Key Rexall Drugs (Kent) / Key Compounding Pharmacy (Federal Way)

  • By Linda Holden Givens
  • Posted 6/25/2018
  • Essay 20592
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George Alexander Ballasiotes (b. 1931) opened Key Rexall Drugs in 1963 at 23422 Pacific Highway S in the Midway area of Kent in King County south of Seattle. In the 37 years before he retired, Ballasiotes grew his business from a small neighborhood drugstore to a thriving compounding pharmacy. Ballasiotes became interested in pharmacy compounding after being unable to find a particular drug that a customer requested, and the pharmacy he founded eventually became the first compounding pharmacy in the United States to supply bio-chemical hormones nationally and internationally and the first in the state to receive Pharmacy Compounding Accreditation Board (PCAB) accreditation. In 2011 the business was renamed Key Compounding Pharmacy, and the following year it moved from its home of 49 years in Midway to a new location at 530 S 336th Street in Federal Way.

From Greece to America

George Ballasiotes's father Christos "Pop" Ballasiotes was born in the village of Prosimna in Argolis, Greece, in or around 1895. There is no official birth certificate, only baptism papers and some verbal evidence that he could have been born as early as 1892. Christos was the only son of four children. When he was 4, his mother passed away. He attended school up to the third grade. There were many stories told about Christos during his growing years. As a teen, he learned as a trade to make leather donkey harnesses. In the years 1912 and 1913, Christos was encouraged by his father and three sisters to go to America to seek a better future and pursue his dreams.

Christos left his small village and came to America, meeting an older cousin. He continued on to Portland, Oregon, where he worked in a bowling alley for 10 cents an hour setting up and removing pins by hand. He moved north to Sedro Wooley and then Burlington in Skagit County in Northwest Washington, working as a cook in a café. He worked in Skagit County for five years then moved to Aberdeen, in Grays Harbor County in Southwest Washington. He had saved enough money to purchase a restaurant with James Heliotis (1883-1948), who was married to his mother's sister Anastasia Zanadis (1886-1967). In 1920, with Heliotis, Christos Ballasiotes opened the Seattle Café on Heron Street in Aberdeen.

By 1930, Ballasiotes decided to go back to Greece to find a wife. In Greek tradition, marriages are usually arranged by the parents. When he told a man in Argolis that he was looking for a bride, the man mentioned his sister, Katina G. Kouretsos (1909-1996), a popular young woman in Argolis who sang and danced. Ballasiotes and Kouretsos soon met, and they married on October 5, 1930. Three months later, in January 1931, Ballasiotes brought his new bride to America and they settled in Aberdeen.

Growing Up Ballasiotes

Christos and Katina's oldest child, George Alexander, was born on July 26, 1931. One year later Andrew was born on November 4, 1932. The children at the time only spoke Arvanitika, a dialect of Albanian spoken in Greece. By 1939, toward the end of the Great Depression, Christos went to Yakima in Central Washington to seek work opportunities. Aberdeen was hit hard by the Depression as virtually every sector of the economy was impacted. High unemployment, dismal pay, and unsafe working conditions caused many men and women to panic and lose their confidence. There was no work for Christos to make a living and support his family.

Christos Ballasiotes began working for George Peter George (1900-1959) at the Strand Café in Yakima. His family joined him six months later living in Yakima until 1941, when Christos was called back to Aberdeen to work at the Seattle Café. The family packed up and quickly moved back to Grays Harbor County. On March 25, 1942, Christos and Katina welcomed their third child Angelo (Evangelos). Christos would work at the Seattle Café for nearly 20 more years before it officially closed its doors in 1960.

George Alexander Ballasiotes graduated from J. M. Weatherwax (Aberdeen) High School in 1949 and immediately joined the Air Force ROTC, serving as a lieutenant, while attending Washington State College (later University). Ballasiotes studied in the pharmacy program, saying many years later, "I went there because they had the best pharmacy school west of the Mississippi" (George Ballasiotes interview).

Ballasiotes married his high-school sweetheart, Eleanora Marye Ogan (1931-2016) of Aberdeen, on September 13, 1953. She was born to Andrew William Ogan (1898-1982) and Emma Viola (or Viola Emma) Strandburg (1903-1980) on June 23, 1931, in Kansas City, Missouri, one of 11 children (along with Richard, Robert, Lyndal, Margaret, Doris, Lois, Janet, Judy, Virgina, and Gloria). In 1944, when she was 13, Eleanora's family moved to Aberdeen, where she graduated from Weatherwax High School and participated in various activities during her school years. "I was the only one in our family who did graduate from high school" (Eleanora Ballasiotes interview). Ogan attended Grays Harbor Community College and New York School of Interior Design prior to her marriage to Ballasiotes in 1953.

