By Linda Thomas
Hometown Weekly Correspondent
Imagine the smell of a city during wartime.
Now imagine you’re barely 20 at the onset of America’s participation in World War II, and find yourself on the other side of the world in a city that doesn’t look like home, smell like home, or taste like home.
This was Aristides “Ernie” Tselikis in the midst of war when the United States helped defend India against Japanese invaders.
He grew up in New England during the Great Depression and never fired a gun except during basic training.
But Tselikis, a natural born tinkerer from the time he was 10 who built and fixed toys for his siblings and buddies, used his skills and his tools to further accomplish many missions.
Some were vital, such as when he fixed the compass of the lead plane of a squadron headed to Japan (it was able to take off and complete its mission successfully due to his intervention).
Others were less important, like the time two lieutenants needed parts to fix new refrigerators. Tselikis removed the parts from a water cooler and made it into a refrigerator.
“Then I told them they’ll be able to get nice cold beers,” he recalled.
Tselikis has lived in Walpole for the past 20 years, and goes south to Florida every season.
The folks at his condominium complex in Lake Worth, Florida, find Tselikis a highly valued resource, good neighbor and friend. Here’s what some have said about him:
“Fountain water pump needs repair? Call Ernie.”
“Need a new sound system in the clubhouse? Call Ernie.”
“Hey, the air conditioner in the clubhouse is draining into the hallway. Don’t worry. ET is here.”
Tselikis was born to Greek immigrants on Nov. 23, 1921, the youngest of four. He was raised in Taunton, Massachusetts, and moved with his family in 1928 to Biddeford, Maine. Two years later, they moved to Providence, Rhode Island, and lived on the second floor of a double-decker.
The home’s owner had five daughters, and Tselikis remembers the girls throwing their roller skates in the trash. He wasted no time retrieving and transforming them into scooters.
“I used to think I invented things,” he said. “Actually, I did — and still do.”
But it was during the war he was best described as the fixer-upper soldier— or for those who might remember the TV show, “MASH,” a real-life Radar, the guy who held everything together.
I’m Calling You Ernie
The name Tselikis is derived from the word steel.
“My great-grandfather loved walking to church every Sunday — even in a blizzard,” Tselikis said. “One day a fellow parishioner said, ‘That man’s made of steel.’ So, we took the name Tselikis for that very reason.”
When Tselikis was a little boy, a young cousin couldn’t pronounce Aristides, so she told him, “I’m calling you Ernie.” And it stuck.
When the family was living in Providence, Tselikis’ sister bought him a little red wagon for his birthday. One day the man who owned the double-decker drove into the driveway and crushed little Ernie’s wagon.
“The man said he wanted to buy me a new one, but I told him I wanted my old one,” Tselikis said. “Kids are like that.”He got another wagon when his brother gave him one of the two he had for his job delivering Moxie.
“That was my pride and joy,” he recalls, “my only toy.”
But it ended badly on Halloween.
He was wheeling it around and remembers some “wolves” popped around the corner and “frightened the hell out of me.
“It was Halloween but I didn’t know it then,” he said. “They [the wolves] stole my wagon. It broke my heart.”
After high school Tselikis attended DeVry Institute of Chicago, where he earned an associate degree in electronics.
He then went to work as a welder in a shipyard in South Portland, Maine. The smoke bothered him so much he left that job, but still stayed in the shipyard as a riveter and steel cutter, despite weighing only 95 pounds.
At 19, he was drafted in the Army Air Force Signal Corps and rose to tech sergeant as an electronics specialist fixing radios and radar equipment.
While he never carried a weapon, he did carry his trusty soldering gun and lived by the motto: “If you build it, I can fix it.”
There was the time the antenna on one of the planes broke off and they weren’t able to use the radio. Tselikis used parts from another radio to fix the broken one.
“The general liked me so much he wanted to promote me,” Tselikis recalled, “but I told him I liked my job and wanted to stay right where I was.”
He single-handedly ran the show when the USO came to entertain the troops. One of the entertainers was an actress and singer who once modeled for a beer commercial.
“She was gorgeous,” he said. “One of the prettiest girls I’d ever seen.”
Tselikis remembers what he now refers to as a funny incident when he and a few of his comrades were sitting on the john and one of their fighter planes crashed in the bathroom.
“We all got cuts and bruises, but it didn’t kill any of us,” he said.
Jack-of-all-trades — Master of Several
Tselikis retired at 60 after 25 years with IBM, where he managed software, hardware and military projects and the work of as many as 200 employees.
Before that, he was part owner of a small family-run grocery store. And with his interest in electronics, he set up a section of the store where he sold, installed and repaired TV sets for local customers. He also helped out in a bakery that made bread and rolls for restaurants.
As a true Jack-of-all-trades and master of several, he has the skills of an electrician, a mason, a carpenter and an auto mechanic. He has owned several homes and designed and built two of them. Using his carpentry skills, he had made improvements and renovations to his son’s antique home. In addition, he has restored old cars to service.
He married the love of his life, Christine, on December 2, 1946. They spent the next 62 years together until she passed away 10 years ago.
In those decades of marriage, the couple had only had one fight, but many “discussions,” Tselikis said.
The couple raised two children, Peter and Pauline. Ernie has four grandchildren and a 1-month-old great-grandson.
For the past eight years, Tselikis has found companionship with Phyllis, who was a good friend of both he and his wife, and who lives in the same complex in Florida.
“We enjoy doing things together,” he said, “like going to the movies or a show, dinner, gambling — and basically taking care of each other.”
At nearly 96, Tselikis says he’s never been one to worry.
“It only makes you sick,” he said.
Peter Tselikis said his father always looks on the sunny side of life.
“My father never worries,” the younger Tselikis said. “He’d say, ‘what can we do to fix it? Worry gets you nowhere.’”
Daughter Pauline was in high school when her father came up with the idea of building a hovercraft that took up the entire garage.
“It went about a foot off the ground,” she recalls. “But it didn’t travel forward for very far.”
Still, she said, “My father has always been the ‘go-to-guy’ who people would come to. If you needed something, he could arrange for you to get it, even if others couldn’t. He could figure out or create something because he was so electronically adept.”
Tselikis says life has been good to him. He’s been a butcher, a baker and a cook — and he sometimes boasts he makes the best baklava and spanakopita on this planet.
“Well,” he admits, “maybe not the entire planet.”
How many can say they’re able to repair and fix anything from air conditioners to zoetropes?
“And sometimes,” Peter Tselikis says of his dad, “he has been known to even repair people’s hearts.”
Editor’s Note: Linda Thomas writes Profiles for Hometown Weekly Publications, Inc. For comments and suggestions, she can be reached at email@example.com.