Greek-American Families

Goumas-Gumas: Family

Goumas-Gumas

Vasilios (Basile) Goumas was born to Ionnis “John” Goumas (or Ghounmas) and Ephrosine Alexiou on January 24th, 1885. He was born in a small village called Krania, outside of the cool-aired mountain town of Grevena, where the family wintered. Their home-place was situated in the peaks of the Pindus Mountains in Macedonia (Northern Greece).

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Krania today

In addition to Basile, the only boy, the family had three daughters: Annette Goumas, Kalliopi Goumas, and Ourania Goumas.

Basile and his family were members of the Vlachi (also called the Aromanians), a migratory Romanian ethnic group originally native to the Balkans and south-eastern Europe.

The Goumas family, like many other Greek Vlachi, had their home village somewhere in the area of Macedonia and Thessaly (in their case, Western Macedonia). Also like many other Vlachi, Ionnis and Ephrosine were Greek Orthodox Christians, rural mountain folk who spoke both Greek and Vlachiko (their own Romanian-inflected dialect).

And like other traditional Vlachi for many generations, the Goumas family traveled a circuitous annual route between Macedonia and the Balkans/southeastern Europe. Originally this route was tied to the rhythms of agriculture and livestock grazing, but even after this part of life became less central, the migration remained.

The Goumas family would make money trading goods in a regular route between two locations: the area around Bucharest in Romania, where they would go in the summer, and the Vlachi villages near Grevena, where they would go in the winter. Five years after Basile was born, his sister Annette was born during the other end of the migration, while the family was in Bucharest.

Despite this migratory route and their distinct language, Vlachi like the Goumas family strongly identified as Greeks. Vlachi have been a part of the Greek nation state since its modern inception, and actively participated in Greek independence. If you were to ask a Vlacho their nationality, they would proudly tell you that they were Greek.

Still, around the turn of the century, there were limited opportunities for young men where the Goumas family lived, as well as an increasingly volatile political and military situation. In 1904, Macedonia was beset by a series of cultural, political, civil, and military conflicts now referred to as the Macedonian Struggle, in which Greek and Bulgarian factions fought for control of the region. This made life and livelihood very difficult to come by for many in Macedonia at the time.

It was decided that Basile would try his fortunes in the new world. He left his village and his country and traveled to the Italian port city of Naples, where he boarded a White Star Line ship called the S.S. Romanic. The Romanic sailed, via Genoa and the Azores, across the Atlantic, a journey that took around five and a half days once they hit open water. He arrived in the United States—specifically, in Boston, Massachusetts—on October 23rd, 1906.

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Basile’s Certificate of Arrival

Basile settled in Lowell, MA, where there were jobs for new immigrants coming through Boston. He worked as a leather worker and tanner, which remained his profession for the duration of his life. He primarily worked for the North American Shoe Company, which was a major employer of Greek factory workers in Lowell at the time.

Around 1909, Basile’s sister Annette joined him in Lowell. After some time, Annette met and married a young Greek man named John Siomporas. When Annette became pregnant, she and John went back to his hometown in Greece, so that his family could help her have her baby. John returned to the US to make money for his growing family, intending to return shortly. Tragically, Annette died in childbirth, and it would be decades before her son, Thomas John Siomporas, would rejoin his father and his uncle in the United States.

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Annette and John’s marriage registry. They are the seventh couple from the bottom (Number 66)

Meanwhile, the 33-year-old Basile Gumas was starting a family of his own. He fell in love with a 21-year-old factory worker named Maria Katoulas, who was also a member of Lowell’s Greek immigrant community. Maria was born on July 1st, 1897 in Lavda (now called Theisoa), a mountain village in southwestern Greece above the left bank of the Alfeios River. She came to the United States in 1916, arriving in the bustle of New York on August 29th of that year. They married in Lowell in 1918.

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From the Lowell Directory, 1921

Vasilios and Maria started their life together in Lowell. Vasilios continued working at the American Shoe Company, and Maria worked at the Boottvale Company, both of which produced leather footwear. They lived at 6 Hennessy’s Court, which is where their first son, Vasilios Christopher (“Chris”) Goumas, was born on August 25th, 1919. Soon afterward, on December 17th, 1920, their second son, John Vasilios Goumas, was born.

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Boott Mill, location of Maria’s job.

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Massachusetts Mills, location of Basile’s job

When the boys were young and in their first years of public elementary school, the spelling of their last name was changed from Goumas to Gumas, possibly by a clerical error. This is the spelling they would use for the rest of their lives, though Chris’ own children would reclaim the original spelling years later.

