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Saint Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church
Grand Junction, Colorado

Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople (AD 73)
Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America (AD 1922)
Greek Orthodox Metropolis of Denver (AD 1979)

METROPOLIS OF DENVER

A History of St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church
by
Paula Massa Anderson
June 3, 1994

Dedicated to the Memory
of the
Founders
of
St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church

A
Gift of
John & Ann Cyphers

St. 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.

*****

Atop 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.

It 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.

To 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.

As 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.

Though 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.

For that reason, their history necessarily means looking first at the church community before we speak of the building.

THE GREEK COMMUNITY

Peter 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.

“Because 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

As 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.

A 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.

“There 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

“I 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.” Chris Jouflas

Families 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.

It 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.

In those days, marriages were arranged.

“To 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.”

“So 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

Helen 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.

Some of Pauline Sarantopoulos’s earliest memories of religious practices came from visits to the Williams home.

“A 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 Sarantoupolos

But 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.

“The 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

During 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.

But 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.

“The 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.”

“I 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

Before 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.

“Our 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

As those original families saw their children growing up, they felt the importance of passing their religion down to them.

Conversation 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 families.

But it wasn’t until 1956 when Father Shepherd arrived from Price, Utah, that the idea to build a church crystallized into a commitment.

Pauline Sarantopoulos remembered his advice:

“He said, ‘You should have your own church. There are enough of you.’“

“He 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.)” Pauline Sarantopoulos

The first fundraiser was a Greek smorgasbord dinner at the Redlands Country Club. Sophia Theos, Gus Theos’s wife, is credited with the idea.

“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 Sarantopoulos

The popular Yasou Ball, held each year in March, is a continuation of those annual fundraisers.

“All 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

The 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.

In 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.

Daniels 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 acre.

The prospect wasn’t enthusiastically received by everyone, because that part of town was still very rural.

“There was nothing out here. There was Twelfth Street coming out and it was just a graveled road.” Chris Jouflas

But they finally agreed to buy an acre and a half of the Daniels property for a church site.

“They had a meeting ... that was wild getting everybody together to give so much money. We have the note that everybody signed and paid off.” Chris Jouflas

Some gave a lot, and some gave a little, but everyone gave what they could.

Nick 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.

That 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.

That 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.

The 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.

Peter 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.

The 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.

Different 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.

“Then 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.”

Chris Jouflas

In the late ‘50s, Pauline Sarantopoulis began teaching regular Sunday school classes to the children.

“Pauline 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

It 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.

“That’s what the old timers saw ... and they were willing to do what they were going to do when they saw this happen.” Chris Jouflas

The community was still lacking regular weekly services with a priest, and Pauline Sarantopoulos was particularly sensitive to this void.

“I just had a sadness because I felt that the doors should be opened on Sunday. It troubled me that the doors were closed.” Pauline Sarantopoulos

But she knew that they were destined to have a sanctuary for worship.

“I 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

Another 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.

“My 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

It 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 priest.

“Bruce 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.” Pauline Sarantopoulos

That was when Father Erenous Chures arrived. He was the first priest to serve the community on a regular basis.

“We 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

The time was ripe to continue with their plans for the church project.

Father 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 donations.

The 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.

Chris 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.

“Jim 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

And 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.

“We 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

Construction 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.

Each 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.

A 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 effect.

Upon 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 there.

Bruce 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.

The first services in St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church were held in December, 1991.

The finishing touch will be the landscaping of the church lot, and then the church building those original Greek immigrants dreamed of will be complete.

During 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.

“We 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

But the real miracle lies with the community itself.

The 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.”

“In 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.”

Those observations by Pauline Sarantopoulos are reinforced for her when she sees the results of her teaching efforts.

“It’s 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 Sarantopoulos

It is significant, even now, that a priest arrives regularly for Sunday services and holy days.

“Although 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

Father Samaras has served St. Nicholas parish since 1992.

The priest feels it is particularly gratifying that services are well attended.

“They fill it. This is a living church. It’s not a museum.”

He believes their building project is a significant accomplishment, especially because of where they are located.

“Their 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

OTHER MEMORIES

Cooking 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.

“Everybody 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

“My 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.”

“Then 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.

We 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.”

The 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 Street.

“Tom 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

Both 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.

“My 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.”

Women often married men they had grown up with.

We all had our eyes on certain boys. We all knew each other.” Connie Jouflas

Chris and Connie Jouflas married in 1953. They have four children: Georgann, Peter, Denise and Steve.

Pauline 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.

Connie’s 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.

“When 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

She remembers that families were poor in those early days.

“My 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 Jouflas

“Most 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

Helen Mahleres said her warmest memories are the times they offered support to each other.

“You 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.”

“We had to build something to keep us together. You have to have a home to have a family.” Helen Mahleres

A 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.

“There 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.”

Catherine recalled that Tom Williams prepared the food for that wedding. He also cooked for her own wedding in 1935.

She also remembers sharing sadness with the Eliopoulos family because it led to a greater spiritual awareness for her.

“I 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.”

Mrs. Eliopoulos’s strong faith was comforting to Catherine during this confusing time.

“We sensed that she was distraught, but she’d say ‘... the Lord will provide’.”

Catherine 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.

“We 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.”

“It 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.”

THE RELATIONSHIPS

The 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.

Catherine’s 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.

Catherine met her future husband, Paul, at one of the many gatherings at the Jouflases. They were married in 1935.

He died when their daughter, now Pauline Sarantopoulos, was three months old.

Angelo 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 baptismal godparents.

Helen 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.

Tom 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.

Email: fr.luke@denver.goarch.org
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