Greek-American Historical Museum of Washington State

Why Christto, not Christo?
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Why Christto, not Christo?

Christto Tolias

Christto with Early Sunday School PhotoWhy does this man spell his name with two “t”s and what were the keys to his happiness as a Greek in the city of Seattle?

Christto’s father Tolia came to New York in 1905 from Livadia in central Greece and worked his way to Vancouver, British Columbia.  He worked in the mining, lumber and railroad industries and took whatever job he could find.  He never talked much about himself.  In the video segment Mother Story, Christto talks about his mother Nikoletta Angeloyanopoulou and her first adventures in the United States.  She traveled with much difficulty from New York to Sheboygan, in both Michigan and Wisconsin, to find her two brothers who lived in Vancouver, British Columbia.

Nikoletta made sure when Christto attended Central School in AT 13 YEARS OLDSeattle that his given name was spelled correctly.  She emphasized the “t” in a manner that made it sound like two “t”s – Christ-to.  So there you are!

Christto loved growing up in Seattle, living in a neighborhood with people from different ethnic backgrounds.  Not surprisingly he especially remembers the Greeks in his neighborhood and church.  Here he is (left front) at 13 years old with his family.  The family home site covered half a block just above Seattle’s downtown between Sixth and Seventh Avenues on Jefferson Street.  The area was called “profanity hill” as walkers cussed as they trudged up the steep hill.  One of his early responsibilities was to tether the family goat on adjoining property.  One day he forgot to do so and that lead to a very humorous encounter with a neighboring Greek family.

After graduating from Broadway High School, Christto had scholarship opportunities to both Harvard and Yale Universities but was drafted into the military before he could attend either.  After completing his service, he attended the University of Washington in Seattle and graduated Phi Beta Kappa in chemistry and mathematics.  He envisioned careers in either medicine or teaching.  He recalls feeling that he was treated unfairly when applying to medical school in 1951; he was not accepted on the grounds that he was not “well-rounded.”  A second application placed him in the first alternate position.  The experience of being rejected remains a vivid memory and felt discriminatory to him.

Christto chose to embrace the teaching profession and taught for over 45 years in Seattle.  He began his career at Washington Junior High, a culturally diverse school, which he had attended.  There he taught algebra, then taught Latin for three years at James Monroe Junior High, then mathematics at Blaine Junior High.  He finished his career at Seattle Central Community College where he taught math, business and communications.  His early experience in a culturally diverse neighborhood and a preference to teach those who needed it most kept him in Seattle’s central area despite offers elsewhere.

Christto and Dorothea wedding   CHRISTTO AND DOROTHEA TODAY

Christto met his wife Dorothea Eugene (Evgenopoulou) at a Sunday school teachers seminar at St. Basil’s Academy in Garrison, New York.  She was visiting her alma mater and had come from Steubenville, Ohio, to attend the conference.  The song “It Was Fascination” was popular at the time and had been adopted as the students’ theme song at the academy and a favorite for the couple.  They were married in 1958 and in 2008 Christto sang it at their 50th anniversary celebration.

DSC00015Christto loves to share his Greek heritage by talking about his involvement with GAPA (Greek American Progressive Association) where he performed in dramatic presentations.  He also fondly remembers the early Greek School days in downtown Seattle, at St. Demetrios Church and at the old Cascade School nearby.

Music has played an important role in Christto’s life.  He found using his music and drama skills enhanced his teaching.  While romantic music is his favorite style ofAT THE PIANO secular music he is equally versed in Greek Orthodoxchoral music and has sung in his church choir since childhood.  He took voice lessons at Seattle Central Community College.  There are two grand pianos and one organ in the Tolias home.  Only classical music can be heard in their home.

Christto Tolias, while remembering some less-than- flattering stories about the early Greeks in Seattle, hesitates to offend anyone.  When asked how he wants to be remembered he modestly responded, “Favorably.”

By John and Joann Nicon, June 2011

1 Christto with early Sunday school photo
2 Tolias family, left to right: Christto, Helen, Tolia (seated), Tom, Dimitri, Nikoletta, Lola
3 Christto and Dorothea wedding, left to right: Costa Karayianidis, Nicki Tandoo, Dimitri Tolias, Dorothea, Christto, ring bearer Skulas, Kathy Kalyvas, Homer Angel, Collette Sioris, Stella Tazanakis, groomsman Jim
4 Christto and Dorothea today
5 Greek Independence Day newspaper photo
6 Painting of Christto at the piano
Photos 1, 4 and 6 by John Nicon, all others from Tolias family collection
Video interview by John and Joann Nicon, June 2011