Chris and John grew up in Lowell. The 1930 census, taken when Chris was 11 and John was 10, reports that the family lived in a rented home at 186 Suffolk Street in Lowell, for which they paid $14.00 in monthly rent (around $224 today). Their home was located in a neighborhood called The Acre, which was where many other recent Greek immigrants lived.

According to that same census, Basile and Maria, who were 43 and 32 respectively at the time of recording, could not read, write, or speak English. Basile was employed as a laborer in a tannery, and Maria was working as a sweeper in a cotton mill.

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1930 Census, with the Goumas family at the top of the list.

As the boys grew into their teenage years, they both attended Lowell High School, and picked up factory work part-time. Just as they were starting their lives as young adults, America’s involvement in WWII began, as did the draft.

Both Chris and John were drafted, and served in the military during WWII.

Chris enlisted on April 11th, 1942, reporting for duty at Fort Devens in Middlesex County, MA. He had only completed three years of high school by that time, but was eager to enlist. On the day of his enlistment, Chris was recorded at a height of around 5’5 and a weight of around 165 lbs., and was given the service number of 31074801.

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After enlistment, Chris was assigned to the 44th Combat Engineers regiment, and was selected as one of the first soldiers to be trained in amphibious warfare at the Amphibious Training Center at Camp Edwards in Cape Cod. During his training, which continued on in England, he learned how to maneuver Higgins Boats to land troops on land from the water. These were the sort of ships that were used to win pivotal battles during this part of the war, perhaps most recognizably on D-Day.

Chris put that training to use when his battalion was deployed, first landing in North Africa and traveling through Morocco and Tunisia into Sicily. From there, Chris and his battalion led the charge in the campaign to invade Southern France, after which they went on to fight in Germany under General George S. Patton. He returned home at the end of the War toting insignias and swords he had taken as souvenirs from captured Axis soldiers.

John’s service began with his enlistment on December 11th, 1942, also at Fort Devens. Around the same height and weight as his brother, he was given the service number 31256863. While Chris served in the North African and European Theaters of WW2, John was sent to fight in the South Pacific, and was stationed with the Army in New Guinea. He served there for a significant length of time and saw active battle. At a certain point toward the end of the war, Chris became seriously ill from an infection he contracted in the course of battle. He was removed from the field and taken to an Army hospital at Ft. Lewis (in Washington State) to recover. He received an honorable medical discharge in August of 1945.

Each brother, like many men in their generation, were relatively private and close-lipped about the traumas they had gone through during the war, and were reluctant to speak about how those traumas affected them after they came home to civilian life. However, it was clear to those close to him that John’s service in New Guinea was particularly traumatic. Some who knew him before said that he was never the same after returning from the South Pacific, and attempts to cope however he could in the aftermath led to later struggles with alcoholism. These slow casualties of war, while rarely spoken of at the time, were all too common.

Still, once the War officially came to a close, the whole country celebrated. With the defeat of the Axis powers and the ticker tape celebrations after D-Day, it was then down to the Gumas brothers to start their lives post-service.

Unfortunately, they had to do so without their parents. Basile was killed in Lowell in 1948, as the result of a hit-and-run car accident. Maria died soon thereafter, in 1949, from a brain hemorrhage.

The brothers remained in their family home at 165 Adams Street in Lowell. Both Chris and John initially found work at factories. John also attended Lowell Commercial College, now part of UMass Lowell, and got a job at General Electric which he kept for a number of years. Chris worked at several factories, including the American Shoe Company, where his father had worked as a tanner.

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John and Chris Goumas in the Lowell, MA Directory

Around that time, Chris started courting a young woman named Vasilike George Spanos, or “Bessie”, as she was known.

Bessie was the daughter of George Christos Spanos and Elizabeth Pentedemos. They were from the small town of Kalambaka, situated at the foot of the Meteora peaks, by the many ancient monasteries of Thessaly.

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Ship manifest from Elizabeth Pentedemos’ arrival.

Like Basile and Maria, George and Elizabeth initially settled in Lowell after emigrating to the United States. Elizabeth and Maria had worked together at the Boot Mill Factory as young women, which is how Chris and Vasilike eventually became acquainted years later.

Eventually, George and Maria decided to move to Pennsylvania, after which they relocated to Winchester, Virginia, where they had relatives in the restaurant business. They ran a series of establishments around Winchester and Richmond, which included the White Palace Restaurant, the Roman Hearth Restaurant, and the Venice Restaurant.

