Sunday, February 12, 2012

The Greek Immigrant – James John Bolheres

B. about 1886 in Apidia, Greece
M. 17 Jun 1918 in St. Paul, Minnesota
Wife: Minnie Louise Labrie
D. 11 Jul 1941 in Minneapolis, Minnesota
Emigrated: about 1907

Not much is known about the childhood of James John Bolheres. He didn't know his exact birthdate; it was given as different dates on several documents, sometimes in 1886 and sometimes in 1887. The name he was born with translates as Dimitrios Boulouheris and is written in Greek as Μπουλουχερης Δημητριος. He changed it to James John Bolheres when he came to America and was known by the nickname “Jim.”

James was born to Ioannis and Eleni Boulouheris in about 1886 in Apidia, Greece (some documents list his birthplace as Sparta). It's likely that he was their youngest child. He had a brother Georgios and sisters Athanasia, Stamata and Eleni. James (Dimitrios) was recorded in the register of males for Apidia, along with his brother Georgios.

James claimed to have emigrated to America in July of 1907, but no record of this has been found. There is a record of a Dimitrios Boulouhers arriving at Ellis Island on February 19, 1907, but the physical description doesn't match him. The earliest record of him in America was in St. Paul, Minnesota as the relative of his sister Eleni on her June 6, 1914 Ellis Island record.

James was said to have spent some of his early years in the U.S. in the Imperial Valley — in Calexico, California and Mexicali, Mexico. He was also in another town on the Mexican border, Douglas, Arizona, where he filed first papers to become a U.S. citizen on May 8, 1916. His occupation then was as a waiter. A year later, he was listed in an El Paso, Texas phone directory working as a waiter in a cafe. Then on June 5, 1917, he registered for the draft in Chicago, where he had moved, still working as a waiter.

At the end of the 1917, James returned to St. Paul becoming a waiter at his brother-in-law's restaurant there. This is where he switched to being a cook. It's also where he met a waitress named Minnie La Brie and after a brief courtship, they were married June 17, 1918. Just one week later, he joined the Army, presumably to make it easier to become an American citizen, which he did on 15 Aug 1918. His entire service in the army was as a cook in Illinois and Iowa.

James Bolheres in 1918

After his honorable discharge in December of 1918, James settled with Minnie in Minneapolis. Between 1920 and 1925, they would have three daughters. With his move to Minneapolis, he opened up his own restaurant. In 1925, he moved his family to Jacksonville, Florida, and operated a restaurant there, but moved back to Minneapolis after only one year.

James continued to own and operate restaurants in Minneapolis until the end of his life. The restaurants, which were small cafes, were located in storefronts in downtown business districts. He gave them names like “Quality Lunch,” and “Try Me Lunch.” A typical restaurant had a long counter in the front, and four or five booths in the back. He worked six days a week and very long hours. He did all of the cooking, and hired help to wait on the tables and wash the dishes. Minnie sometimes ran the cash register and his daughters often came by after school. The food was American; a complete steak dinner sold for 25¢, and such items as a “Coney Island Sandwich,” which was a hot dog with chili and everything on it.

During the late 1920s, James set up a restaurant on Marquette Avenue in Minneapolis, and for a short time, he also ran a small billiards place next door. Owning a restaurant involved many dangers. One time he was robbed at gunpoint as he was closing up at night. Another time, while the restaurant was closed, a fire started and the place burned to the ground. The safe containing all of his money dropped through the floor to the basement and was saved from serious damage.

James' long hours meant he spent very little of his time at home. Sometimes he would wake his daughters in the middle of the night because he had gotten takeout fried chicken on his way home from work. The girls would gleefully get up and gather at the kitchen table to eat with him. He liked to play with the girls; he teased them by turning his eyelids inside out, which never failed to make them shriek. He also liked to show them a curious object he owned—possibly acquired during his days in the Southwest. It was a small bottle with a minature saw inside. He would hold it up and say, “How did that get in there?” It was said that he spoke with a thick accent.