George Ballasiotes transferred to the University of Washington, passing the State of Washington Board of Pharmacy exam on June 15, 1954, and graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree in pharmacy. "My wife put me through the remaining college years" (George Ballasiotes interview).

Also in 1954, Ballasiotes was drafted into the army between the end of the Korean conflict and the beginning of the Vietnam War, serving two years in the medical field. In 1956, Ballasiotes was discharged from the army and returned to civilian life, working in Aberdeen for one year. He then worked in Tacoma as a pharmacist for six years. Meanwhile, George and Eleanora started their family, raising four children: Kathy, Emmy, Chris, and Clara.

Opportunity Knocks

In 1958, Rexall Drugs was the largest drugstore franchise in the United States with 11,158 stores. Many pharmacists built their own business on Rexall's reputation. By 1962, Ballasiotes decided he was ready to start his own business as a pharmacist. He borrowed money from his father Christos, and Rexall then came up with the remaining funds to begin a good program. The goal was to lease the building, then buy it in two years. Ballasiotes met his commitment and did so in record time.

Ballasiotes's Key Rexall Drugs held its grand opening as a neighborhood pharmacy on Thursday, August 15, 1963, at 23422 Pacific Highway S in the Midway area of Kent. Rexall representatives, salespeople, family members, and friends, worked tirelessly to prepare for the grand opening of the new store. Ceramics artist Helen Nemeth (1919-1986) managed the gift section that was stocked with a wide selection of gift items and glassware. Cosmetician Thelma Wignall was in charge of the cosmetics department. Ballasiotes managed the up-to-date prescription division. The new drugstore was located in the midst of other businesses. On the east side of the store was Sprouse Reitz, a five-and-dime store. On its west side, facing Pacific Highway, was Tradewell Grocery Store. North of the building was Puget Sound National Bank.

One year after the opening, in 1964, George's brother Andy Ballasiotes was asked to come and work at the pharmacy as a clerk and assist in managing the store. Andy was not a pharmacist but he was good with his hands and had lots of business ideas. An Airman First Class in the U.S. Air Force, Andy had been stationed in Phoenix, Arizona, where he met and married his wife Ida Jean Canepa (1936-2014). Andy and his wife brought their children Michael (b. 1958), Diane (1959-1988), and brand-new baby Stephane (b. 1963) to Tacoma.

Another Pharmacist

George Ballasiotes's wife Eleanor would occasionally work in the drugstore on Saturdays and periodically went on buying trips to trade shows. All four of the Ballasiotes children worked at the store on and off as young teens. George Ballasiotes worked long hours -- from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Saturday and 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Sundays. For three years Ballasiotes worked those long hours. He brought in a part time person to assist for a few hours. By 1966, Ballasiotes began looking for another pharmacist to bring into the store. The young James Stuart Seymour (b. 1944), who had graduated from the University of Washington with a Bachelor of Science degree in pharmacy and in June 1966 married Peggy Ann Miller (b. 1944), joined the pharmacy in August 1966. Ballasiotes and Seymour worked their schedules out to make sure store hours were covered.

During the 1970s, Andy Ballasiotes decided to get out of the pharmacy business and left the pharmacy. Seymour became minority partner with George Ballasiotes, and they began diversifying the products in the store. They started offering healthcare products and services designed to attract new business, moving the store and the practice of pharmacy forward and most importantly offering value to the customers they were serving.

Insurance billing for services and products was added. Seymour began using a secure connection via a standard eligibility file feed to connect with the Medicare Benefits Coordination and Recovery Center (BCRC). Coverage would be identified and the customer's paid claim would be transmitted for "crossover," the transferring of the processes claim data between Medicare and private insurance. While the customer was waiting, data was entered into the system. Key Rexall Drugs handled the insurance billing with no out-of-pocket expense for the patient.

Pharmacist Pamela Louise Reynolds began working part-time at the pharmacy in 1979. In 1982 Pamela Reynolds and James Seymour married. Pamela continued working in the pharmacy through 1983, and would later serve as human resources manager for the store from 2008 to 2011.

A Compounding Pharmacy

Many doctors and patients began asking for prescriptions that were natural to the body. Ballasiotes began reading about Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (AIDS), a disease of the immune system due to infection with the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). During his research he came across nutritional and natural products that ignited his imagination and interest. His interest in pharmacy compounding was triggered by a person coming into the pharmacy requesting a particular drug. Ballasiotes searched high and low without success in finding the requested drug.

Finally he contacted the Professional Compounding Centers of America (PCCA) in Texas and requested the drug. PCCA could sell him the drug, but the representative asked if he had heard about compounding and recommended attending one of the courses offered in Texas. The representative continued to explain the benefits of compounding to Ballasiotes and finally grabbed his attention. The only exposure to compounding that he had previously was a required class he had taken in college that mentioned very little about the subject. In a 2018 interview, Ballasiotes described compounding as "putting together drugs ... [for] the patient in the right dosage or transdermal into the skin" (George Ballasiotes interview); the PCCA website explained: "Pharmacy compounding is the art and science of preparing personalized medications for patients" ("What Is Compounding?"). The history of compounding dates back to ancient times.

Ballasiotes and Seymour met Dr. Jonathan Vincent Wright (b. 1945), a well-known pioneer in natural medicine, and discussed what Wright was doing at the time. A woman came to Wright requesting hormone replacement. Hormones for treatment were not available in the United States anywhere at the time. Wright had to get hormones from British Columbia. The therapy would be known as Bio-identical Hormone Replacement (BHRT) and Jonathan Wright would pioneer the use of bioidentical estrogens and DHEA.

Ballasiotes and Seymour asked Wright what they could do to assist. Wright was excited about having local assistance that he could work with and believed in what he was doing. This would also mean an opportunity for Key Rexall Drugs to bring in new clients by offering hormone replacement therapy. The first patient came back to Wright telling him the remarkable results she was experiencing using natural hormone replacement therapy.

Beginning in 1995, Ballasiotes and Seymour went full force and eventually turned the drugstore into a compounding pharmacy responding to the patient's needs, customizing prescriptions for each person. Customers were no longer limited to what was commercially available. Instead of offering one manufactured prescription strength for everyone, each patient could be matched with the strength best for him or her. Compounding takes time to research, measure, and mix but the result is quality.

Key Rexall Drugs became the first compounding pharmacy in the United States to supply biochemical hormones for both women and men as a comprehensive program. The pharmacy was able to source more and more of those hormones that decline with age. Seymour was responsible for securing pharmacy licenses for compounding (both non-sterile and sterile) in 43 states, making the store a national pharmacy with the ability to serve most patients across the country.

Changing Times -- Moving Forward

The drugstore, by then known as Key Pharmacy & Home Care, continued to grow during the first years of the twenty-first century. Ballasiotes retired in 2000 after 37 years at the store but continued to work until 2005 as a consultant. The store was now owned by four pharmacists who worked there: James Stuart Seymour; Jonathan D. West (1953-2011), who joined in 1997; HeeJoo Park (b. 1964), who joined in 1998; and Bill Corriston, who joined in 1999. In February 2001, Ballasiotes and Seymour were named PCCA's Pharmacists of the Month.

By 2006, the pharmacy had become a compounding pharmacy, compounding medicines only. In 2008, the pharmacy was accredited by the Pharmacy Compounding Accreditation Board (PCAB), the first pharmacy in Washington to demonstrate compliance with PCAB's standards through a comprehensive onsite evaluation and review of standard operating procedures.

During the year 2011, Bill Corriston retired, Jon West passed away, Marc H. Kosaka became a minority owner, and HeeJoo Park became majority owner. The name of the pharmacy was officially changed to Key Compounding Pharmacy. Once Park became the majority owner, she made the decision to move the pharmacy to another location. She wanted to build a company on solid ground and remaining in the original location would not be an effective way to continue to do business. Bill Corriston decided he did not want to participate in buying another building.

In 2012, with the assistance of James Seymour, a location and building in Federal Way was found. The pharmacy opened on June 7, 2012, at 530 S 336th Street after operating for 49 years in its previous location at 23422 Pacific Highway S in Kent's Midway neighborhood. Following the move into the new facility, Park graduated from the American Academy of Anti-Aging Medicine fellowship program. In 2013, Marc Kosaka left the pharmacy. In May 2014, James S. Seymour decided to retire after 48 years as a pharmacist and 44 years as owner. Park became sole owner of the pharmacy.

In 2015, Park became a member of the year for Center for Advanced Manufacturing Puget Sound (CAMPS). The same year, the pharmacy was recognized as a "Top Place to Work" by South Sound Business magazine. In November 2016, Lisa Paris, a pharmacy technician manager, was named Technician of the Month. In 2017, Key Compounding received the Gold Award as Emerging Manufacturer in Seattle Business magazine's Washington Manufacturing Awards.

Bringing the Past into the Future

Park has continued the George Alexander Ballasiotes legacy: "I just wish I was there to be part of the world class pharmacy. HeeJoo has just come in and done a great job. It is a world class pharmacy" (George Ballasiotes interview).

Key Compounding Pharmacy continues to be a hometown pharmacy with solutions for patients' health needs. The biggest advantage of compounding medications is customizability. Medications are individualized and tailored to meet the patient's needs. This customization has made it possible for compounding pharmacies to grow rapidly. Key Compounding Pharmacy's delivery of medications in alternative strengths, dosage forms, and flavors for patients has led to a remarkable growth rate over the past 10 years. For Park and her staff, compounding remains the past, present, and future of pharmacy, the process having developed many medications that might not otherwise exist, and thus the niche that will keep compounding around for centuries to come.


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