Demetra Andreasen

Demetra Andreasen

Looking ahead to President Andreasen’s retirement, we thought it would be interesting to talk with Mrs. Andreasen about their college days and how the Andreasens met.


Where should we start the story of how you met President Andreasen?

I need to start with why I went from Greece to Newbold College, in England. I believe that God opens doors. Two weeks after I graduated from high school, I got a phone call from a family friend to take over a job that she was vacating, as a secretary in a prestigious law firm in Athens. I had never seen a typewriter; I had no training to work for a law firm; but in those days, when you are young and naïve you want to try, so I accepted this job. I stayed there for five years. In those days in Greece they had “siesta,” so from 1-5 p.m. offices were closed, because of the heat—there was no air conditioning. I had to do something with that block of time, and it was too far to go home, so I decided to study English. In high school I had studied classical Greek and French, but not English. And sometimes while I was studying English, I went to the National Gardens, in the center of Athens, and there I met a young girl. To me, she was an angel sent by God. I told her, “I wish I could practice my English; I can write and I can read, but there’s no chance to communicate.” “Oh,” she said, “I know someone.” That “someone” happened to be, much later, the wife of Alan Collins (who created the John Nevins Andrews statue that stands in front of Pioneer Memorial Church). Her name was Aliki, she was Greek Orthodox, and she was hired by the Adventist church to be a secretary, perhaps because there were so few Greek Adventists that they didn’t have someone else who was qualified. So I met her and we became friends. A year or two later Aliki decided to go to Newbold, and later on she invited me to go to Newbold. She had become an Adventist by that time, but she hadn’t told me.

I saved money for a year to pay for one year’s tuition. I didn’t know anything about Adventists. I remember going to the priest of my (Greek Orthodox) church, who I respected very highly. I stood at his door, and I saw him sitting in his office, and I thought, He is not going to let me go. I probably thought something like I won’t let these apostates (Adventists) interfere with my faith. I’ll just go and learn English, because that’s how I was taught.

So I went to Newbold and the year in England went by and I was planning to come home. I told Aliki that was all the money I had. She spoke to her roommate, who was from Portland, Oregon. Verla (the roommate) had rather well-to-do parents through a medical laboratory business. They were very visionary minded, and they helped a lot of other people, and they decided to sponsor both Aliki and me. I thought, Well, it’s free tuition, I might as well stay one more year.

Erik (the future Dr. Andreasen) had shown an interest in me the first year, but I was not even an Adventist. I stayed for the second year, through the summer of 1961 and the next school year. That summer I worked at the Greek embassy in London. I thought, Staying at Newbold, they hardly pay you anything, and I wasn’t an Adventist yet (to worry about Sabbath-keeping). Then I worked at the national tourist organization for a couple of months. During the second year at Newbold, I began to realize that God was calling me and I could not turn my back on him. To me, it was emotionally difficult, because I came from a very traditional family; we never heard of anybody being anything but Greek Orthodox. It’s a state religion, so it was like I was betraying my family and my country. My older sister was so upset when I told her I was going to become an Adventist. My mother didn’t say much, but my sister, being a very traditional person, was not so flexible. She thought, What are people going to say?, that it was propaganda, and that “I was young,” and she wished she could come and pick me up and take me home. Emotionally it was not an easy thing to do, but I felt I did not have a choice.

I was baptized in May of 1962, and that summer I went to do canvassing in Scotland. It was mostly to make money to buy my ticket to go home. Erik, with a friend of his from Norway, also went to Scotland. They were canvassing in a different town, but they had a car. They were in a big city, but my friend Gloria and I were out in the villages. We had to use bicycles to go from one farm to another. I had to learn how to ride a bicycle. I fell so many times. There were a lot of hills, and I would get going very fast, with books in a basket on the front, and I would fall, and people would look at me. I would say to myself, “Who cares? They’re not going to see me again.”. We would see Erik and the other man, sometimes, on weekends. And Erik told me, “I would like you to come and visit my family, in Denmark, before you go to Greece.”


Had you gone on any dates before?

