by Joanne Brew and Ted Siomporas
John Siomporas, the father of Tom Siomporas and grandfather of Ted Siomporas and Joanne Brew of the Annapolis Greek-American community, was a Greek immigrant from the mountainous region of Turkish-occupied Macedonia from the village Megali Sirini, outside of Grevena. He was the son of Athansios Siomporas and Despina Tzinoyianni. Born in 1887, John immigrated into America in 1907 via the S.S. Argentina, traveling from Patras, Greece to Ellis Island.
Thomas’ mother Annette was a Macedonian Vlachi who was born in Romania. Her parents, John Gumas and Aphrosini Alexi, who lived in the small village of Krania in the Grevena municipality, just outside of Grevena, Macedonia, were merchants who traversed the Balkans plying their trade of selling Greek agricultural products in Romania and returning to Macedonia with finished goods to sell. They were able to do this successfully because they were bi-lingual: as Vlachi, they spoke the Romanian dialect of Aromanian (a.k.a. “Vlachiko”). Pregnant Aphrosini, undeterred, traveled their usual route from Grevena to Bucharest, Romania, where she bore Annette in 1890.
John (at 28) married Annette Gumas, in Lowell, Massachusetts on February 6, 1910. Annette was a 20 year old Macedonian Vlachi factory worker who emigrated to Lowell via Boston in 1909. Her village of Krania was close to John’s village of Megali Sirini. They returned to Greece on the eve of the start of four Balkan wars. They had son Thomas in 1912, but John left his then-pregnant wife and son in Macedonia to go back to America to earn his fortune, and to duck conscription by the hated Turks for the pending World War as a member of the Central Powers vs. Western Europe, Greece and the USA.
John subsequently returned to the US to create wealth by working on railroad construction and in steel mills, for the planned family reunification in Greece. Mother Annette remained with John’s family in the village Megali Sirini, just outside Grevena, where she died during childbirth..
John remarried, to Fotini, in Donora, Pennsylvania in the 1920s.
Fotini encouraged young Thomas to come to Pennsylvania to live with his dad and her, and her daughter Chrysanthi, writing letters to Thomas, a teenage shepherd boy, but Thomas did not want to leave the pastoral life, and was wary of joining the young family in Pennsylvania. Moreover, young Thomas had a crush on a young Macedonian maiden. Several times, John Siomporas arranged one-way travel for Thomas, but each attempt to get Thomas to the US failed.
Grandkids Ted and Joanne fondly remember Papou John as the family head who had an extraordinary sense of humor. This included allowing them to take little tastes of his whiskey, and share the anchovies and cheese set out as appetizers at his card table in Donora, where he and other Macedonian steelworkers would assemble for frequent games of poker, and some Greek card games, where slamming cards hard on the table was a necessary part of the game. Papou loved fishing in the Chesapeake Bay – so much that some thought that he was an Annapolitan, due to his frequent visits from Pennsylvania.
→ Click here to view the anecdote “Tales of The Greek-American Fishermen”, including a story of fishermen Tom, John, and young Teddy Siomporas.
Thomas was a goat-herder who was raised by his Grandmother and his Father’s brothers, having to drop out of school after 3rd grade due to family poverty. After two abortive attempts to reunite with his father, which were foiled by Thomas’ fear of meeting with his Father’s new wife and his crush on a Macedonian farm girl, Thomas ultimately returned to the US on March 24, 1931, via the SS Saturnia and processed as a US Citizen via Ellis Island, after receiving a loving invitation from his stepsister and stepmother to reunite with his Dad and to join the family in Donora, Pennsylvania.
Thomas briefly worked in the US Steel mill in Monessen, Pennsylvania, which he promptly quit after witnessing a horrific workman’s fatality. He moved to New York City, to work in a Greek-owned bakery shop. Returning to Donora in the mid-1930s, he acquired a partnership in a diner in Braddock, Pennsylvania, which he described as being like a speakeasy, where patrons could drink alcohol, illegally. Upon legalization of beer sales, his facility became a legal bar, with the exclusive right to sell Iron City beer for a one mile radius. Tom related his memory of the first day after Prohibition was rescinded, customers were lined up for several blocks to get into his tavern. Business boomed, but in 1935 he sold his interest in the bar to pay off the remaining $7,000 mortgage on his Father’s family house in Donora. Thomas went back to work as a chef, subsequently starting another restaurant in Wilkensburg, Pennsylvania in 1936. During the late 1930s Thomas prospered. Unfortunately, he was drafted in 1940 (the first Pittsburgh area draftee) and compelled to sell his prosperous business for only the value of its fixtures. Thomas was discharged on December 5, 1941, then was almost immediately recalled to duty after Pearl Harbor was bombed two days later.
Katherine traveled on the S.S. Themostacles, arriving at Ellis Island on May 29, 1920, and accompanied by members of the greater Samaras family (Theodore’s brother George, wife Daphne, children Agorista, Konstantinos & baby Nicholas). They married in Annapolis on July 11, 1920, and honeymooned in Atlantic City:
Their journey ended at Theodore’s, George’s and brother Spiro’s apartment at 168 Main Street, Annapolis, where they lived for a while in crowded conditions, especially after Daphne (already with baby Nicholas G.) bore baby Chris, while Katherine bore babies Evangeline and Nicholas T, resulting in four simultaneous babies/toddlers.
The Great Depression led to multiple family relocations for Theodore, Katherine and children to: Eustis Florida, Jersey City, Baltimore’s Pimlico area, and back to Annapolis, to endure multiple business changes and poverty. Evangeline’s family re-settled in Annapolis in the early 1930s. They owned or worked in at least five different restaurant properties in downtown Annapolis, hitting a low point during the Great Depression when a previously thriving West Street restaurant at the foot of West Street was repossessed by a local bank.
Winding up running a luncheonette (Park Lunch diner) on Calvert Street, all teen Samaras children actively worked in the business. Evangeline used to chase rats with a broom and was burned by scalding coffee while helping operate the facility.
S&S Restaurant anniversary parties 1946-1949
Tom never forgot his Macedonian roots. In addition to hosting frequent social activities with immigrants from Grevena or the surrounding villages, Tom would frequently travel back to Greece in the Summer of many years in the 1950s-80s. He would stay with relatives in the village of Sirini, sometimes sleeping with a herd of goats. He pined for his Grandparents and Uncles who raised him up to age 19, frequently sending them money and contributing substantially to the reconstruction of the village church, damaged in wars with the Nazis and Communists.
Once, Tom was taken back by the uncanny similarity of two pieces of artwork of Old Greek villagers bearing an uncanny resemblance to his relatives in Greece who raised him. These ultimately adorned his Florida living room wall, described in → this anecdote
Thomas and Evangeline had three children and eleven grandchildren. Two children remain active in the Annapolis Greek-American community. Joanne Brew has been a business woman, financial manager, and women’s lacrosse coach and team trainer-developer. Theodore Siomporas is a semi retired consultant in Government contracting.