How The Bakeris Grandparents Got Started in America
Posted on 03/16/2017 at 03:10 PM by Dawn Gee
I know I’ve talked about my background before, but this time let’s go all the way back to my grandparents and how they both started from nothing. I think they are the reason why I got my strong work ethic. My father’s father (my grandfather), came from Greece along with his brother and father. He was around sixteen years old when they arrived at Ellis Island with the goal of building a better life. They came from the Greek island of Rhodes and the village of Paradisi. (I’ve been trying to get there since I was eighteen, and I finally got to visit there last year with my brother.)
The Bakeris family ended up in New York and migrated over to the Quad Cities Davenport, Iowa. They started off by shining shoes on the street corner back in the 1910s or 1920s. That’s when they learned how to speak English. My grandfather and his brother decided to start a dry cleaning business. He was very persistent, obviously, not knowing the language at first but still having the determination to make his business. I still truly believe that anything is possible here in America as long as you have the persistence and the motivation to work hard.
My grandpa died when I was 27, just out of college and married. He was always a true believer of treating people how you want to be treated. He went from growing up in a Greek speaking household to bringing his mom over here to the U.S. My mom tells us stories about Yaya (yaya is how we say grandma) when she was still dating my dad. They got married at around the age of 18 or 19. Yaya would be dressed entirely in black, with a black veil. She didn’t speak any English, and she was the stereotypical grumpy old Greek lady. Back then, they didn’t want any of the kids (my dad’s brothers and sisters) speaking Greek. They had to learn how to speak only English while out in public because things were different back then and they wanted to fit in.
My dad is 85 years old, but he remembers how to speak Japanese after being stationed in Japan. He can still speak it well to this day. The Bakeris family is very tight-knit and I still do stuff with my first cousins. They are like brothers to me, and we make about four or five trips a year to get together. We’re still close even though we’re spread across the U.S.
I always think about how my grandpa had an amazing work ethic. As a young kid, I remember when my mom would take me over to visit my grandpa’s dry cleaning business. My dad worked there before he got into roofing for himself. There was an old candy machine that would give Chiclets for five cents. I remember getting some Chiclets and watch the people busily pressing the laundry in the back. There were all Greek people there who didn’t speak any English. When I was little I wondered why they all spoke funny. Now that I’m older, I know that they were speaking Greek.
This is the story of how my grandpa got started. He and his brother got into investment properties, and that’s when my dad realized that he didn’t want to work for my grumpy grandpa. At the time, my dad worked at Farmall Tractor Quad City, a big industrial plant, and he also did some work for carpenters. My dad told my mom that he would quit and go into the roofing business. Mom said, “You’re going to do what? It’s the dead of winter and there’s a foot of snow on the roof.” My dad was determined to quit working at Farmall and get started. He still worked at the cleaners until he got established. After that, he never looked back.