Greek Dancing in the Streets of Soap Lake (from Marina Romary collection)
Not so long ago, Soap Lake, WA, was known throughout the Northwest for its Greek community. Settlers like the Pappas, the Arvans, the Christs, the Malonas and the Nortaras had come to Soap Lake early in the 1900’s.
These families were friendly and social with a great love of fun and parties. Marina (Notaras) Romary recalls that the Pappas family had three kids; the Notaras had seven; the Arvans had twelve or thirteen. “We’d all go to the Arvans for a big get together and then they’d come to our house. It was just like that.”
“I remember one party especially. We cooked a whole lamb. People came from Dryden and Wenatchee—a lot of Greeks—and, of course, all the Greeks from Soap Lake. We were doing this party and Mr. Munski—the baker, he had the bakery for years (Randy from his family married Norma Zimmer)—well, we had that lamb and we were putting the garlic and oregano on it—and we put it into his oven and cooked it there. How he let us do that, I’ll never know. Though in the old days, the old guys would just get along. And then, the party would go for two or three days. They’d dance the Greek dances out on the lawn—and they’d sit up at night and talk in the Greek language”
Soon the Soap Lake Greek community threw open their party to the public. The first Greek Festival was held in the early seventies. “We had one lamb and we hosted the party in the high school gym and the grade school gym. We cooked the lamb out back. Many of our Greek ladies—Lulu, Georgia Brown, Helen Larson, Margie Arvan—came and taught the people how to do our traditional Greek dances. And, then we ate that good lamb. That was the first Soap Lake Greek Festival.”
The biggest Greek Festival was 1980, the year we joined forces with the Great Canoe Race. Thousands of visitors were in Soap Lake on that day. Marina recalls that Don’s Restaurant fed over 1600 people. “We had belly dancers, music and lots of good food. I would always do the lambs’ heads for the Greeks. They loved it. The men from Seattle were just tickled by what we were serving. We would also do kokoretsi — which are the offal of lamb. Greeks never throw any meat away because we’ve learned how to prepare and eat it.”
When the Festival was growing strong, wire was strung from the Notaras Hotel over to Don’s Restaurant, and then parachutes were put up for shade. A couple of big circus tents were also erected behind the Soap Lake Businessmen’s Club. It was a big and festive sight.
Eventually the Soap Lake Greek Festival came to an end. Marina sadly explained: "The Spring Festival in Moses Lake decided to go on our weekend — the rodeo in Coulee City — and one other thing, the weather — it stopped treating us well on that weekend. But, above and beyond all that, our Greek dancers decided to do a Greek Festival in Seattle. And, my Greek band was a part of that — and the Greek kids who came. So, those were the knockout punches for the Greek Festival in our town.”