A History of St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church
Paula Massa Anderson
June 3, 1994
Dedicated to the Memory
St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church
John & Ann Cyphers
Nicholas was chosen as the patron saint for the new building because
his feast day falls in December, a time of year when sheepmen
traditionally could be in town for religious observances. St. Nicholas
is the patron saint of widows and orphans.
the hill at the southwest corner of 12th Street and Horizon Drive in
Grand Junction stands St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church. The
Byzantine-style building was erected in 1991 for congregational
worship. But the building represents much more than that. It stands as
a visible testament to the commitment of a community that germinated
from the earliest days of Greek immigration to Colorado.
began in the early 1900’s with the arrival of the first Greek
immigrants. The mother country had recently shed the yoke of Turkish
rule, and many were eager to take advantage of their new freedom.
Among the first arrivals to the Grand Valley were Peter Jouflas,
Angelo Theos, Tom Lepinotes and Louis Eliopoulos.
understand the Greek culture at that time is to understand its
history. Nearly 400 years of Turkish occupation precluded any
educational advantages. It also precluded free worship. Anything
learned was passed by word-of-mouth.
a result, the Greeks who traveled across the Atlantic were without
formal education. But they were willing to work hard. A skill they
brought with them was raising sheep. It was a skill that would provide
them a living in Colorado.
this community of Greek immigrants had found a settling place, their
spiritual journey continued. Through their toil and efforts to survive
in this new country, through their care and nurturing of each other,
and through their commitment to spiritual growth, they emerged as a
community that lives its beliefs.
that reason, their history necessarily means looking first at the
church community before we speak of the building.
THE GREEK COMMUNITY
Jouflas was a sheepman when he arrived in the Grand Valley in 1918 as
a young man. He was one of the first Greek immigrants to settle here.
Most paying jobs to be had were on the railroad or in the mines. Peter
secured a job with the railroad, and was able to get fellow countrymen
employed as they arrived. Eventually, as each gained enough money to
buy land and sheep, they began living the life style they knew best.
of the language problem, and to survive, they had to do this enclave
thing. One would get work and they would just try to get everybody
else on. This lasted until they started to branch out with sheep
because that’s what most of them knew from Greece, and that’s the only
thing that was really open for them. Here they were, uneducated with
few language skills ... that’s what they knew, and that’s what they
did.” Chris Jouflas
households were established, they became the centers of social
activity for the Greek community. They were looked to for camaraderie,
but, more importantly, as nurturing ties to the traditions and customs
that bonded them together in this new country. For the Greek bachelors
working in the outlying areas, the family homes were their
destinations when they came to town to observe religious holidays of
Christmas and Easter.
frequent occasion for social gatherings was “name days” commemorating
the lives of the saints. Families would host an open house if a family
member was named after the saint whose day was being celebrated. Such
festive gatherings were held in lieu of birthdays. Preparation of the
foods that would be served would begin days in advance.
were three homes as I remember them growing up in the ’30s ... and
ours was one of them ... where these old Greek bachelors ... they
immigrated as young men and there weren’t any Greek women here, and so
a lot of them never did marry ... and they would gather at our house
or at the homes of the other families.” Chris Jouflas
can remember they would gather in one of the houses and they would
have dinner with the families. We as little kids would sit off to the
side ... we’d be off in the corner to ourselves ... and we loved that.
After dinner they sat around telling stories, and they would sing
sometimes ... these acapello songs and the folk dances ... And they
would have their wine and their fruit and their walnuts as dessert and
would visit ... and each one would take a turn leading the dancing.”
did not grow rapidly. Many of the immigrants arrived as bachelors and
remained so until they died. Greek women usually immigrated only if
they came with their families, or if they already had relatives here
with whom they could live. For those reasons, the Greek men far
outnumbered the Greek women and so weddings were rare occurrences.
was not uncommon for a Greek immigrant bachelor to send most of his
wages back to Greece towards the wedding dowry of an unmarried sister.