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Vasilike was born in Winchester on October 10th, 1926. She was preceded by an older sister, Sophia George Spanos (born Altoona, PA on July 30th, 1923), and followed by two younger siblings, Christoph (Chris) George Spanos (b. December 14th, 1928) and Janet George Spanos (b. February 4th, 1934).

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Bessie Spanos (Gumas Schultz)

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Stefanos Spanos

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Sophie Spanos (Tsatsios)

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Janet Spanos (Christian)

As a young woman, Bessie was noted for her sharpness and her academic success. She attended John Handley High School in Winchester, where she participated in a wide variety of extracurriculars, including the library club and the art studio club. She graduated in 1944, and went on to attend St. Basil’s Academy in Garrison, New York, where she was studying to become a teacher. Her work at St. Basil’s included years of student-teaching at a nearby orphanage, where she gained hands-on experience in applied educational praxis.

Unfortunately, in June of 1948, Bessie’s brother Chris was injured in a terrible gas explosion at the Rayliss Department Store, where he was working as a stock clerk. Chris was in the basement at the time of the fire, along with Lawrence Owens, the 23-year-old assistant manager, who died from his injuries. Chris survived, but was very badly burned. Bessie returned home, and was asked to stay and care for her ailing brother. For this reason, she was never able to graduate from St. Basil’s Academy, and ultimately never wound up pursuing a teaching career.

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This was around the time when Bessie was introduced to Chris Gumas. They were married soon thereafter, when Chris was 32 and Bessie was 24: their wedding was held at the Dormition of the Virgin Mary Greek Orthodoxy Church in Winchester, Virginia on October 7th, 1951. It was officiated by Father Thomas J. Daniels, a pastor of Sts. Constantine and Helen Greek Orthodox Church, who was serving as the first visiting priest to the Winchester Greek Orthodox Community.

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Chris and Bessie’s Wedding

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Chris and Bessie’s Wedding

Bessie initially moved to Lowell, MA to live with Chris and John in their house on School Street. This is where their two children were born: Vasileos Gumas, known as Bill or Billy, born in 1952, and Marie-Annette Gumas, born in 1954.

Bessie and Chris raised their young family in Lowell for a few years, with Chris continuing on a leatherworker in the same factory where his father worked for decades. Soon, though, the winds of change swept through the town: companies were outsourcing the factory jobs that had brought so many Greek immigrants to Lowell. Workers were being laid off by the hundreds, terminated from jobs they had worked for their whole lives—sometimes, as was the case for the Gumas family, for multiple generations.

Soon enough, the same fate came for the American Shoe Company, and Chris, like so many other workers throughout Lowell and throughout that region of the United States, was suddenly out of a job. This left the usually sturdy, stalwart Chris at a loss, struggling to find a new career and a new way to provide for his family.

This is how Chris, Bessie, and their two young children wound up moving to Winchester, VA, Bessie’s hometown, where her parents still lived. George and Elizabeth were still running their restaurant there, and had sufficient connections in the local restaurant industry to set Chris up with a job. They extended an invitation, and Chris and Bessie took them up on it. John, meanwhile, stayed in Lowell, where he continued on with his job at General Electric.

Though Chris had never worked in restaurants before, he dove in head-first, leasing a small eatery outside of Winchester called the Oak Grove Restaurant. The Oak Grove was located on Route 11, which was the major highway in the area before the construction of Interstate 81 (which then ran parallel to it).

When the family first arrived in Winchester, they had very little money, and hadn’t even figured out a place to stay. In the evenings, they would sleep in the restaurant after closing, with Chris and Bessie in the back room, and Billy and Maria-Annette on cots in the dining room.

In those early days at the Oak Grove, Bessie was in the kitchen cooking, and Chris worked the front of the house. Soon, Bessie was replaced in the kitchen by a professional line chef, but she continued to made specialty desserts that became very popular, such as her legendary baklava.

Meanwhile, Billy and Marie-Annette had an imaginative, busy, character-filled childhood in and around the restaurant. They would play in the back room of the restaurant, help out with dishes while standing on beer cases, and make forts out of the boxes in which produce and other supplies were delivered.

Chris and Bessie leased the restaurant from a family called the Havens, who ran a plumbing company next door and owned the building. There were Haven children around the same age as the Gumas children, so the restaurant also came with built-in playmates.

Once the family had settled into a grove and made enough money for rent, they signed a lease on a farmhouse down the road, in the part of Winchester right by where Maria went to high school. Still, the family was at the restaurant every day, and it remained the focal point of their lives.

