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An Interview With Mrs Allen

Mrs Allen with Spyros Vutetakis, recorded 1975

My father, Spyros  (Sam) Vutetakis, passed away November 27, 2009.  He was an unusual man in many ways; his sense of history centered around people as individuals and the power each of us have to influence history in both action and speech.  In the last few months I have collected and archived his poetry, family history, stories of his WWII experience and numerous audio and video recordings.  Some of my earliest childhood memories are of him carrying his dicta-phone home from the office to interview the family;  in addition to that, he always seemed to have a camera and tape recorder close at hand.
My grandparents, James and Anthe, emigrated to Utah where my father was born.  The family had a colorful history as freedom fighters in Chania as they struggled for Cretan independence.  Spyros and his siblings grew up hearing the stories.  James came to Utah with two large steamer trunks containing records and artifacts from the Cretan revolt, but lost one of them to fire.  My father always lamented that loss as he labored through the years to piece together the dramatic events that were so much a part of his heritage.  It was a labor of love.
In the Castle Gate mining disaster of 1923, more than fifty of my grandparent’s friends perished.  For them, it was the last straw, so they picked up and moved the family to Canton, Ohio.  It was there that my father encountered the ugly face of discrimination for the first time.  His swarthy Greek complexion made him an immigrant outcast; hard to believe, but many of the immigrants who built this country were treated as second class citizens.
My dad enlisted in the army during World War II.  His first tour of duty was in Alaska; troops were they stationed there to stave off the threat of a Japanese invasion.  His second tour was France and then Germany as an infantry rifleman in Patton’s 3rd Army.  It was an experience which left him with a lifelong dedication to working for peace.  While in the army he then again was faced with discrimination because of his difficult to pronounce name.  He also became aware that the African-American units were frequently given the most dangerous assignments.
The horrors of the war led him to become a social worker.  First for a Jewish agency in Pittsburgh and then in Albany as one of the first gentiles assisting Holocaust victims.  From there he became a gerontologist, working at the Benjamin Rose Institute in Cleveland.   I came to know his profession first-hand as he would frequently bring my brother or me along to visit his favorite clients, many of whom had no family left.  He marveled at the stories they had to tell and began documenting and recording some of them.
In the early 1970’s Mrs Allen, one of his clients, was over 80 years old.  She was African-American, but her complexion was so light, she was often confused for Caucasian.  My father asked if he could record an interview with her  so everyone could benefit from her unusual story.  It is one example of the many special people he encountered.
I share the interview here in memory and spirit of his honoring each person he believed deserved appreciation.  He had a unique ability to bring out the best in people and to help them open up, often without them realizing it.  He said and did things most people could never get away with–kissing the hands of ladies he would encounter or just spontaneously complimenting someone.
After moving my parents from Michigan to San Diego, I returned to Michigan to work on the old house.  Every day, a neighbor, former customer or some poor soul living in the alley would stop to tell me how much they miss him.  His kindness and good spirit seemed to have affected the entire neighborhood.

My thoughts are with my father today, as they are every day. ~gv

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