Any match a bachelor might secure for himself would usually be made by
traveling back to Greece. Once these bachelors were financially secure
enough to take a wife, they were often in their late 30s or 40s, or
even older. Their brides were usually much younger, often by as much
as 10 or 20 years.
those days, marriages were arranged.
illustrate this link, my mother and father (Peter and Dorothy Jouflas)
were married in 1924 at the La Court Hotel. This was a huge event.
This was a courtship of one week. Mrs. Eliopoulos was from Amalias,
Greece. My mother was from Amalias, Greece, also. Mrs. Eliopoulos knew
she was here and she saw my father, met him and knew him ... and here
was a man of substance, in her mind.”
she wrote to my grandmother ... my mother’s mother ... in New York and
said, ‘Bring your daughter out here. I have a groom for her.’ And out
they came, and they were married.” Chris Jouflas
Williams had the good fortune to be a part of a more formal parish
when she was growing up in Pocatello, Idaho. She brought the religious
practices she learned to Grand Junction when she arrived in 1936, the
young bride of Tom Psahoulias Williams.
of Pauline Sarantopoulos’s earliest memories of religious practices
came from visits to the Williams home.
lot of these people came from a formal church. I remember that spirit
permeating when I would visit in her (Helen’s) home, where perhaps my
grandmother and people I would touch upon were truly illiterate ...
but they did bring the church with them because they brought what
orthodox church is. They brought the lives of the saints with them,
and they knew when those particular vigils were observed.” Pauline
though the community observed traditions, they were without spiritual
guidance. In the early days, priests would arrive from Salt Lake City
or Denver to perform baptisms, weddings or funerals. Once in awhile, a
priest would be present for a religious holiday. If not, families
would travel to where services were being held.
priest came down, then we’d have liturgy, or we’d have church. I
remember as a child we’d drive to Price, Utah ... It was an important
visit for us for those times to receive communion, which was what
really unifies us.” Pauline Sarantopoulos
the ’30s, many of those early families attended Sunday services at the
Episcopal church at 4th and White because the liturgy was similar to
that of the Greek Orthodox religion.
their understanding of the liturgy was limited. The generation that
grew up in the ’40s gleaned their sense of a religion mainly by
modeling their parents.
people who we were modeling had experienced it (the religion) in a
different way, and we modeled from that. But as we modeled, we were
lacking in knowledge of what we were doing ... formal theology.”
can remember we would go to funerals of people we did not know, we
would be celebrating feast days that we really didn’t know the life of
that particular saint ... that we only went because it was that
hostess that was doing it. It was only years later that all of that
began to come together.” Pauline Sarantoupolos
the first church hall was built, services were held at the old Labor
Temple at the corner of Seventh Street and Rood Avenue, or at the VFW
Hall on North First Street. Despite the fact that Sunday services were
rare, the community was steadily strengthening its spiritual bond
through a fabric of nurturing and support.
parents lived the religion ... they still do. It’s a belief that they
had. The obstacles they had to overcome just to survive ... just to
accomplish what they did.” Chris Jouflas
THE FIRST BUILDING
those original families saw their children growing up, they felt the
importance of passing their religion down to them.
about a central gathering place first began to take place in the late
’40s, after World War II, when the community had a number of growing
it wasn’t until 1956 when Father Shepherd arrived from Price, Utah,
that the idea to build a church crystallized into a commitment.
Sarantopoulos remembered his advice:
said, ‘You should have your own church. There are enough of you.’“
suggested that the community sponsor a youth group ---the Greek
Orthodox Youth of America (GOYA). And Jane Eliopoulis took that upon
herself. And we all voted that down at the VFW ... And that’s when we
launched the events to start raising money (to build a church.)”
first fundraiser was a Greek smorgasbord dinner at the Redlands
Country Club. Sophia Theos, Gus Theos’s wife, is credited with the
fun that we had in pulling that off! It was the first time that I felt
we had ever done something in the community that was received. I
think, as a Greek American, that was important to me. Then, because I
was in the public school system, we went on to Tope School and had
that next event. I think there was a sense of pride of being
associated with something that people look forward to.” Pauline
popular Yasou Ball, held each year in March, is a continuation
of those annual fundraisers.
the ladies helped. Everything was from scratch. It took several weeks
to get everything done. We’d make baklava one week, let’s say, and
melomacarona (brown cookies) the next week ... and kourabiethes
(wedding cookies) ... karethopeta (honey walnut cake). It was a lot of
fun. We’d laughed and have coffee afterwards.” Helen Williams
church members recognized that by supporting those fundraisers, the
Grand Junction community greatly contributed to the construction of
the new church. Their generosity was appreciated.
