John and Nora Kallis
by Nick Kallis, George Kallis, and Elaine Kallis Vassos
This adventure began in Agia Triada, Yialousa, Cyprus on a rock foundation overlooking the Mediterranean sea. Twelve year old Ioanni Kalli Muscovous was on his knees in the hot sun. His school teacher was punishing him for some unknown behavioral infraction. After six hours in this kneeling position, Ioanni decided it was time to leave his family and home and begin his quest for a better life. At age 13, with a small group of young men from the village, Ioanni jumped on a boat in Nicosia. The boat was headed to France and these young men were required to work on the boat for two years to pay for their passage. It was during this time on the boat that Ioanni was told about America and the many blessings and opportunities it offered to people who worked hard. He was told that the path to America was through England. The ship captain befriended Ioanni and kindly connected Ioanni with a hotel in France that needed workers.
They left the ship and found employment at the hotel. They slept in one room in the bottom of the hotel, working twelve hour shifts. Half the group slept while the other half worked and they did this for two and a half years, saving. They finally saved enough money for passage to England. England was their gateway to America. Unfortunately, their money was stolen, so they were stranded. They had no alternative but to contact family in Cyprus. The hotel people sent a telegram to their village in Cyprus and their families, who were impoverished themselves, wired the monies to two of them for passage to England.
The owner of the hotel in France was impressed by the work ethic of these young men. He knew the boys wanted to go to England and he contacted a hotel in England and arranged for the hotel to pick up the boys at the passenger slip dock. A couple of the young men decided to stay in France and continue to work at the hotel. The work at the English hotel was performed under similar conditions they worked under in France. It was during his time in England that Ioanni became a leader and provider for his companions. He eventually worked in the hotel kitchen. Working at least 12 hours, seven days a week, he would bring back to his friends any leftover edible food from the hotel kitchen. He wore a large raincoat, even in the summer, so he could transport the food to his friends. In England he was called “John” and “Johnny.”
John’s son attended a funeral for Louis Dimitri in Baltimore. While at the funeral parlor, an older man called him over to his chair and asked, “Are you Johnny Kallis’s son?” John’s son replied “yes,” and he then said: “In England your father was the ‘King of the Cypriots.'” During this time the group was working for subsistence wages, saving every pence they could. The group pooled their money so that Ioanni and two of the other boys could buy a Visa and pay for the passage to America. At this time Joseph Kennedy was the U.S. Ambassador to England. The young men were directed to a room in the embassy. A man with a cloth bag then asked each of them for ten pounds in order to secure a Visa. Ten pounds represented a year’s savings for these men. They paid the money and after paying for their boat passage, arrived in New York penniless but committed to work as hard as they could to build their lives in America.
John arrived at Ellis Island, New York, at the age of 21. The journey took 8 years of past life but he was focused only on his new life in the land of opportunity. He was sent to Syracuse, New York, where he honed his cooking skills. His passport listed his occupation as “gardener.” He had been told that America was looking for gardeners so he had an English speaking friend fill out the work credentials for him. He would always work in a restaurant or hotel. He never used a shovel. In Syracuse, he was paid one dollar per week. He slept in a room in the restaurant. He eventually went to New York City where he met a Greek family and a young girl whose name was Panayota Sofos. He found shift work for a few years where possible, the Depression was devastating America. Looking for employment, he was referred by a government agency to Annapolis which was described as a summer resort filled with military retirees. He got on a bus and arrived in Annapolis at the age between 22-24. The bus station was located on West Street on the property now named Graduate Annapolis. The Sealtest Ice Cream store, owned by John’s lifelong friend, was located nearby. He walked to the nearest restaurant to find work. In Annapolis, in a twist of fate, he once again met Panayota whose mother came to Annapolis through an arranged marriage. He saved his money, and eventually bought the restaurant, the Presto, and the 60 West Street building in which it was located. Dr. Richmond, a Jewish pharmacist, loaned John the money to buy this building.
Panayota Sofos, her brother Tom Sofos, and mother Helen Sofos were brought to America from a small village in Xlokareza, Corinth, Greece by Helen Sofos’s father John Roukis. Helen Sofos’s husband had died from pneumonia leaving Helen with two young children under the age of two. John Roukis was a florist. He bought a building in Brooklyn where he lived with his children and their families. John Roukis was a smart man who invested his money wisely during the Depression. He bought a farm in Huntington, Long Island and the Sofos family lived there for several years before coming to Annapolis. The Roukis family, smart, hard working, and committed represented the best of America and they all benefited from the many blessings of America. Within this family and the other families of Annapolis is the blood of heroes. Each of their ancestors were good, kind, and hard working people. Each gave more to this world than they took.