Not by ourselves, but we had been out with groups. One time we went to Royal Albert Hall (in London)—it must have been Christmas time (of 1961)—to hear “The Messiah.” And for Easter of 1962, we went with another couple to Wales. At Newbold, they had a dining room, and the students were directed where to sit by a host or hostess. I remember one time seeing Erik at another table, looking very intensely at me. When it became obvious that things were serious, I went to ask a Danish woman that was living there, who knew Erik’s family well, about him. Erik and I were both learning English, just to communicate. We knew some English, but not enough. “How can you marry someone you cannot communicate well enough with?” I asked. She said to me, “Don’t look at him as he is now. Think of the potential!” That really stuck in my mind. I had no idea of his potential then, and to this day I continue to be impressed with his character.

There were several things that impressed me very positively about Erik. First, he is always very neat. His shoes will always be polished. The heels will never be broken down. And although none of us at that time had enough clothes to change, his clothes always looked well. He had very good manners. He was not a particularly social person, but I was always attracted to tall, skinny intellectuals. I always appreciated Erik’s good manners, his civility, the way he spoke, the way he walked. To this day, he will say to me, “Your mother did not teach you to polish your shoes.” Even when his shoes are already very shiny, he still has to polish them. And sometimes he even polishes my shoes. So, after canvassing in the summer of 1962, we took the train toward Denmark. I didn’t tell my mother.


How old was Dr. Andreasen at this time?

21. We took the train, and I had made a mistake: I had renewed my passport to stay in England, but not for travel outside of England. We passed through Holland and they didn’t say anything. Then we went to Germany. The conductor there was so rigid: “I’m sorry. You have to get off at the next stop and go back and renew your passport.” So we got off at a train station. Memories of World War II flashed in my mind (the Germans had occupied Greece). I opened my suitcase and I took out my blankets and set up on a bench, to wait for the train the next morning, to go back to Holland and renew my passport at the Greek Embassy. Erik was very patient. He didn’t say anything. You never see him get angry or upset. Sometimes, when I speak loudly, he will say, “Please don’t speak so loudly,” but that’s the Greek way. In fact, when we were at Newbold, Aliki and I were asked to take care of the dining room. And people would look at us and say, “Look at them, they are arguing,” but we were just talking. We came from a different culture than the Scandinavians.


So you stayed overnight on a bench?

Yes. We couldn’t afford to go anywhere else. So the train came, and we went back to Amsterdam, and we found the Greek embassy. It was a Sunday, but fortunately, the ambassador lived at the embassy building and took care of my passport and we got back on the train toward Denmark. That was an adventure. I was very impressed with how orderly and neat Erik’s parents’ home was. My mother-in-law would get up on Friday, fix her hair, take a shower and have the whole house clean long before sunset. My father-in-law was a pastor. He was a shepherd, a real shepherd of his flock, a very caring kind of person. Erik had brothers that were five and seven years younger. I remember how impressed I was that the whole home was clean. So before sundown we all sat around and studied the Sabbath School lesson. It was very helpful for me to meet his family.


How did the family feel about a Greek girl coming home with their son?

I have no idea. Erik’s younger brother was thirteen at that time, and his hair was very blond and straight as straw, and I put rollers in his hair. How could I do something silly like that? Bananas didn’t grow in Denmark and were very expensive. His mother bought some for the youngest son and not for the rest of us. I said to him, “How come you’re the only one who can have the bananas?” I think that men are, in general, more tolerant than women. I think my future father-in-law was having more fun with another person who was different in the house. I’m sure my future mother-in-law must have had some questions. In general, the Greek people are friendly and open. I would assume that it was easy for them to accept me. But many times I asked Erik, “What did your parents say?” And he said, “Oh, they just said you were different.” Even if his mother said something stronger, he wouldn’t tell me that.


So after that, how did things progress?

I went back to Greece, and I stayed there for two years, and Erik became the president of his graduating class at Newbold, but he got sick and was not able to participate in the graduation exercises. They wired in the audio of the service so he could hear it from his room. Then he went back to Denmark for the summer of 1963, but he came by train to Greece, for two weeks, to meet my family.


Were you writing letters to each other at this time?

