{{featured_button_text}}

Columnist

Cindy Lange-Kubick joined the Lincoln Journal Star in 1994 and has loved covering life in her hometown ever since. Will write for chocolate. Or coffee.

They came by boat.

The tailor from Athens arrived first, in late February 1969.

And a month later, the young woman from Lavara, a small Greek town rich with grape vines, whose sister had landed in Omaha a few years earlier.

The two immigrants met at church that spring.

And two months later, Demetrios and Stamatia Deligiannis were married. One daughter arrived in 1971, followed by a second.

And eventually, one dark-haired granddaughter, now a teenager.

The couple are at work Tuesday, pressing and sewing in their suite on the seventh floor of the Wells Fargo Bank building, a view of downtown out their window.

He is 85, in a pinstriped blue shirt and khaki slacks.

She just turned 83, chic in bejeweled sandals and a sundress.

They are telling the story of the American dream in Greek accents.

How they left their homes to be close to their siblings, who petitioned for them to come.

The couple — strangers in their homeland — spoke only Greek.

Demetrios signed up for English classes. But they practiced for 10 minutes, he says. “And drank coffee for 20 minutes.”

He throws up his hands. He learned by listening, but first, he looked for work.

“They ask for diploma from school.”

There was no diploma. He’d had to leave school after the fifth grade, when World War II and the Nazis came.

And his mother told him to go. Go! Do something! You can’t just stay home!

He was 10 when he found a job at a tailor’s shop cleaning floors and filling heavy steam irons with coal.

By the time he left Athens, Demetrios owned his own shop.

But here? “Nobody hire me.”

Then his brother-in-law told him about a tailor named Shneider with a shop on the fourth floor of a downtown office building.

The couple visited the Sharp Building with their priest from the Greek Orthodox church. Demetrios brought a cashmere top coat and a wool suit. He showed Shneider the fine craftsmanship. He explained that he’d made them both. The priest translated his words into English.

He had a job.

“I sit down and I work the table and Shneider said, ‘Slow down because you will die in a few years working so fast.’”

He didn’t slow down.

He bought that business and made it his own.

Those first years, the dream played hard to get.

Keep reading for FREE!
Enjoy more articles by signing up or logging in. No credit card required.

“We have no nothing,” Stamatia says. “We cry every day, ‘Why we come here?’”

There were bills and a baby on the way and not enough money. They lived with Demetrios’ sister and her family.

During the day, Stamatia worked alongside her husband in the shop, and at night, she drove to the courthouse to clean until 10 p.m.

“Just for the insurance.”

The husband turned to his wife: "Stami, if you want, we try to make it. We work a couple of years.”

Then one day, a man came into the tailor shop with a request: 45 suits.

“For him, for his son, for the other son and the son-in-law,” Demetrios says.

The tailor measured and cut and stitched and pressed and made the suits. The man paid him.

“I pay Shneider the rest of the money for the shop. I pay $1,000 for deposit on house.”

Their luck had changed.

A downtown clothing shop began sending all its alterations their way. Businessmen and businesswomen dropped off mending. College students arrived with ragged jeans. The Cornhusker Marching Band came calling, hiring them to tailor uniforms for each and every member.

In a few weeks, the couple will head to campus and a room filled with trombonists and tuba players, drummers and for another season of pinning and stitching.

Their seventh-floor shop is a museum. Demetrios still sews on an old Singer sewing machine that belonged to Shneider’s Russian father.

Heavy irons rest in a glass display case alongside thimbles and pin cushions and scissors, typed letters and Polaroid photos and thank-you notes.

Photos fill the walls. Family. Demetrios and Stamatia with dark hair and young daughters. Their beloved granddaughter growing up. Old newspaper stories. An admiralship in the Nebraska Navy. Portraits of the Parthenon, carefully cross-stitched by Stamatia. A monthly parade of Greek Orthodox saints on the calendar.

The shop will close on July 4.

They don’t take many vacations. They planned a trip to Greece this year, their first in seven years, but Demetrios had surgery on his back and he’s not quite ready to travel.

Maybe next year.

They are lucky, Stamatia says. They have their business and a nice house with nice neighbors. They can help their daughters.

“We’re happy here.”

On Jan. 15, 1976, they stood in a Lincoln courtroom packed with people from around the world — Cuba and Germany, India and Korea and Egypt — and became United States citizens.

On Tuesday, the shop is filled with mending ready to be picked up, white squares of paper pinned to pant legs and shirtsleeves.

They have made it through another prom season and the start of the wedding blitz.

But in the beginning.

Oh, my, Stamatia says.

“It was hard work. So much hard work.”

Get local news delivered to your inbox!

* I understand and agree that registration on or use of this site constitutes agreement to its user agreement and privacy policy.

Reach the writer at 402-473-7218 or clangekubick@journalstar.com.

On Twitter @TheRealCLK.

9
0
0
0
0

Load comments