1956, George Jouflas and Gus Eliopoulos approached Bob Daniels about
buying a building site. Daniels owned between seven and ten acres that
included the present church site.
wanted $3,000 an acre for the land, but he agreed that if the church
were interested in a purchase, he would return $2,000 of that price as
a donation to the church. The actual cost, then, would be $1,000 an
prospect wasn’t enthusiastically received by everyone, because that
part of town was still very rural.
was nothing out here. There was Twelfth Street coming out and it was
just a graveled road.” Chris Jouflas
they finally agreed to buy an acre and a half of the Daniels property
for a church site.
had a meeting ... that was wild getting everybody together to give so
much money. We have the note that everybody signed and paid off.”
gave a lot, and some gave a little, but everyone gave what they could.
Mahleres recalls that his father-in-law, Angelo Theos, made his
donation at the urging of his wife, Mary Theos. She was adamant that
the planning for a church building begin because her father was a
priest in Greece, and for that reason, preservation of religious
practices was very important to her. Other initial contributors
included Peter Jouflas, Charles Simadas and George Diamenti.
the building site was on a hill was significant because Greek villages
are all built on hillsides, reminiscent of the days when the Greeks
had to protect themselves from the Turks.
first structure, which is now the western section of the present
church, was designed by Robert Hightower, a Grand Junction architect.
Gus Eliopoulos played a major role in collecting bids and overseeing
the construction project. On April 10, 1958, a contract was signed
with O.L. Hermans to start the building.
plan was to build a meeting hall where they could gather for social
events and liturgical services. Eventually they would build a
sanctuary, and in the orthodox custom, it would face the East.
Jouflas died in 1957 just before that first phase was completed. In
1958, St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church was incorporated in the State
of Colorado. That year it was also granted an ecclesiastical charter
from the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of North and South America.
total cost of that initial project was $36,000, most of which was
raised through donations and memorial contributions from members of
the Greek Community. The $12,000 balance was paid off through proceeds
from the annual fundraisers.
drawings and models would be proposed for the remainder of the
project, but, for one reason or another, they would be put aside. They
remained put aside for nearly 40 years.
there were a lot of us because we were growing up. My generation was
growing up and there were a lot of the kids still around and that sort
of thing, and the families were still here and we had numbers. We just
sort of held a status quo.”
the late ‘50s, Pauline Sarantopoulis began teaching regular Sunday
school classes to the children.
was our first and only Sunday school teacher because she took our kids
... she took everybody’s kids ... and that’s where the nucleus is of
our going forward with everything.” Chris Jouflas
was Father Asimocopolos who helped to focus her efforts through his
encouragement and guidance. He arrived in the mid 60s. Father
Asimocopolos was a natural teacher, and his mentoring only increased
Pauline’s enthusiasm and love of teaching. That dedication became an
impetus for more formalized worship.
what the old timers saw ... and they were willing to do what they were
going to do when they saw this happen.” Chris Jouflas
community was still lacking regular weekly services with a priest, and
Pauline Sarantopoulos was particularly sensitive to this void.
just had a sadness because I felt that the doors should be opened on
Sunday. It troubled me that the doors were closed.” Pauline
she knew that they were destined to have a sanctuary for worship.
can remember standing at the very icons that are now at St. Nicholas
in the sanctuary, and standing there with the children in front of the
icon of Christ ... and over to the mother of God ... with this whole
little group of truly pious little souls ... untouched. I really would
feel that we could move forward.” Pauline Sarantoupolos
THE COMPLETION OF THE SANCTUARY
impetus to complete the building project presented itself in the
arrival of Dr. Bruce Ward, his wife, Rose, and their three children in
the late ‘60s.
wife is Armenian. Because of her Orthodox background we wanted our
children to have that Christian background. At that time the only
services that were here were on an occasional Saturday when a priest
would come from Price, Utah. This was in the late 60s. My children
were caught up in this, and so I got caught up in it.” Bruce Ward
was during Holy Week in 1970, when no one anticipated that a priest
would arrive for services, that Dr. Ward placed a phone call to the
archdiocese requesting that a priest be sent. The request was granted.
This was a significant accomplishment because during this particular
Holy Week there were about 15 churches in a 13-state area without a
in his innocence called and asked the archdiocese for a priest to be
sent here. That was the first time we ever had Holy Week here.”
was when Father Erenous Chures arrived. He was the first priest to
serve the community on a regular basis.
realized what a vacuum we’d been operating in. With Father Chures we
began to get focused and we didn’t want to give that up. We wanted
more.” Pauline Sarantopoulos
time was ripe to continue with their plans for the church project.
Steven Prodromidis encouraged the resumption of the building project
in the late ‘80s, and was closely involved in the planning. At that
point about $80,000 had been collected through donations over the
years. Whenever anyone sold anything, they would make a contribution
from their profits. Memorial contributions were another source of
community enlisted the services of Ed Chamberlain, a Grand Junction
architect, to draw up some plans, but progress again slowed when the
projected cost of the sanctuary came in at $350,000.
Jouflas then decided to contact his friend, Jim Wilson, who was a
local builder. Jim’s son, Trent, who worked with his father during the
summer, was studying architecture at Arizona State University.
said he could build it (the church) for $150,000, and I believed him.
And the thing was to get everybody else to believe him. And they did.
One evening we had a meeting and we said, ‘Why don’t we go ahead an
build it?’“ Chris Jouflas
so Jim and Trent Wilson were commissioned to design and build the
sanctuary. Trent assumed the task of researching Byzantine-style
architecture and the background of Greek church structures so that he
could draw up the plans for the new building.
couldn’t get anybody else to design the Byzantine style. I don’t know
if they could visualize what we wanted. But anyway, Trent got in there
with his dad and they started building ... no contract ... no lawyers
... just a mutual trust.” Chris Jouflas
began in April, 1991. The cost of the project eventually reached a
final total of $180,000. Though the Grand Junction community was just
barely recovering from the economic disaster of the oil shale bust of
the early ‘80s, they managed to secure a loan from Central Bank for
$50,000 to finish the project through the efforts of Steve Love, one
of the bank officers.
adornment for the new building was carefully selected. Chris and
Connie Jouflas visited a Greek church in Rockville, Maryland, and were
impressed enough with a brass icon screen that they wanted to give a
similar screen to the new church as a memorial. However, an actual
brass screen would have been too costly, and so the Jouflases talked
with a local welder, Earl Norris, who was also a talented artisan, to
see if he could create a replica.
drawing was copied from a photograph of the screen, and Norris
followed the drawing. Instead of brass, Connie Jouflas rubbed
sand-blasted tube steel with a platinum gold material to get the same
that screen were mounted the original icon paintings donated over the
years by members of the community. Tom Winne, of Mesa, carved the gold
leaf panels below the paintings. The paintings had been in the
original building, as was the altar which was a gift of Mary Theos.
When the new santuary was completed, those treasures were relocated
and Rose Ward designed the Greek cross as their memorial gift now
mounted on the dome of the church. The beautiful chandeliers and
sconces that hang in the sanctuary were a memorial gift of Angie
Cholas. The stained glass windows were crafted by Lorin Merriam,
another local artisan. They are a memorial gift of Louis T. Lepinotes.
first services in St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church were held in
finishing touch will be the landscaping of the church lot, and then
the church building those original Greek immigrants dreamed of will be
a visit to Grand Junction just before Holy Week in 1994, Pauline
Sarantopoulos reminisced about the development of this unique project.
