview by John and Joann Nicon, June 2012