Editor’s note: Nick Poulos shared with the Winnsboro Rotary Club his family’s journey to Winnsboro. It is an example of hard work, tenacity and thankfulness. The following is his transcript, and just one of the many reasons he has to be thankful this Holiday season.
As our journey begins, I must pay tribute and honor to the countless men and women whom unselfishly laid their lives down so we could be and remain free.
For if not for those heroes, my American experience would not exist.
I will share with you the riches and blessings my family has received, by being allowed by our Creator, to live in the greatest country in the history of the world.
My grandfather, Nick Poulos, for which I share his name, was born in Peramos Greece in 1888. He arrived in America in 1909 where he worked on a ship, as a dishwasher, and lived in Norfolk Virginia. Nick moved to Galveston Texas in 1913, to live with his uncle. Prior to World War I, Nick was in the auxiliary Navy.
In Galveston, Nick became a business owner with a one-third interest in a fruit stand and a one-half interest in soda fountain on Murdock’s Pier. After about five years in Galveston, Nick was naturalized and became a citizen of the United States of America.
Nick left Galveston in 1921 on his way to Greece to find a bride. He traveled through Alexandria Louisiana because he had friends there from his home in Greece.
My grandmother, Emily Limneou, was born in Moschonissi Greece in 1903. When Emily was a teenager, a war between Greece and Turkey escalated to the point that her dad feared for the lives of this only children, two daughters.
In 1919, my grandmother and her sister, Maria, boarded a ship bound for the USA. After the seventeen day voyage, the ship arrived in Ellis Island, which served as the largest immigration center in the United States.
Unable to speak any English, Emily and Maria, headed for Alexandria Louisiana, where they had aunts that lived.
My grandparents met in Alexandria Louisiana in 1921, and my grandfather canceled his plans to return to Greece to get a bride.
Nick and Emily married in February 1922 in Alexandria. Both were strong in their faith, belonging to the Greek Orthodox Church from childhood.
They moved to Haynesville Louisiana where he ran a café. They lived there for a brief amount of time before returning to Galveston Texas to begin their family.
While in Galveston, Emily became a citizen and gave birth to a girl, Katherine, and a son, Tommy.
Around 1925, Nick’s uncle, who lived in Ruston Louisiana, told him that Ruston didn’t have any good cafes. Nick moved his wife and two young children to Ruston and opened the White House Café. My dad, Frank was born in 1926 and my aunt Caliope was born in 1932.
In Ruston, the café business was good to my family, and my grandfather expanded to Jonesboro with another café.
Nick ran the café in Jonesboro and Emily ran the café in Ruston, and Nick would travel back to Ruston two or three times a week to see his family.
My grandparents made many sacrifices for the family, but always placed God first in their lives.
The restaurants were opened from five in the morning until ten at night, seven days a week. On Thanksgiving Day, all proceeds from the restaurants went to the Methodist Children’s Home in Ruston.
Nick loved to fish and was told about Lake Louie in Catahoula Parish. He would travel there and fish when he could. On one trip, he stopped in Winnsboro to eat. He couldn’t find a café and decided that Winnsboro would be a great place to open another location. He needed someone to run it and he remembered a man he met in Texas that had fallen on some bad times.
After talking with him, Nick began securing a building and installing equipment and furniture. When almost complete, he got the man from Texas to come over and see the restaurant that he would be managing. Upon arrival, the man told Nick, “I’ve never ran anything more than a hotdog stand and I cannot run something like this.”
So what to do…Nick discussed this with Emily, and they decided to sell the Jonesboro café and Emily, along with Katherine and Frank, would run Ruston café and Nick and Tommy would run the Winnsboro café. Nick named it the Post Office Café because he opened the restaurant within weeks of when the post office opened.
After about a year, Emily tells Nick that the family will live together in Ruston or Winnsboro, but no longer separated. In 1933, Nick and Emily decide to sell the café in Ruston and move to Winnsboro. The family first lives in an apartment above the café, and eventually rents a home on Pine Street. In 1936, the family purchases a home on West Street.
Another daughter, Nike, is born in Winnsboro and the children are attending Winnsboro Elementary and then Winnsboro High School.
Nick and Emily continue the tradition of giving to the Methodist’s Children home in Ruston and attending Greek Church in Shreveport.
Nick and Emily purchase forty acres outside of Winnsboro and have a small farm and a chicken coop to support the café.
As the war begins to rage in Europe, Tommy and Frank enlist in the US Navy.
Tommy entered the US Navy after graduating from Tulane University in 1942. He trained in Ashbury Park New Jersey and Chicago Illinois. Tommy served in Pearl Harbor, Guam, Marshalls, Gilberts, Carolines, Okinawa and Palaus on the USS Armadella.
My dad, Frank, graduated from Winnsboro High School in 1944 and entered the US Navy. He trained in San Diego and served at the Okanawa Seaplane Base.
When the opportunity arrived that Tommy’s ship was in the harbor in Okanawa, Tommy and Frank, along with many other men from Franklin Parish met up.
I can only imagine the young men talked about high school football games, girlfriends at home and of course the war experiences and places each had been in the Pacific.
After the war in 1946, Tommy and Frank returned to Winnsboro. Tommy had an architect degree and worked for himself until accepting a job with J.A. Harper in Crowville.
Frank attended Louisiana Tech and worked for T.J. Owen building houses.
Nick and Emily sold the café in Winnsboro in 1948, while continuing to work on the farm and fish.
My dad came to Crowville to work for Mr. Harper and in 1956, he and Tommy purchased Crowville Mercantile.
Tommy continued his work with building roads, bridges and building with Mr. Harper, while Frank ran Crowville Mercantile, a general grocery and hardware store.
In 1960, Frank and Tommy purchased Pack-A-Sack Grocery and constructed a new building to house both businesses.
Here comes the red-headed Baptist…
My mom, Janice Emmons, and dad met on a blind date arranged by Travis and Janette Hernandez. After dating for six years they married in the Greek Church in Monroe and lived in Crowville.
Janice accepted Jesus Christ as her Lord and Savior in 1950 at Ridge Avenue Baptist Church in West Monroe during Vacation Bible School. She was a member of the first graduating class of West Monroe High School and a telephone operator until her marriage.
She then worked alongside my dad in the store until me and my brother were born. Our dad also farmed about two hundred acres of cotton with a couple of John Deere 4020 tractors and we picked cotton with a used two row cotton picker.
Our dad passed away in 1988, two weeks before my high school graduation. Our mom took the sole responsibility of rearing two teenage boys and operating a grocery and hardware store to put us through college.
She was a member of Crowville First Baptist Church for more than fifty years where she sang in the choir, served in various leadership positions and taught Sunday School.
Prior to our Uncle Tommy’s death in 2014, he reminded us that he and our dad had never received metals from their service in WWII.
I asked if he wanted to get the metals and he would say, “We will do that one day.” So after his death, our family contacted Congressman Abraham and we participated in a most humbling ceremony, along with other families, to receive the metals. What an honor to be awarded our dad’s metals some seventy-three (73) years after he earned them.
Our mom passed away in 2018, after a twenty-six (26) year battle with cancer, much stronger in her faith, her devotion to her family and her firm belief in God supported her struggle and ultimately gave her peace.
There are so many ways we can count our blessings…
The blessing of loving parents that made so many sacrifices, and taught us about the ultimate sacrifice that Jesus made for all, and how we should serve Him and love our neighbors as we love ourselves, so their two sons could be first generation college graduates;
The blessing that our dad and uncle, first generation Americans, along with countless other men and women enlisted into the US Armed Forces so that aggression in Europe and Asia would not be the end of the freedoms we hold so dear.
The blessing that our grandparents, leaving a country the both loved, to seek the American dream, found their way to a little town in northeast Louisiana without a café, which became our home some ninety (90) years ago.
My challenge for you is to search yourself and identify those people in your past that helped with your journey. If they are still with us, thank them.
We are not alone in this American experience. Find ways that you can pay it forward. Volunteer, serve, help, teach, and share…
As my family’s American journey began 130 years ago, what an awesome experience it’s been.
But 100 years from now, it will not matter what my bank account was, the sort of house I lived in, or the kind of car I drove… but the world may be different and better place because I was important in the life of a child.
I believe that Benjamin Franklin summed it up best…
Tell me and I forget.
Teach me and I remember.
Involve me and I learn.
So as I look forward, I am reminded that it’s always been about God, Family and Country.