Like many in this small congregation, she believes what they
accomplished together was very special.
had a miracle here. The fact that we can have thirty-three or more
members in a community that has a priest that comes on a regular
basis, and that this facility is used ... When you consider the number
of churches in America ... five hundred ... maybe six hundred churches
... this is a miracle to have it between two major cities (Salt Lake
City and Denver).” Pauline Sarantopoulos
the real miracle lies with the community itself.
people have grown spiritually because they’re focused on Christ. If
there had been past tensions or misunderstandings, or goals that were
not articulated as we all wanted them to be articulated, because we’ve
focused on Christ and his Church, then you see the fruits here because
everything else becomes secondary.”
that growth, you see those children that were catechized, and with
that, they went on with their families and have maintained that thread
... and that’s what is important here because that’s what being
orthodox is. The continuation and the body of Christ growing. That’s
why this is a miracle.”
observations by Pauline Sarantopoulos are reinforced for her when she
sees the results of her teaching efforts.
with a great deal of love in my heart that I see with what a little
effort, how that took and how those children have adhered to their
faith. I think it’s a predestined thing that happened.” Pauline
is significant, even now, that a priest arrives regularly for Sunday
services and holy days.
there are parishes around that have larger groups of families and have
a church building, they don’t have the services of a priest. I think
it’s to the dedication of the people in this community to not only
financially support a priest coming, but spiritually support his being
here.” Pauline Sarantopoulos
Samaras has served St. Nicholas parish since 1992.
priest feels it is particularly gratifying that services are well
fill it. This is a living church. It’s not a museum.”
believes their building project is a significant accomplishment,
especially because of where they are located.
perseverance is more manifest in the extremity of distance and the
sparsity of the community. It’s much more difficult to maintain their
heritage in the face of the desert. For as small as they are they have
successfully built an amazing parish.” Father Samaras
has been a big part of Helen William’s life. Her husband, Tom, would
always bring people home for dinner who had stopped by their grocery
store during the day.
would come by our store, then everybody’d come to the house. He’d feed
everybody! They’d come and buy a few groceries, and then he took them
home and fed them!” Helen Williams
husband was in the grocery business with his cousin, Mr. Eliopoulos.
When Mr. Eliopoulos died, Tom stayed on and helped his wife. Tom
stayed in that store even after she left.”
we went to Colorado Avenue and had a little grocery store, and we were
there for several years. Afterwards, my husband turned the store over
to one of our sons.
stayed there for awhile and then we moved up on First Street, and we
started a grocery store there, my son did, and we all helped. It was
more like a family. We kept it open from seven in the morning until
eleven at night.”
Williams store was more than a place to buy groceries. It was a
gathering place where the Greek bachelors could catch up on all the
community news when they came to town. The store was located on First
had a little place in the back ... even a little stove ... and he’d
cook and the bachelors mostly would go back there. They’d eat. They’d
have a heck of a time. They’d play cards back there ... just like one
happy family.” Helen Williams
Connie Jouflas’s parents were Greek immigrants. She grew up in Craig,
but because the Greek communities in Craig and Grand Junction
coordinated their services with the same priest, the Greek families
all knew each other. The marriages that occurred were between men and
women who literally grew up together.
mother tells the story of coming to Chris’s mother and dad’s house
because she was just coming over from Greece before she even had me.
She came to Catherine’s (Shiolas) wedding in 1935.”
often married men they had grown up with.
all had our eyes on certain boys. We all knew each other.” Connie
and Connie Jouflas married in 1953. They have four children: Georgann,
Peter, Denise and Steve.
Sarantopoulos was Connie’s bridesmaid. Helen Mahleres was her
matron-of-honor. Catherine Shiolas laughed as she remembered that her
car broke down en route to the Jouflas wedding, and she stopped in
Meeker and bought the last Chevrolet available that day.
father died when she was eleven, leaving her mother to run their large
sheep operation. Because her mother could not read or write, Connie
learned to read Greek from an uncle who lived nearby so that she could
read letters to her mother that arrived from Greek-speaking relatives.
a letter would come from Greece I would read this letter. I knew
nothing of what I was saying, but I would sound it out and she knew
exactly what I was saying.” Connie Jouflas
remembers that families were poor in those early days.
dad drove sheep from Price, Utah to Montrose. He didn’t have shoes. He
wore overshoes. They were so poor he couldn’t afford shoes.” Connie
of these sheep outfits were built in the 20s simply because after the
first World War there was a huge depression in the cattle industry.
