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History > Oral History > (02) Dimitrios Aronis-Beys: The American Experience 1916 -19

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submitted by Alexandra Ermolaeff on 02.12.2003

(02) Dimitrios Aronis-Beys: The American Experience 1916 -19

(An extract from the memoirs of Prof. Manuel J. Aroney)

The city of Boston, located not far from the large metropolis of New York in the north-eastern part of the United States, was a magnet for immigrants because of manufacturing and other industries close by. A number of Dimitrios’ family from Kythera had chosen to settle there and were doing their utmost to become established. For each of them a large volume could be written about their life experiences in the new land with its heartbreaks, tribulations and successes which came in time. My cousin Rose Pine (Pintsopoulos) now residing in Beverly Hills California, kept in touch with the various branches of the family and I am indebted to her for much of the information I have regarding my American relatives. Only a very brief outline can be given here.

The first contact with America involved George, the eldest of my grandfather Emmanuel’s children, who was highly regarded in the village as a young man of quality. It was his fate to fall in love with a beautiful local girl, an heiress and an only child. Grandfather was against the marriage but, despite his father’s protestations, George married her and in time they produced two sons. His wife strongly insisted that he go to America to make money and finally he succumbed, departing for Boston and subsequently gaining work at the Bethleham Steel Corporation at Philadelphia. It was his misfortune to be seriously injured in a factory accident when a steel girder fell on him partially crushing his chest. He returned to Kythera, a broken man, but was taunted by his wife who called him lazy and a failure. To help out, grandfather opened a second small blacksmith shop for him close to the original one and did much of George’s work as well as his own. However, in 1904, within a year of his return from America, George died. It was a bitter blow for grandfather and for the whole family. Some years later, George’s sons departed for America, Manuel at 14 years of age and Andoni at 19; they settled there permanently, married and brought up their children who in time became prosperous citizens of the USA. George’s wife remained in Kythera where she remarried and saw her days out on the island.

Stamatia, the eldest of the daughters to survive to adulthood, was sent to Smyrna at nine years of age to work as a servant girl for the family of a wealthy uncle living there; these people had the misfortune to be massacred later by the Turks. Stamatia is remembered as a hard-working and thrifty young woman who managed to accumulate a substantial sum of money. At thirty years of age she met and married Kostas Strogilis and they left to join Panayiotis (Peter) and Anthousa who by that time were living in Boston. Stamatia stayed there with her two children, Basili and Angela, for the remainder of her life.

Anthousa had an eventful and, at times, very sad life. She was a statuesque, beautiful young woman in Aroniadika when she married a Kytherian Greek (an Aronis) whose family had become wealthy with business interests in Russia. Her first son Theodore died as a baby so to perpetuate his name she subsequently had a second son whom she also christened Theodore. Unfortunately problems arose between the couple and one day the boy was secretly spirited away to Russia by his father; sadly, his grief-stricken mother was never to see him again. Many years were to pass before Theodore returned to Greece; he and his wife Mary Aroney both became nationally acclaimed stage and screen actors experiencing fame and adulation from Greek theatre audiences and critics alike. After her separation, Anthousa remarried, this time to a sculptor from Karpathos called Louis Vassilarakis who went to Boston seeking work on the understanding that Anthousa would later join him with their little daughter Garifalia (Rose). I was privileged to meet Rose and her husband Manuel Koutoulakis many years later and will refer to this exceptional family in a subsequent chapter. Anthousa and Louis had two more sons but both died in their early twenties. A very hard-working capable person, Anthousa leased a five storey house and lived with her family in the basement level while renting the remainder of the building to boarders coming over from Kythera - it was to be the first home in America for many of her relatives and compatriots.

In 1904 Evgenia travelled from Kythera to Smyrna to stay with Stamatia for a short time before undertaking the month-long voyage to America to join her husband Constantinos Castrissos (Kakomarios), a Kytherian who had established a very successful “leski”, a combination of Greek-style club, coffee shop and restaurant. They had two sons and two daughters but the sole survivor now is Garifalia (Rose) who was born in 1919 in Providence, Rhode Island. Illness and the onset of the Depression of the twenties took their toll on Constantinos Castrissos and regrettably he died early in life of a stroke. Rose met Fred Pintsopoulos (Pine) in 1939; they became engaged and accompanied by her widowed mother Evgenia they left Massachusetts for the warmer clime of California. Having married, they settled in Beverly Hills where they still reside with their daughter Georgia Anne. Rose is a gem. We have been communicating regularly since I was a young boy and it was wonderful to meet her in person on my first trip to the U.S.A in 1975.

Peter Aronis, my father’s brother, was only sixteen when he went to America. His many years there were spent primarily in Boston and in California and those who knew him readily acknowledged that he was a very intelligent and talented man who adapted easily to different conditions. From 1913 to 1945 he worked in Boston as a court interpreter, having become proficient in both Greek and English, and also as a real estate broker. Peter never married. He cut a dashing figure, tall and lean, with a car in an era when it was rare to have one and the trappings of a successful businessman. He built up a substantial fortune in real estate in the twenties, owning many apartments, but made the fatal mistake of trusting friends to manage them and this sowed the seeds of his economic demise especially when the Great Depression struck. He lost everything. Peter lived with the family of his sister Evgenia, following the death of her husband, initially in Boston and later in Los Angeles. In 1963 he departed for his beloved Greece where he spent the last years of his life, dying in Athens in 1973.

When Dimitrios arrived in Boston his joy at reuniting with other members of the family would have been tempered by the realization that all of them were confronted with great difficulties in the struggle to survive and become established. Almost certainly he would have stayed at Anthousa’s boarding house. Regrettably, with the passing so many years ago of my father’s generation and indeed of most of the subsequent generation as well, I have not been able to gain much information on this part of my father’s life. Rose Pine was an infant when my father left America and has no recollection of him but she suggested that he would very likely have been employed for a time in her family’s leski. On the other hand, Anthousa’s daughter Rose Koutoulakis told me when we met in Boston that she believed my father had bought a restaurant but, not being able to read English, he depended on the advice of others who didn’t inform him that the lease had just one year remaining before it terminated. Thus he lost his hard-earned savings brought from Australia and, as well, found himself in debt. Rose Koutoulakis went on to say that my father worked at the Quincy shipyards near Boston until he could discharge his debts and have enough money to pay for the journey back to Sydney. I will probably never know exactly what happened but he returned to Australia on the Somonia in 1919, disillusioned with America.

A relic, important to me, is a fine quality photograph of my father taken in Boston, showing him young, handsome and resplendent in a fine three-piece suit and ornate solid gold watch chain traversing his elegant waistcoat as befitting a gentleman of that era. I have the superbly framed, oil-finished photograph, beautifully reproduced on canvas, and the gold chain, both of which I treasure.

(02) Dimitrios Aronis-Beys: The American Experience  1916 -19 - Dimitri
My Father Dimitrios Aroney.
Photograph taken in Boston circa 1919.

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