On November 26, 2021, Maria Koukos (age 90) and Harry Koukos (age 98) celebrated their 71st wedding anniversary. Because of COVID, this was a small party with a handful of their family members attending, but it was large in love and appreciation for this remarkable couple.

South Portland knows this hardworking couple as Maria and Harry, who operated Harry’s Market Basket on Ocean Street for 22 years while raising six children. But the family knows “Papou” and “Yai Yai” (grandfather and grandmother in Greek) not only as two storekeepers, but also as the roots and lifeblood of a highly successful and flourishing family.

Maria and Harry Koukos in their early years. South Portland Historical Society photo

Maria and Harry’s story begins in two small villages, one in Greece and the other in Albania.

Harry grew up in an ethnic Greek village in southern Albania on the mountainous Greek/Albanian border. The village had no electricity or cars, and the drinking water came from the mountain streams. Harry’s mother loved her home and village, but Harry’s father wanted a better life for his family.

In 1929, leaving his wife and his two children, Harry’s father immigrated to Danbury, Connecticut, to work in a hat factory. He was told that if he stayed in America for five to seven years, he could become an American citizen. However, he was allowed to return to Albania for visits lasting no longer than two years at a time. When back in the village, Harry’s father was dubbed “the rich American.” When returning from one of these visits, he brought back Harry’s sister to Danbury.

In 1938 at the age of 14, Harry boarded a ship unaccompanied to join his father in Danbury. Harry was very fortunate because he had had the benefit of an excellent education in Albania due to his gifted teacher. Consequently, in Danbury, he was placed in the fourth grade to learn English, but he rapidly progressed through all the grades finishing eighth grade. At that time, to earn money, Harry delivered newspapers and then went on to work in the hat factory.


Maria and Harry Koukos have touched the lives of many over the course of their 71 years of marriage together. The couple started Harry’s Market Basket on Ocean Street in 1964, a sandwich shop run by the Koukos family for four decades. South Portland Historical Society photo

In 1939, Harry’s mother finally consented to leave her beloved home and come to the United States. She boarded an Italian ship heading for the United States only to have the ship turn around and head back to Italy because of World War II. She returned to communist Albania and never made it to the United States.

When Harry was 17, the United States entered World War II and he decided that at age 18 he would volunteer to join the Army. So, taking advantage of this window of time, he learned to become a tool lathe operator and worked at the Manning Maxwell Co. in Bridgeport, Connecticut.

After enlisting in the Army and receiving training at Fort Devens, Massachusetts, and Camp Croft in South Carolina, Harry boarded a troop ship in Baltimore, bound for Casablanca on the African coast and then Naples, Italy.

Harry was involved in the establishment of the Anzio beachhead which soon became an unfortunate military stalemate. Of the 41 soldiers in his platoon, he was one of the lucky 13 who survived that ordeal. After being pulled off the beachhead, Harry was next sent to France and became a scout for the Army. When the First Scout was injured, Harry (the second scout) was called into action. His sergeant ordered him to take the bandolier off the injured first scout and wear it across his own bandolier. This order saved his life.

A bullet meant for his chest, ricocheted off that second bandolier hitting him in the arm and leg. Harry was hospitalized in Naples, Italy, to recover from his wounds (where he saw Joe Lewis box), and then transferred to a desk job for the remainder of the war. When the war ended, Harry returned to the states arriving in port in Virginia. He remembers being greeted with coffee and doughnuts. But even better than those doughnuts, was the news that for his military service, he had earned his citizenship.

After Harry was mustered out of the service, he came to Portland, to work with his uncle at Fessenden Square Market, which they jointly owned. It was during the time that he co-owned the market (from 1945 to 1962), that he met the lovely Maria.


Maria and Harry Koukos South Portland Historical Society photo

But what turn of fate brought Maria to Maine?

Maria Psarou (which, translated, means a fisher) was born in 1931. Maria’s father was a dairy farmer, and her mother was his third wife (he was 60 and she a mere 25 years old). Maria grew up in a lovely little village in the northern mountains of Greece. Although her family had no money and there was little entertainment in the village other than the one radio which the entire village might listen to, she had a happy childhood playing games such as jump rope and kick the can with the neighborhood children.

Maria remembers with fondness all the festive celebrations that took place in the village, like the Harvest Festival, Name Days, and weddings.

Weddings were especially fun for the children because of the candy. Most marriages were quite formal having been arranged by the parents, with the groom expected to ask the bride’s parents for permission to wed their daughter, and the bride expected to have a dowry. On the wedding day a formal Greek Orthodox ceremony was performed. But once all the formalities were over, the entire village watched the outdoor dancing and celebrating. And during that time candy was thrown out to the crowd for good luck. Much to their delight, the children were allowed to scoop up the candy for themselves.

This blissful childhood ended when the Italians and Germans started bombing Maria’s village, probably because there was a boys’ high school in the village. The villagers hid in caves in the mountains. When they returned to the village, there was not enough to eat, and many elderly folks starved to death.

At that time, the Germans occupied the village. Her brothers who boldly took supplies to the mountains (to help the Resistance), ended up in jail for dispensing propaganda to the Germans and Italians. Thankfully, a German friend was able to procure their release. When World War II ended, the Greek Civil War began. During this tumultuous time, her brothers were asked to become communists, but they refused. It was also during this time that one of her brothers, George, stepped on a landmine and lost both his legs. He ended up in a hospital in Athens where Maria visited him. The government offered to pay Maria to take care of him and be his escort to New York City to be fitted for prostheses.


In 1950, during the three months that they were in New York, Maria and George were invited to come to Westbrook, Maine, where some families from Maria’s village now resided.

This enclave of Greek villagers in Westbrook knew that there was a handsome young man named Harry living amongst them who wanted to find a Greek wife. They also knew that 19-year-old Maria had no parents in the United States to arrange a marriage for her, so the families from her little Greek village happily took on the task of matchmaker.

At a Greek dance being held, the newcomers to the community, Maria and her brother, George, were introduced. It was there that Harry first laid his eyes upon Maria. It was arranged to take Maria to the store where Harry worked with his uncle to meet him, but the shy Maria would not go in. Next, arrangements were made for Maria and Harry to meet for a drink at the Lafayette restaurant (chaperoned, of course). It was there that Maria decided that she “liked the looks” of 27-year-old Harry, but she wondered “what about his heart?”

Evidently his heart passed the test because it was a mere 26 days from the Greek dance to the wedding day. Maria said she had no makeup and no wedding dress, and the couple had no money, but despite all that, they were happily married in the Greek Orthodox church in Portland. And thus, two young people from Albania and Greece met in Westbrook, Maine, and began a new life together.

We’ll continue with Maria and Harry’s story next week.

Judy Arnold is a board member of the South Portland Historical Society. Arnold heads up a project at the historical society, interviewing and writing biographies about local people who have played a significant role in South Portland. In her latest project, Arnold met with Harry and Maria Koukos. South Portland Historical Society can be reached by phone at 207-767-7299, by email at sphistory04106@gmail.com, or in person or by mail at their museum at 55 Bug Light Park, South Portland, ME 04106.

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