The cowboys owned all the land. This was all cow country. Then the
banks took the land back, and guess who they gave it to? These
immigrants who had 1,000 sheep or whatever they did. The cowboys were
gone. They just came across the desert with their sheep. They had
worked on the coal mines, the railroads ... everywhere.” Chris Jouflas
Mahleres said her warmest memories are the times they offered support
to each other.
have someone to fall back on, and someone you can call, and you have
someone you can say, ‘I need help today, will you help me?’; ‘I need
someone to talk to.’ There’s not too many people in a religion that
have that closeness.”
had to build something to keep us together. You have to have a home to
have a family.” Helen Mahleres
warm memory for Catherine Shiolas was Jane Eliopoulos’s wedding in the
mid-60s. Jane was a leader for the young people in the community, and
everyone celebrated with her when she decided to marry Thano Johnson.
were parties and some planning and some dancing and some good times.
It was just a closeness that we were all very happy for the family.”
recalled that Tom Williams prepared the food for that wedding. He also
cooked for her own wedding in 1935.
also remembers sharing sadness with the Eliopoulos family because it
led to a greater spiritual awareness for her.
was thirteen or fourteen when Jane’s father died suddenly. We all got
together ... and, of course, we didn’t want Mrs. Eliopoulos to be
alone with the kids. So my aunt (Dorothy Jouflas) and I went to spend
the night with her. But it stuck in my mind in my youth because I
wasn’t aware of what death meant in a religious context. We didn’t
know what happened when a person died. Where did their spirit go? We
were all crushed because now she had to raise five children alone.”
Eliopoulos’s strong faith was comforting to Catherine during this
sensed that she was distraught, but she’d say ‘... the Lord will
Shiolas is one of the few original Greek settlers who remains. No
matter how far the community has spread, or the many years that have
passed, she believes that everyone who was a part of that original
community carries a reverence for what they shared.
were all friends. We were all very close to each other. Our lives have
been intertwined for over 50 years. We have been with everybody for
their happiness and their sadness.”
seems like people come and go ... but I guess it’s that bonding that
we all have ... even when people are away from here they keep in touch
with us and we keep in touch with them ... and every few years we try
to get together and find out how everybody’s faring and what’s going
on in their lives. It just seems like once they’ve been here, we never
really lose them.”
wedding of Peter and Dorothy Jouflas was a memorable occasion for
Catherine Shiolas, who was nine at the time. She was their niece, and
she was a flower girl at her aunt and uncle’s wedding. Later,
Catherine, whose maiden name was Lepinotes, would return to Grand
Junction to live with the Jouflases while they awaited the birth of
their first son, George.
mother, Christine Lepinotes, was Peter Jouflas’s sister. Her father’s
name was Tom Lepinotes. Tom arrived in this country in 1907, and his
wife, Christina, arrived in 1914. Louis T. Lepinotes is Catherine’s
brother, and Elizabeth Kopanos is her sister.
met her future husband, Paul, at one of the many gatherings at the
Jouflases. They were married in 1935.
died when their daughter, now Pauline Sarantopoulos, was three months
and Mary Theos arrived in Grand Junction in 1925 from Greece. They had
traveled to this country in 1914, but returned to Greece for a year
with their five sons in 1924. Angelo owned and operated a large sheep
ranch in Meeker. When their sons were old enough, they were brought
into the business. They included Nick; Gus and Bill, both deceased;
Tom and Mike. Helen, the youngest child and only daughter, was born
after they moved to Grand Junction. Dorothy and Peter Jouflas were her
met Nick Mahleres in Price, Utah because their families attended
liturgy services there. They were married in 1948. They have two
children, Harry and Marianna.
and Helen William’s actual last name is Psahoulias, but Tom decided to
simplify his name by taking his middle name, William, and adapting it
as a last name. Tom and Helen had three children: Danny and Bill
Williams, and Theodora Brehmer.