Andy’s Summary of his Parents’ Biographies
In 1997, the Greek community in Minot, North Dakota hosted a 60th anniversary of the Greek Orthodox Church they founded in 1937.
The organizers asked Andy to write biographies of his parents and his personal memories of his parents’ participation in the parish. But he went further.
He summarized their relationships with family and friends.
We attended the reunion that fall of 1997, and I watched Andy’s joy in re-connecting with those he knew in his youth.
Pantelis (Peter) Andreas Stathopoulos 1892 – 1980
My father (second row, at the right) was one eight children whose mother, Angela, died when he was very young. His father (a farmer) and his older sister raised him in Greece.
1902. He came to America at age 20 to a) get out of serving in the Greek Army (which of course didn’t stop him from spending most of his life complaining about the Turks), and b) to join his brothers, Dan and Tom, in St. Louis, Missouri. For many years they worked in various restaurants.
The three brothers moved to Minot, North Dakota, to work on building the expanding Great Northern Railroad. When World War I began, Tom, a 4th-class citizen, was drafted. But my father and Dan, as a 5th-class citizens were not drafted. He and Dan worked on the railroad for five years as brakemen and firemen before quitting. They found more lucrative, higher paying jobs as dishwashers with the fringe benefit of indoor work. They saved money by living in a men’s hostel and sewed their work shirts from heavy cloth they were able to obtain.
Then Uncle Dan married a woman (Anna) and lived only a few more years until his untimely death. Anna married a local man, Pete Mentis. Pete and his brother, Sam, invited my father to form a partnership. They bought the American Café on Minot’s main street in 1924 and operated it until 1946.
Sophia Valilas 1903 – 1955
Born in Artaki, Turkey, my mother was one of ten children. She lived in Constantinople in her young years. Her father owned a successful bakery. She would tell me stories of how cosmopolitan the city was and of the fine restaurants her parents would take her to. But this happy life ended abruptly when some of her adult family members were killed by the Turks. Her mother, three sisters, and her brother, Clarence, escaped to Greece. My Uncle Clarence took the responsibility of caring for the family. He arranged a marriage between one of his sisters and a Greek man. He then decided to leave the family with that married sister in New Jersey and migrate to America where more opportunity was available. After he established himself, he sent for his remaining unmarried sisters, intent on finding them husbands in America. He contacted the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese in New York asking for names of Greek men who were looking for Greek wives in America.
Marriage 1933 – 1958
By this time my father was well established in his own business and wrote to the Archdiocese in N.Y. in search of a Greek wife. They put him in contact with Uncle Clarence who then allowed my mother to exchange letters with my father. After six months of correspondence my mother felt that my father would be a good catch. So she and Uncle Clarence traveled to Minot to appraise my father’s economic standing; Uncle Clarence had to be certain my father could support my mother in the lifestyle he deemed appropriate. A courtship of only six days followed before my uncle gave my mother permission to marry my father. My parents, my father’s best man, and of course Uncle Clarence journeyed to Astoria, N.Y. where my parents were married in 1933 at St. Demetrios Church.
As my mother’s protective authority, my uncle joined my parents on their honeymoon to Washington D.C. He wanted to be sure my father got off on the right foot with my mother. Then my parents returned to Minot where they established a home and a family—my sister, Angela, in 1935 and me in 1942.
My father, having grown up on a farm in Greece, loved small town America. He fully assimilated. My mother, raised in Constantinople, missed the cosmopolitan environment she was used to and she never assimilated. As a result, my father ended his partnership with the Mentis brothers, and we moved to Astoria, New York. Uncle Clarence assisted us. I don’t think my father cared for New York; we didn’t stay there long, perhaps a year and a half. We moved back to Minot, and my dad returned to his partnership with Sam and Pete Mentis.
In 1952 my parents decided to move to Oakland, California, where my father’s brother, Tom, lived. He bought into a partnership in the Estudillo Grill in San Leandro and purchased a home on Oakland’s Park Boulevard. All went well until my mother died in 1958 of a heart attack. Her death left my father emotionally devastated. He remained in the Oakland home and retired three years later.
During the ensuing years I kept close contact with my father. I drove him back to Minot in 1972 for a vacation and happy reunions with old friends. He saw me earn two Master’s Degrees and then move into active duty with the Army in 1974. When I returned to civilian status in 1976 I bought a house in Livermore and moved my father in. I married in 1978. My father lived with us and had a high quality of life. He died in 1980.