Helen Sofos (Manis)
Helen Sofos, our grandmother, came to America with nothing and left the world with the love and respect of all who knew her. She was physically crippled from polio but mentally and spiritually there was none stronger. Though she lived her life without financial wealth or reward, she was one of the richest women in this world.
Johnny Kallis eventually married Panayota Sofos. Johnny Kallis, with the support of his wife, was committed to building the Annapolis Greek Orthodox Church. His commitment to his faith was always second to his desire to honor his wife’s mother. As will be discussed later, Johnny Kallis’s efforts, with the help of many, resulted in our Church which is aptly named SS. Constantine and Helen. John would tell us that Yiayia’s goodness inspired him. Helen’s son, Tom Sofos, and his wife, were the driving forces in building the SS. Constantine & Helen Greek Orthodox Church in Hawaii. Helen, a woman without temporal wealth, had a son and a son-in-law who were builders of churches to honor her.
Panayota (Nora) Kallis
Nora’s mother gave birth while picking tobacco. Premature, Nora was placed in a shoebox above the fireplace. Unlike her husband, Nora attended school. She was a member of the first class of Annapolis High School – now Maryland hall. Nora suffered from polio like her mother. A young boy, Joe Alton, would carry Panyota’s books for her. Johnny Kallis, a close friend of Joe’s father, became the closest of friends with Joe. Lifelong does not adequately describe their friendship. Joe Alton became Sheriff and the County Executive for Anne Arundel County. He and his friend, Pip Moyer, were leaders for social justice, especially for our county’s African American community.
Her forty plus years of marriage to Johnny Kallis were not easy. He was an independent, tough man who lived a hard life with little time for anything but work. John would eventually lose both of his legs and Nora was confined to a wheelchair. Their strength was such that none of their children thought of them as disabled or crippled. As they accepted their physical disabilities, their children saw only parents who loved them. They persevered, without complaint or question. Nora’s laugh was infectious. Nora taught us to laugh – especially at ourselves. The wives of the men who built our Church contributed greatly to their efforts. These women formed the Philoptochos chapter of the Church to do good works for our community. They were responsible for raising and caring for their children. They were mothers to all of the children in our community. To this day, the women of the our Church represent the best of our Church and our community. Eva Arhos was the first woman to become an officer of the Church.
Tom Sofos, Nora’s brother, graduated from the Naval Academy. He graduated in three years during World War II and was immediately sent to war. He was injured and during his recovery was stationed in Hawaii. He married his wife Rena and they remained in Hawaii. He and his wife were the driving forces in the building of the SS Constantine & Helen Greek Orthodox Church in Oahu.
Annapolis was a poor-ish working City. Many of its historic homes were saved because the City and its residents did not have the wealth to replace these beautiful homes. The strong ethnic mix of people in the City were focused on assimilation and providing for their children. The City residents were merchants and retailers, each ethnic group entrepreneurially conducting their businesses which were in competition with one another; however, they shared a common bond of cooperation. Lending money to one another, sharing resources, and understanding that they needed to work together. To them the preservation of the economic pie was more important than their individual slices of the pie. Annapolis was not a bedroom community – it was a working City with its residents being stakeholders in its schools and community.
The City, unfortunately, tolerated the scourge of segregation. Though the City restaurants relied on African American labor to operate their businesses, these people could not eat in their restaurants. Its schools were segregated and many of its African Americans lived at subsistence levels. Many of the City’s African Americans lived in downtown Annapolis, near their places of employment. It was only in the early 1960s, and the advent of urban renewal and subsidized housing, that these good people were “removed” from downtown into peripheral housing projects. Housing prices began to increase, wealthier Washington residents recognized the beauty of the City, and renovations of these properties began and continue to this day. Admittedly, the City looked better, but it has never been better than when hardworking people could walk to their work and live within the City that they helped grow and prosper.
In the early ’50s and early ’60s the City leaders had no longer recognized nor appreciated the U.S. Naval Academy’s importance to the city. The Academy needed to expand and the City leaders opposed the expansion resenting that the Academy did not pay taxes to the City. Rejecting expansion of the Academy preserved historic properties on Maryland Avenue and, in the end, benefited the City. One resident, James Underwood, a respected City attorney, led the fight to prevent the Academy expansion into the City. Included in his preservation efforts was his personal appeal to President John F. Kennedy to halt the expansion. President Kennedy responded to Mr. Underwood by personal letter telling Mr. Underwood that he would ensure that the Academy explore all other alternatives prior to expanding into the City. The Academy did so and expanded into the Severn River. The friction between the City and the Academy ended, as described below, when the Academy took a unique and powerful economic action.