The Oak Grove Restaurant, Billy later recalled, couldn’t be called a fancy place by any measure, but it had its charm. A gravel driveway led up to the building, which had a soda fountain and a bar. It also had two dining rooms: in accordance with Jim Crow laws in Virginia at the time, one was “whites only”, and one was designated for “colored people.” The latter was closer to the kitchen, and was therefore where the children used to spend most of their time.

The Oak Grove became a neighborhood spot, where people could come for a reasonably priced, well-cooked meal and a good time. They held annual Halloween parties that were well known in town, and had a roster of regulars—including several famous people. The children remembered seeing Patsy Cline come in on more than one occasion. There were also perks to being the kids of a neighborhood joint: for example, one of the regulars had a horse barn, and let the children come through and take horseback riding lessons for free.

In around 1960, the family moved once again—this time to Annapolis, Maryland. Chris’ brother John was no longer working at General Electric. One of their cousins, Tom Siomporus, owned an establishment called the Dinner Bell Restaurant in Annapolis, on 2029 West Street, and Chris and John made a plan to move there and run the place together.

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John had already moved to Annapolis by that time, and had moved into a small bachelor’s apartment above the restaurant. When the family first arrived, they moved in with him—all five of them crammed into close quarters for several weeks. Eventually, they were able to put money down on a house in Emerald Heights, near the Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium.

The Dinner Bell, by Billy’s recollection, was also a reliably high quality but “not fancy” establishment. It was a blue-collar restaurant, doing its biggest trade during breakfast and lunch, when workers would come in before their shifts or on meal breaks.

The brothers took turns with their shifts, with Chris working mornings and John working evenings (though Chris would sometimes also wind up working mornings alongside or in lieu of John). Chris, John, or both would stand behind the counter at the front of the house. Bessie did the serving, eventually helped by a staff of waitresses. The head cook held down the kitchen, and a few prep cooks were also hired once the restaurant got up and running.

Like the Oak Grove Restaurant, the Dinner Bell was divided into two racially segregated sections, with the “White’s Only” section in the front. As they had in Oak Grove, Billy and Marie-Annette would sit in the back of the “Colored” section, which was closest to the kitchen, and watch TV. Billy remembers sitting in that spot when he first saw Jim Henson debut Kermit the Frog during a commercial for coffee. He still owns an original Kermit puppet from that time period.

One distinguishing feature of the Dinner Bell was the assortment of slot machines, pinball machines, and one-armed bandit machines, as well as the jukebox, that lined the walls. Billy and Marie-Annette would sometimes go from machine to machine, checking for dimes left behind in the coin slots. Before 1968, when the slot machines were banned, clientele with a penchant for gambling would sit feeding coins into the machines, waiting for a jackpot.

Billy and Marie-Annette remember when a man would come to the restaurant to collect, count, and package the dimes from all of the machines. After he’d gathered the dimes from each machine, he would sit at a back table in the restaurant to count them up. Sometimes, Billy and Marie-Annette would help him count, and he’d tip them with dimes skimmed off the top of the sum total. Bessie took their tips and put them into a savings account, thinking of the future.

Billy and Marie-Annette describe spending the rest of their childhood and adolescence in Annapolis fondly. They enjoyed the proximity to the beach, where they would spend every summer, between trips to Salisbury Beach, Cape Cod, and Nantucket. They were a part of a large community of cousins, fellow Vlachi and other Greeks, and had many ties to the community.

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October, 1951: Chris, John & Bessie Gumas

On weekends and holidays, Bessie and Chris generously opened their homes to Navy cadets. This led to a wide variety of fondly remembered stories, often featuring Bessie’s patience, hospitality, and warm kindness.

Sometimes, hijinks ensued. One night, some visiting cadets decided to conduct a little experiment. They asked to borrow the parachute from one of Billy’s toys, which he handed over. As it turns out, they had also grabbed the family hamster, who they suited up with the parachute to see how the little soldier would fare during a drop out of a second-story window. Though ultimately the hamster was unharmed, Billy never got his parachute back.

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October, 1951: Bessie Gumas, Tom Siomporas, and other relatives

Bessie was very active in the Sts. Helen and Constantine Church and its associated organizations. She served as the president of the Agia Ana Philoptochos Ladies Society, which organized charity drives, helped the homeless, and provided for the needy and vulnerable in Annapolis and beyond.