Yes. When I returned home, the president of the Greek Adventist mission hired me to be a Bible worker, from September of ’62 to the summer of ’64. So Erik came by train in the summer of 1963, to meet my family, before he went to Andrews to start his Master’s. He bought his train ticket and was sitting in the train, and when he arrived in Germany, there were many Greek immigrants who lived in Germany, and they came with their sandwiches, and they squished him and they squashed him, and he almost lost his seat. In Athens, when we were waiting for the bus, he would be standing in the line, and the moment the bus arrived the line would break and everybody started pushing. And he would look around, not knowing what to do. I said, “Erik, if you want to get to your destination you have to do the same thing. Otherwise you will be left out.”

The family from Portland that sponsored me to stay an extra year at Newbold said, “If you would like to come to America, we will help you.” They had sponsored Aliki, and she went to Walla Walla. I had to pay $700 to come with a student visa. Erik came with a green card. There were quotas for each country, and not many Danes were coming, so he fit in under the quota. As a seminary student, Erik lived in the Garland apartments. I was in Lamson Hall as an undergraduate. The summer of 1965 Erik was living with his aunt, his father’s sister. She was a graduate of Andrews, and she taught nutrition in a high school in a suburb of Chicago. She and her husband, an American, lived there, and had no children. So Erik had free accommodations there and worked in a factory, painting. When I came from Greece I met him at the Chicago airport, and stayed a couple of weeks at his aunt’s house before we came to Andrews. My benefactors from Portland not only bought my airline ticket; they kept helping me financially all the way to 1970 with my scholarship needs.


When did you get married?

We were not allowed to marry during the school year, so in the summer of 1965 my sponsors told me they would help with the wedding, either in Portland, or in Chicago, where Erik’s aunt was. We decided to go to Portland, because I knew more people there (from Newbold days), and also they had offered me a job as a secretary for their lab. So I worked there during the summer and saved all the money for going back to school, and as a way to say thank you I would clean their house. Sometimes I would cook, but I was not a very good cook. I lived with them June, July and August. On the fifth of September we got married, and they had invited 250 employees to a sit-down dinner. The younger daughter of the family made my wedding dress, which I still have. It was overwhelming. It was a family of doers, hard working people. The mother said, “Well, there’s plenty of fruit around our yard. Maybe you could can some fruit and take it to Andrews.” I had never canned, but didn’t dare say no, so I ended up canning a hundred jars of peaches and such. And the question was how to bring the jars to Andrews. The father of the family said, “I’ll ship them with my labels, and it will be cheaper.” When they arrived at the airport in Benton Harbor one jar was broken, and I got a call saying, “Please come and identify this chemical,” because the jar had a United Medical Laboratories label.

Erik was working all that summer in Illinois, and found a car there that needed to be driven to Seattle, so he and another person drove all the way there, and then came down to Portland. There were 17 young people from Newbold who attended our wedding.


Neither of you had any family at the wedding?

No. That is a price we have paid to work in the United States. We have always been away from both our families. So I have had to make “family” out of the friends I have met.


What do you and President Andreasen enjoy doing with each other? What keeps you close?

We like the same music, we like to travel, to keep our home organized, to philosophize, to learn new things. We prefer quieter activities and we are not sporty people. I always needed to be a person of faith, and Erik's training as an Old Testament professor provided many opportunities for theological discussions with him and his colleagues. Also, we both came from very strong, traditional families, with strong values, and that helps us to be connected. There’s a lot of respect that one has for the other. When we met each other, and when we have lived together all these years, there is this respect for each person’s personhood. We do not try to change each other. I remember when we first got married, Erik said “Demetra, I’m not your father.” I must have expected something that I did not have from my childhood, because my father died when I was seven. But I learned to rely a lot on my inner strength. It took me some time not to be intimidated by being married to a scholar, an intellectual. As I matured more, I thought, Ok, Erik has certain skills, but I have some other skills that he doesn’t have. Sometimes he says, “People respect me, but they love my wife.” I think I help Erik to be more social. When you are a PhD student you live in a different world. I would tell him, “Why don’t you call your mother, or write your mother?” Or I would encourage him to go and visit. I am not a possessive person. Neither of us has to depend upon each other to the point that we cannot break away and keep our individuality. We have a very open, transparent kind of relationship. We have absolute confidence and trust in each other.

Note: The Andreasens have a son, Michael, who lives with his wife Marie and two children, Caleb and Jordan, in Eugene, Oregon, where he works as a vice president for advancement at University of Oregon.

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