Made in America

How did he do it? He was born in 1902 in Greece, poor, had nothing. Both of his parents died when he was very young. He often talked about how he sold his horse to get enough money to come to this country as a young boy with his uncle. That’s the extent of what I know about my grandfather’s family tree.

His name was George — we called him “Popou,” Greek for “grandpa.” From Ellis Island to Illinois to Missouri, he was on his way to Columbia when he saw the Capitol, and he knew this is where he wanted to stay. He lived and worked his entire life within a block of the State Capitol building. (Tergin Apartments stands at the corner of Washington Street and McCarty.)

Whether you asked him or not, he always told you he was a proud American through his thick Greek accent. He knew firsthand “if you work hard, you can make something of yourself.” What is work? Hard work? Working hard for your next meal. Trying hard as the first generation to provide for your family. Doing those sometimes dangerous jobs nobody wanted to do: taking care of the boilers, saving every dime, and eventually starting a business on Madison Street cleaning hats and shining shoes. He talked with a pride in his voice when he talked about his employees, many who also had these struggles. Long after he retired, he remembered them all by name.

He then moved to High Street to start a dry cleaning business which transformed into Carrie’s Hallmark in ’76.

He would still visit Greece occasionally, but this was home. He lived to almost 97 and always said that he never would’ve made it that long if he hadn’t come to America, and had health treatment that, though we take it for granted, many parts of the world do not have.

He wasn’t always treated nicely. He was sometimes called names — that “darn Greek” — but he never let it bother him. He kept a positive attitude. He was nice to others, and it came back to him. He was always 39, Jack Benny’s age. When I would drive him down Missouri Boulevard, he would say he remembered when it was just fields. One of my favorite pictures of my grandfather was of him with his car in front of the Capitol in July of 1929 — his 27th birthday!

He would say America is the “best country on earth.” I’ll proudly add that we live in the “best city on earth” too! How proud he would have been to be the Grandfather of the Mayor! He fiercely and passionately loved this country and often told people how he would handle things if he were president; he even wrote letters of advice to several presidents. The responses he received were taped to his walls, and I remember seeing and reading them as a young girl and thinking that was the norm — just tell the President what you think! So it’s not surprising that now the third generation “carries on” the family business and love of this community and country. God bless America!

How did they do it, the generations that came before us, through hardships and challenges that we could never imagine? We are all made and inspired by their stories, and wherever we were made, we’re all #MadeinAmerica!