Life was challenge for Greek immigrants

By Don McAlavy: CNJ columnist

Editor’s note: This is the second of a two-part column on the Asimos family, which came to Clovis from Greece. Also, last week’s column incorrectly reported that Italian soldiers were invited into the Asimos home during World War II. Family members said the soldiers were German and they were not invited.

After arriving in the United States in 1945 from Greece by ship via Italy, France and Egypt, Tom Asimos’ wife and children headed for Clovis. First, Tom stopped in Dallas where two uncles entertained them all for two weeks and gave them a paid shopping spree at Neiman Marcus.
They finally reached Clovis and Tom showed off his Bus Terminal Coffee Shop across from Hotel Clovis on East Second St. He had also bought a furnished home for his family, American style, complete with a mortgage. Tom, being well known, rejoiced with all of Clovis over the arrival of his family, which he never thought he would see again.
Life became a challenge for the kids, beginning with learning English. It began with a private teacher flashing cards with pictures for six months. They were placed in school and were up with the Clovis students within two years.
Kate Asimos was enjoying the reunion of the family, seeing her kids in school, but a catastrophe hit the Asimos family once again. Tom suddenly died in 1949. The family was stunned.
Kate was left with a mortgaged home and a Greek inheritance tax of $3,000. Tom had a $30,000 insurance policy, but that went to pay off a mortgage on another restaurant in Roswell he had just finished building. This was the point of no return. Some people made bets whether the Asimos family could survive in America.
Kate signed her estate in Greece over to her sister and brother, a way of saying thanks for the five years she and her family lived with them.
The will to survive in Clovis forced Kate to run the Coffee Shop that made meals, even on Sundays. Kate had never bothered to learn any English. Kate and her children — Vivian, 14, Bill, 12 and Jim, 10 — didn’t even know how to open the cash register. But they began to learn the business.
The boys were great athletes in Clovis schools and made a name for themselves there and in tournaments, receiving athletic scholarships. Bill became a Marine and was manager of the Kaiser Gypsum Corp.
Vivian married Gerald Gunnels, a native of Clovis, and former coach and teacher in Santa Fe and Clovis. He has been in the insurance business since.
Finally, Vivian and Gerald persuaded Kate to sell the restaurant and, in the manner of most Greek families, she moved in with her daughter and son-in-law.
Kate returned to Greece for a visit with her sister and brother. To say she found her relatives doing well is an understatement. They all now are the wealthiest families in the town of Amfissa, because of Kate turning her assets over to them earlier.
Bill Asimos died in 1998. Jim died in 2000. Kate died April 19, 1987. Vivian is the only Asimos in Clovis now. She has always been active, especially in the arts. (I have one of her paintings hanging in my home in Florida.) She also was successful as an insurance agent.
Vivian Asimos Gunnels told the story of the Asimos family to her daughter Kathy, who wrote it up while in high school.

Don McAlavy is Curry County’s historian. He can be contacted at: