Once-struggling mom fights off foreclosures

MILL CREEK — Chris Psomas lay in bed, his mind turning over the same question with the endless repetition of a scratchy LP record, popping with static, its needle stuck at the end of its song tracks:

God, what did I do so stupid to bring my wife and myself into this position?

"Never in my life was I that frightened," said Psomas, who as a young man served aboard a Navy landing ship during World War II in the South Pacific.

"They were going to take the house. We couldn’t buy food. I was lost. I didn’t know what to do, which way to turn."

Illness had crushed Just Delicious Foods, the business he and his wife, Annie, started in the mid-1970s and carefully built up over their lifetimes. It all began in a simple storefront on Aurora Avenue — "a little shack" 60 feet off the road.

Psomas would prepare 2-ounce samples, served on a chrome serving plate, and "if I saw someone coming along, I’d rush out there in a white uniform and offer them rice pudding."

It was this combination of drive, pride of product and fervent charm that helped the business expand from rice pudding to making fudge, and win national clients.

"We had letters from all over the country, airline people, QFC, Olsen’s, all the grocery stores, they all had my rice pudding," Psomas said.

When he asked for a loan to expand the business, the bank made a counter offer — ask for more, so he could buy a 150-gallon steam kettle, five times larger than the equipment he had been using.

"We worked pretty hard and did pretty good; I kept making my payments every month to the bank," Psomas said.

The 1999 business loan required a monthly payment of $705 a month, with a final $54,000 balloon payment due in 2004.

Still working in their late 70s, the Mill Creek couple’s health began to fail. "We had all these disasters, one right after the other … sickness and cancer and stuff like that."

The eventual result of the collapsing house of cards: his 18-employee staff nearly dissolved. Even his daughter and son-in-law, who earlier had stepped in to take over the business, had to leave. "I couldn’t pay them," he said.

In the spring of 2000, Annie had back-to-back heart attacks. Chris was recovering from prostate cancer. He soon fell two payments behind. The business ceased operations in May.

Psomas’ problems began to bear down on him, menacing as the tip of a shark’s fin visible just above the surface of the water.

The red-roofed, three-bedroom white rambler, which he and his wife had lived in for two decades, was in foreclosure.

Psomas’ voice still wavers as he describes his desperation.

"I’m not a person to take my own life, but you know, a lot of people would have killed themselves and their wife. We were really destitute … We couldn’t afford medicine for Annie.

"It was like being in a fog. You can’t see anything. It’s like you’re paralyzed."

  • ?
  • ?
  • Psomas didn’t know the red-haired woman who stood before him on May 1, 2000, but he could tell almost instantly his fortunes were about to change.

    "When she came in, it was like the house filled with sunshine," he said. "I can’t explain it. It’s like you’re drowning and someone sticks his hand out and says, ‘Grab this! ’ "

    It was Kristine Beaton, a housing finances counselor with Seattle’s Fremont Public Association. She helps people keep their homes who are in danger of foreclosure because of illness, unemployment, divorce, mounting credit problems or simple bad luck. Her territory stretches from King County to the Canadian border.

    Psomas didn’t know then how deeply Beaton understood his problems, of feeling constantly financially pressured and not being sure where to turn next.

    In 1998, she had been a single mother for four years with five children 11 and under — Adam, 11, Randi, 9, twins Alex and Peter, 8, and Emily, 6, — living in Lynnwood. She tried to juggle raising and supporting her children with taking college classes part-time.

    Beaton had been approved to continue her education, despite the state’s tough new welfare rules known as WorkFirst. Weary of the forced scavenger life that included trips to the food bank and thrift stores and frustrated by the disapproving stares from people who saw her pull food stamps from her wallet in grocery store lines, she sought out training as a carpenter’s apprentice.

    Its beginning pay was $14.70 an hour, and she began her slow march out of poverty. Beaton’s welfare-to-work year was profiled in The Herald in November 1998.

    Beaton loved outdoor construction work, which included reconstructing Lynnwood’s mammoth 196th Street interchange. But she longed to return to being an advocate for the less fortunate, work she began while volunteering on statewide issues while her children were in Head Start.

    In July 1999, she was hired by the Fremont Public Association. Her ability to survive what seemed like poverty’s unending and nearly insurmountable obstacles were invaluable in her new job.

    "The system taught me that sometimes you can’t take no for an answer and you have to keep calling and trying to get in the back door … for resources. You have to keep digging.

    "It taught me about being persistent and assertive for folks."

    Nevertheless, Beaton remembers how overwhelmed she felt as she told her family of her first meeting with the Psomases.

    "I was just about in tears," she said. "It was one of those hopeless cases in my mind.

    "But there was this incredible feeling that I had to be in these people’s lives for a reason … I started looking at all the ways to possibly bring this thing together. It took every single angle I could find."

    Beaton met with Fremont Public Association co-workers to try to design an emergency save-the-house plan for the Psomases. They faced a deadline both certain and imminent: A foreclosure auction was set for Aug. 1, 2000.

    An attorney helped clear liens from business and personal property.

    She meet with a banker, asking that they reduce their fees or forgive part of the Psomas’ loan. "It kind of reminded me of ‘It’s a Wonderful Life,’" she said. "I was literally in there begging the banker."

    The bank agreed to temporarily delay the foreclosure, a key piece of the puzzle.

    A tentative buyer was found for the candy-making equipment. He offered to pay $35,000. "At that point, we were still about $40,000 short," she said.

    She told him of the Psomases predicament. "I remember looking at him and saying, ‘These are really worth $40,000.’ " He agreed to the higher amount.

    A trust account was established for donations. Veterans groups and community organizations helped spread the word.

    A new mortgage was approved. The mortgage company agreed to cut its fees by $5,000.

    Combined, these and other efforts raised $183,000. The Psomas home was saved. The case, one of the most complicated Beaton has ever worked on, created a file of paperwork 4 1/2inches thick.

    Although three years have passed, the story is never far from Beaton’s heart. She uses a picture of Chris and Annie Psomas as a screensaver on her computer at work, a reminder of what’s at stake amidst the daily onslaught of paperwork, e-mail and phone calls.

    This month, Chris Psomas, 83, and Annie, who is 87, celebrated their 57th anniversary.

    "We had a wonderful life," Psomas said. "Never a lot of money, but a lot of adventures.

    "We’re still here, we’ve got the home, we’re taking care of each other. It all happened with Kris.

    "She’s just a godsend," he said. "She’s like an angel."

    "She kind of adopted us, you know?"

    Reporter Sharon Salyer: 425-339-3486 or salyer@heraldnet.com.

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