The Annapolis merchant community was predominantly ethnic. Each ethnic group gravitated to certain business specialties – a sort of comparative advantage economic existence. Greeks ran and operated the restaurants and pool halls. The Italians operated the bars and taverns. Jewish Annapolitans operated the retail stores and pharmacies. Among them was an appreciation and respect for each other’s businesses. There were few professionals in this class of people. This changed as the merchants strove to educate their children to continue their families’ quest for more prosperous lives. Assimilation, hard work, and cooperation propelled these groups to obtain better lives for their families. Annapolis was not a place to sleep – it was a place to live. These Annapolis families watched out for each other’s children – a true community. Most were true stakeholders in all facets of the City.
Baltimore City was also a destination for many good Greek and Cypriot families. Drawn together by common heritage and religion, these families were important to John, his family, and friends.
The Naval Academy
Originally Fort Severn, the placement of the Naval Academy in Annapolis is among the City’s great blessings. As the nation was struggling through the Great Depression, the military and military retirees were receiving pay and retirement monies which were spent within the City. Many City businesses would not have survived otherwise. During World War II the Academy was a fully operational military base. While the rest of the nation’s population were dealing with rationing and shortages, the Naval Academy was well stocked with food, fuel, and other goods not available to most civilian residents of the City. A strong relationship and friendships with Naval Academy personnel were essential to Annapolis’s merchants. John Kallis recognized the Academy’s importance and established business and personal relationships with the leaders of the Academy. This uneducated man became a close personal friend of Superintendents, admirals, and the military elites. These relationships would benefit his family and his friends.
One of John’s close personal friends was Rip Miller, the Academy Athletic Director. Mr. Miller was one of Seven Mules of Notre Dame who played football with the Four Horsemen of Notre Dame coached by the legendary coach Knute Rockne. Mr. Miller was responsible for assisting John’s brother-in-law, Tom Sofos, and many other children of John’s friends to get into the Naval Academy. Friends for life, these two men changed the lives of many who knew him. They did so without recognition or expectation of gratitude.
The 1950s economic “lesson” given by the Academy to the City occurred when the Naval Academy paid its employees with $2 bills. The City merchants were flooded with $2 bills prompting concerns that the money was counterfeit. Many merchants called John about this and in his imitable style told them that the Academy did this to “teach all of us a lesson.” A lesson the City’s merchants never forgot. The Academy remains our City’s jewel and remains an economic force.
A historical perspective of Johnny’s life must include the City he loved, the Church he was committed to build, and the people he respected and worked with. He and his family lived on Munroe Court in Annapolis and then on Murray Avenue. On Munroe Court lived Italians, Germans, Greek, Cypriot, and Jewish families. These families shared similar ancestral realities. Over the millennia their ancestors lost everything for nothing they did. Ingrained within their DNA was the recognition that no matter how good a given day was, they must prepare for a tomorrow which could be worse. More importantly, they understood that no matter how bad a given day was, tomorrow could be better. It was always about the future for their families. Their path to prosperity was similar. Learn English, educate their children, and work hard.
He was involved in the politics of the time, hosting dinners for Governor Tawes and local City politicians. He recognized that assimilation and hard work were required for success. Among his friends were Henry Hammer and his wife Helen. They were good and kind people, without hatred in their hearts, and they were an inspiration to all of us. He and his wife’s forearms bore the tattooed numbers they received while imprisoned in a Nazi concentration camp. Annapolis’s great Jewish families, the Feldmans, Hyatts, Earls, Finklesteins, Turks, Katcefs, and so many others have always been good, kind, decent, and hardworking people. No one could know these people and not understand the evil of Anti-Semitism. Mr. Williams, Mr. Abe, and Mr. Sonny were African American employees who were respected by the Greek and Cypriot families they worked for and returned this respect with love and dedication. Their employers recognized the pain these good people endured through segregation. They were second class citizens themselves for many years. Many had experienced this pain. They reluctantly operated their businesses during segregation and many felt shame for abiding by the “rules” of segregation. John told the story of refusing service to an African American professor who worked at the Naval Academy. He told this story to his son George with tears in his eyes. He and Nora ensured that their children would never succumb to racism and bigotry.