It was said that James loved his adopted country. He used to cry at hearing Kate Smith sing “God Bless America.” He loved listening to “Amos ‘n’ Andy” and “Fibber McGee and Molly” on the radio. He always wore black suits, starch white shirts, bow ties, and a dark hat. He was not a religious man, although he had his girls baptized in the Greek Orthodox Church. He liked to drink, and during Prohibition, made his own wine in the cellar of his home.

James (at right) with his brother-in-law Andrew Hiotis

James was remembered as an outgoing and cheerful person, but sometimes exploded in anger at his wife Minnie. In the early 1930s, she found out that he was having an affair with a waitress. Their arguments were sometimes violent and he once pushed Minnie down the cellar stairs at the restaurant. The two seemed to patch things up and remained married. It was said that he never was violent to his children.

In 1930, James and Minnie's oldest daughter, Helen, was diagnosed with Hodgkin's disease. For two years, they watched the girl waste away; she died in June of 1932 with the family by her side.

During his life in America, James had some contact with his Greek family. A few of them came to the U.S. including his sister Eleni (whose husband Andrew Hiotis had the restaurant in St. Paul) and his cousin Christ Parthenios, who lived in Minneapolis with his family. Eleni and Andrew returned to Greece in the late 1930s, but when the war started there, they stopped writing and it was believed that they died during the German occupation of Greece.

In 1941, James went into the hospital for hernia surgery. As he recovered, Minnie visited him every day. On July 11th, she observed a nurse giving him some medication. Minnie saw that he began to tremble from the injection, but thought it was nothing and said goodbye to him. As she arrived home a half hour later, she got a call that James had suddenly died. She received no explanation as to what had happened. The death certificate simply wrote the cause as “pulmonary” failure, followed by a question mark. Minnie was convinced that they had given him the wrong medication. James was buried three days later in Fort Snelling Cemetery.

1. Helen Hazel Bolheres – B. 7 Jul 1920, Minneapolis, Minnesota; D. 24 Jun 1932, Minneapolis, Minnesota

2. Margaret Elizabeth Bolheres – B. 12 Apr 1922, Minneapolis, Minnesota; D. 4 Aug 2016, West Hills, California; M. Thomas Milton Mitchell (1922-2007), 2 Jul 1949, Pasadena, California

3. Lillian Bolheres – B. 13 Oct 1925, Jacksonville, Florida; D. 14 Feb 2006, Inglewood, California; M. Hubert Rudolph Hueler (1916-2009), 20 May 1950

Register of Male Births, Apidia, Greece, 1886
Ellis Island passenger lists
Declaration of Intention of James John Bolheres, Douglas, Arizona, 8 May 1916
Draft Registration of James John Bolheres, Chicago, Illinois, 5 Jun 1917
Alien Registration and Declaration of Holdings of James John Bolheres, St. Paul, Minnesota, 27 Feb 1918
Marriage Certificate of James John Bolheres and Minnie Labrie, St. Paul, Minnesota, 17 Jun 1918
Naturalization Certificate of James John Bolheres, Camp Grant, Illinois, 15 Aug 1918
Discharge from the U.S. Army of James John Bolheres, Camp Dodge, Iowa, 31 Dec 1918
Greek Orthodox Baptismal Certificate of Margaret Bolheres, 6 Aug 1922
Death Certificate of James John Bolheres, Minneapolis, Minnesota, 11 Jul 1941
City Directories of El Paso, Texas, Minneapolis, Minnesota, and Jacksonville, Florida, 1920-1941
Family Tree drawn by Katharine Boosalis, 1978
Interviews of Margaret Mitchell and Lillian Hueler, Los Angeles, California, 1996-1999
Death certificate of Helen Hazel Bolheres
Social Security Death Index
California, County Marriages, 1850-1952

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