Ralph G. Nichols said, “The most basic of all human needs is the need to understand and be understood. The best way to understand people is to listen to them.” In an effort to communicate tradition and culture, Katherine Gountanis shares her story in a way that emphasizes the raw experiences of life. Her story is one of sacrifice and courage, as well as an inspiring series of events that help shape the view of a group often thought of as history.
Gountanis was born December 9th, 1929, in Pawtucket, Rhode Island and grew up feeling the weight of the Great Depression. She was raised in a lower class neighborhood, where she and her family struggled for survival, yet says they “didn’t know it” and “were very happy.” She continues, then, to tell of her education and the value she and her parents placed on it. Goutanis shares that she “walked to American school and to Greek school,” making the long, two-mile trek each day. Her parents were both born in Greece, making her a first generation American, so Gountanis’ family still held strictly to the Greek tradition and culture her parents had been raised with.
Throughout her childhood, there can be seen the continuous theme of persistence, further represented by her academic achievements. School was something Gountanis excelled at and was rewarded for her efforts when she was named Valedictorian of her graduating class. She remembers her father, a man of strength and intelligence, crying as she walked across the stage to receive her certificate. Gountanis notes that he was “extremely proud” and was deeply invested in both of his children.
Entering into adulthood, this extraordinary woman worked at a company titled Play Publishers, where she experienced a side of life she had never seen before.
On account of her job, Gountanis was able to view entire Broadway shows before they officially opened, enjoying some of the most phenomenal talents the stage had to offer. Yet despite the thrill, she gave it all up to marry her husband Nick, who she spent the next six decades with. Before their wedding, though, Gountanis first had to overcome a startling illness that had struck her at random and confined her to the hospital for three weeks.
At this time, she could not speak or walk and was in various forms of pain. She was even unable to write and had no way to communicate herself. She remarks that this exhausting period she spent ill was the “worst time of her life.” In the face of death, she found the strength to rise above, going on to finally attend her own wedding. After the delay, Gountanis was prepared to walk down the aisle. On the dawn of her big day, though, a fierce blizzard arrived. No matter the storm, the wedding proceeded as planned and they continued on to their honeymoon in Florida.
The transition into married life was natural for Gountanis, who says that life for her and Nick was constant. She describes their relationship as an environment where they “breathed each other’s minds,” where they understood one another and ultimately learned to live in harmony. So when her husband asked her to move to California, she wasn’t scared; she simply said yes. Gountanis describes that event as a turning point in her life.
From their home in California, they slowly began to build a life, but something was still missing. Years passed as the hope to have children faded away, until one day a miraculous phone call from her doctor informed her that she was pregnant. She went on to raise two beautiful girls with her husband. Yet deep down, Gountanis housed a fear that stemmed from her difficulty to conceive children. She was apprehensive of illness and quick to check and treat the “slightest little thing.” Gountanis admits to the fact that it is sometimes hard to remember the happiness of raising her children because she was so “worried about losing them.”
The most important thing that she instilled in her children was the ability to further their moral compasses. Gountanis said, “I wanted them to be honest because if you’re not honest with other people, you’re not honest with yourself.” These words hold value that can only be fully understood through experience; life is a progression of learning and applying the collected wisdom of others.
Gountanis’ Greek background immersed itself into her life philosophy, including the “warmth” of genuineness and compassion. Her beliefs can be simplified into a short statement: “live a good, clean life and be honest.” These words ring true in her life, reflecting a person who has dedicated themselves to helping others and thinking last of her own needs.
Her advice to today’s youth is simple; she says “go, learn, and be sincere.” Gountanis urges the next generation to see the need the world has for a few more selfless leaders. She shares what life has ultimately taught her: “life is difficult. Not impossible, but difficult.” She has experienced her own highs and lows, but in the end, Gountanis realized that “there are so many good people willing to help you.” From this, she decided that the only thing she could do is take the help she was offered and “pass it on to someone else,” for the true need of humanity is to learn, teach, and understand one another.
Photo Credits: Kathrine Gountanis