The Cypriot families who came to Annapolis were drawn to Annapolis by the success of John and the Cypriots who followed him. Sam Pantelides, head of another good and successful family, was Johnny’s best man. Zacharia Petros, John’s cousin who was born in the same Cypriot village, followed John to Annapolis where they worked together in the Presto restaurant. When the Turks invaded Cyprus, their families’ land was taken from them. Many years later, during a trip to their family’s homeland, John’s children were talking to their cousin’s wife while swimming in the Mediterranean in front of a Turkish hotel which was previously owned by Kathe Piera’s family. The Turks took this waterfront property without compensation. During this conversation, Annapolis was mentioned. A man’s head popped out of the Mediterranean water and asked, “Are you talking about Annapolis, Maryland?” Elaine responded, “You know Annapolis, Maryland?” The man replied, “Yes, my cousin Roula works at Chris’s Charcoal Pit.” The Christoforou family remains one of the best families in Annapolis. Chris Christoforou, a devoted member of the Church, worked tirelessly on behalf of the Church and its Cypriot community.
There are so many “heroes” who touched Johnny’s life – too many to mention all of them:
John & Marge Christo – no one was more kind. Few did more for Annapolis or their community.
Joe Alton & Pip Moyer – they were always on the right side of history with respect to their desire to end discrimination. During the riots which occurred after Martin Luther King’s death, Pip and his friend, Zastrow Simms, walked the City tirelessly to prevent the rioting which occurred in so many cities.
Cleo and Mamie Apostol – Mamie was sweet and kind and loved her church. Cleo was a founding member of the SS. Constantine & Helen Greek Orthodox Church. He lived in Chicago and worked in the restaurant at which the Valentine’s Day Massacre occurred.
Charley Pastrana and his family – Charley and his brother coached little league teams, the Presto team being perennial champions. Charley’s brother Henry was a professional boxer. The brother’s fistfights with one another were legendary. They remain a family of good, kind, and hardworking people. The family concrete business continues today. In the late ’50s and early ’60s kids would walk sidewalks and when they stepped on a section bearing a Pastrana seal they would punch each other on the arm. Concrete sections on Maryland Avenue’s sidewalks still bear the Pastrana seal.
Mike and Kathe Piera – Mike remains one of the smartest and kindest people we have known. All he touched were better because of it. These good people built Mike’s Bar & Crab House in Riva and they provided sanctuary for the Cypriot families who followed them to Annapolis. Kathe Piera still works at the restaurant and is responsible for making her family one of the great families of Annapolis.
Charley and Chris Samaras – Driven from their family’s West Virginia business by the Ku Klux Klan, they came to Annapolis and became contributors to the City and our Church. They would take John in his wheelchair to the racetrack where they acted like children and bet on every horse in the race so they could declare themselves winners. Families who were always good kind, and hardworking.
The list of good people in John’s life would be endless. John brought his brother Arthur and sister Irene to Annapolis from Cyprus. Arthur decided to return to Cyprus. Arthur’s son, George Muskovou, a successful businessman in Cyprus, remained close to his family and Cypriot friends in Annapolis. Irene remained in Annapolis and worked until she retired at the Naval Academy laundry – always tough, kind, and hardworking.
John and Nora had five children. Patricia, Elaine, George, Thomas, and Nick.
Patricia Kallis Diamondidis – John’s daughter, a remarkable woman who started her one-person construction company at the age of 48 and built it into a company with over 300 employees. Invited twice to the White House by President Bush. She retired as the Woman Owned Contractor of the Year in Maryland.
Elaine Kallis Vassos – John’s daughter, worked 61 years for the same company until she retired at the age of 81. Good, kind, devoted to her family and church, she remains the jewel of the Kallis family.
George Kallis – John’s son, a true hero – awarded the Bronze Star for valor in the Vietnam war. Like his sisters – good, kind, hardworking, and successful.
Tommy Kallis – Worked with his sister Pat and in many ways was her protector. He was everyone’s friend.
Nick Kallis – Still lives and works in Annapolis. He served on the Church Board during the construction of our new Church located on Riva Road.
Physically, John was small in stature but he always possessed the heart of a lion. While working in the restaurant kitchen he slipped and his hand fell in the deep fryer. It was June Week, the restaurant had a waiting line down West Street. His restaurant, the Presto, was located at 60 West Street. He pulled his hand out of the fryer, wrapped it in ice, and continued to work until the restaurant closed. Without legs, he remains the biggest man we have ever known.