She would often organize events for the Society, sometimes to benefit the church. She would run large-scale flower sales and bake sales on a regular basis. She would also help plan and execute bazaars, weekend-long events during which a range of items—from baked goods to gift crafts, icons, and jewelry—were sold. The bazaars also featured live music, dancing, and a full dinner, which was often served with help from the Dinner Bell’s kitchen. One of the highlights of the bazaars every year was Bessie’s baklava, made the Greek way with 100 percent pure honey, and then cut into impossibly small, neat pieces. To this day, no one has been able to replicate Bessie’s baklava, despite having the recipe. There was an element of magic she added that apparently cannot be imitated.

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Bessie Spanos (Gumas-Schultz)

The children were also involved with the church, at Bessie’s urging. Billy was an altar boy, starting from the third grade all the way through to high school. Both he and Marie-Annette became members of Greek Orthodox youth groups like the Sons of Pericles and GOYA (Greek Orthodox Youth Association), which further connected them with kids in their community. As an adult, Billy would later join the American Hellenic Educational Progressive Association, Chapter 286 (Annapolis).

Chris, who worked more than he did anything else, didn’t go to church as much as his wife. When Bessie and the children showed up on Sunday, or any other day, without him, everyone knew why: he was always working. Still, Billy remembers this with a certain sadness, wondering what things would have been like if his father allowed himself a little more time outside of work.

Around 1965-1966, Chris and Bessie decided to send their children to private school. Marie-Annette started going to the Wroxeter School (now the Severin School), a prestigious girls’ school in Arnold, Maryland.

Billy was sent to the nearby Ralph Makin Academy, a military school. Though the school was strict, Billy believes he got a lot out of it: he played in a marching band, played sports, and even did letter in swimming. Most of all, he says, he made great friends.

Though the restaurant was still a focal point of their lives growing up, Billy recalls that his father wanted him to have more from life, to pursue a different career. He told Billy in no uncertain terms that he didn’t want his son to follow him into the restaurant business.

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Chris also had dreams and aspirations beyond the Dinner Bell. He wanted to own his own business one day—something that he and he alone was responsible for and in charge of.

Unfortunately, he would never be able to realize those dreams. In 1970, while in the upstairs bathroom in the apartment above the Dinner Bell, Chris Gumas suffered a massive heart attack and died.

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Chris Gumas, Obituary

At the time, Billy was in his first year of college in Virginia. The sudden death wracked the family, and Billy was called home to care for his mother and sister and the family generally. The Gumas family went through a time of acute mourning.

John continued to run the restaurant, with Bessie’s help. Around a year later, he was robbed and hit in the head with a beer bottle, which left him unconscious for several hours. John had to get a metal plate installed in his head to repair the damage to his skull, and he faced a long road of recovery from the ensuing traumatic brain injury.

Ultimately, John was unable to continue running the restaurant, and it changed hands. John moved down to Port St. Lucie, Florida in 1971.

Slowly, the family began to heal and rebuild their lives after the death of their beloved patriarch.

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John receives “safe driving award” n Port St. Lucie

John lived in the Port St. Lucie area for many years, working at Publix and in the hospitality department of the Sandpiper Bay Country Club. He devoted his spare time to the Elks, the American Legion, and the St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church in St. Pierce, Florida. He died in 2007.

While never forgetting Chris, Bessie found love for a second time with a man named David Schultz, Jr. He was an insurance salesman originally from Rochester, PA who enjoyed model trains and had no children of his own. Bessie—who went by Betsy in her later years—married David in 1973, and the two lived together in Severna Park, Maryland until David’s death in 1994.

Bessie Spanos (Gumas-Schultz)

Bessie—or, Betsy—spent her remaining years in Severna Park. Acknowledged as a godmother of the Sts. Helen and Constantine Church, she remained devoutly religious, and read the bible daily. She also cultivated favorite hobbies like gardening, birdwatching, and antiquing, and spent time cherishing her loved ones, including her children, grandchildren, nieces and nephews, and an extended network of dear friends. She was an especially hands-on grandmother, actively helping to raise her grandchildren, even getting them up and ready for school every morning. She died in 2016 at the age of 89.

Marie-Annette graduated from high school, went on to college, and graduated with honors from the University of Maryland College of Nursing. She has since enjoyed a highly successful career, first as a Registered Nurse and then as a leading health and hospitals administrator for Anne Arundel County.

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Billy returned to his studies at the University of Maryland Baltimore, where he graduated with honors with a dual degree in Education and Psychology. He has cultivated thousands of young minds as an educator with the Anne Arundel County school system for over 34 years, and received a master’s degree equivalent from the Maryland State Department of Education.

In 1990, Billy married Maria Eleni Xanthios. Though they have since divorced, in 2002, they had a twin boy and girl: Christopher and Sophia Goumas.