John was committed to building a church in Annapolis. There is a reason why every fundraising story about the church begins with “Johnny Kallis and I.” He pursued this goal tirelessly and he would not accept no when he raised money for his church. Cleo Apostol told me that “John was younger than the rest of us but he was the leader who was responsible for building our Church.” After he lost his legs, he continued his efforts on behalf of the Church, cooking for Church fundraisers and festivals. These efforts continued until the day he died. As stated above, John lost both his legs due to disease and lived seven more years. He overcame this as he overcame everything else. Greatness comes in many forms. The journey began at the age of 13 and no obstacle prevented the fulfillment of his dream to live in America and make a difference in the lives of those he lived with.
The stories of John’s pursuit of funds to build our church are legendary. During a visit to one Greek restaurateur’s restaurant, John, disappointed about the person’s failure to contribute, took the cash register. In many ways, he did all of the reluctant contributors a favor. Many of these people and their families viewed themselves as devoted contributors to their Church. John pushed and pushed so many. John’s name was on the raffle tickets sold to continue fundraising for the Church. Throughout his life, both with and without his legs, he continued his contributions to his Church and its parishioners.
Our original Church was located on Constitution Avenue. The Greek and Cypriot children of these founding families continued their parents’ legacy. With vision and commitment they sold Church property, purchased and then sold investment property which resulted in the beautiful church located at 2747 Riva Road. Smart and good people, with the assistance of our parish priest, Kosmas Karavellas, continued the efforts of their parents to build a magnificent place of worship for our community. In many ways George Nikiforou continued the fundraising efforts on behalf of the Church selling tens of thousands of dollars of John Kallis raffle tickets.
The constants in John’s life were hard work and the appreciation and respect for education. He saw that the education of his children was one gift which would last him a lifetime. He expected all to work hard to help themselves, but he was always there to help when needed. Like the Presto hours, John lived his life from 5:00 a.m. to 2:00 a.m., seven days a week.
The pictures attached are snapshots of his life’s journey.
John & Nora’s Wedding
John & Nora’s Engagement
International Festival sponsored by the Annapolis Greek community to benefit the United Greek Orthodox Charities that brought 50,000 people to Sandy Point State Park Sept 21-24 1972
Left to right: Father George Papademitriou, Honorary Chairman Governor Marvin Mandel, John Kallis seated
Greek Festival in Glen Burnie 1970s; John Kallis seated with Chairman George Hadjis standing directly behind him,
Left to right: Unknown, unknown, George Hadjis, Mike Kokkinos with salt shaker in hand, Unknown young volunteer, Danny Tsamouras, John Kyriacou at end
Nora’s daughter Pat, Nora, Nora’s grandmother, and Nora’s mother
Nora’s mother, Nora, her daughter Pat, and Pat’s daughter Elaine
Nora’s brother Tom Sofos
Cyprus Society of Greater Washington Dinner- Sheraton Park- 1969
Left to right: Anna Nicholas, Florence Nicholas, Dr. Steve Abramedis, George Nikiforou, Angie Nikiforou, Nora Kallis, John Kallis, Margie Pantelides, Sam Pantelides
John Kallis, Chris Samaras, Sam Pantelides and Charlie Samaras” enjoying themselves at a church fundraising event- 1960’s
The Saints Constantine and Helen Greek School- Picture taken outside of the Green St. Elementary School- 1942
Front Row Seated Left to right: Katherine Leanos, Mary Bounelis, Elaine Kallis, John Apostol, Patty Kallis, Electra Pistolis
Middle Row: Bobby Svolos (holding American Flag), Scenie Pappas, Athena Katserelas, Stella Christo, Mrs. Kyria Niki Gerogolako – Greek School Teacher, Athena Pistolas, Catherine Bounelis, Eva Alvanos,
Back Row: George Manis, Anna Agapitos Nichols, Helen Leanos, Angie Nichols, John Alvanos (holding the Greek Flag)
Unknown, Charles Pastrana, Ruth Pastrana, John, Nick Fotos
Back row standing: George Kallis, Arthur Muscovou, Tom Kallis
Front row seated: Elaine Kallis Vassos, Nick Kallis, Patricia Kallis Diamondidis
From left to right: Nick Vassos, Elaine Kallis Vassos, Nora Kallis, Patricia Kallis Diamondidis, John Kallis, Nick Kallis, Tom Kallis, George Kallis