Fullerton Brown Line stairs

Stairway south of Fullerton on west side of tracks at CTA Brown Line station at 942 W. Fullerton Ave. in Chicago where a woman was pushed down a flight of stairs by an escaping robber. (Scott Strazzante, Tribune / March 29, 2011)

A woman known for her work among the homeless in Logan Square has died, a day after being knocked down a stairwell at a Lincoln Park "L" station by a fleeing robber, according to police and friends.

Sally Katona-King, 68, suffered head injuries when she fell down a dozen steps at the station in the 900 block of West Fullerton Avenue at about 4:15 p.m. Monday, police said. Officials suspect she suffered a cerebral hemorrhage.  An autopsy is scheduled for Wednesday.

The robber -- who remains at large -- had stolen an iPhone from a commuter and shoved Katona-King and other bystanders out of the way as he fled, according to a police alert.

Katona-King was taken to Advocate Illinois Masonic Medical Center, where she was pronounced dead today, police spokesman Daryl Baety said.

A friend said she had been on her way home from work at the Evangelical Lutheran Church Metropolitan Chicago Synod, where she was a receptionist in the bishop's office. It's not far from the Fullerton station.

"What a tragic loss of life of a woman who was very involved in her community," said a friend, Bill Masterson. "She worked diligently to support the homeless and hungry of Logan Square."

Katona-King had served as a deacon at the First Lutheran Church of Logan Square, he said.

"She was a loving mother and grandmother, a great and loyal friend to all who knew her and a fantastic baker and cook," Masterson said. "I was privileged to be in her home for her favorite dinner of the year, on St. Patrick's Day."

Masterson, a legal secretary, said he has known Katona-King's family since the late 1960s, when he worked with her mother Peggy, who picketed local grocery stores on behalf of migrant activist Cesar Chavez.

Unlike her mother, an outward "in your face" advocate, Masterson called Katona-King a "quiet activist" devoted to feeding the poor and hungry in her Logan Square neighborhood, coordinating food pantries and community meals.

That didn’t mean that the normally gentle woman wouldn’t speak up. “Sally was very vocal. (She would) stand up and defend herself and defend whatever issue she had a strong belief in,” Masterson said. “But she wasn't going to walk around carrying a picket sign."

Masterson saw irony in her death. "She would be the first person to reach into her purse and give anybody money if they asked," he said. "She was so generous with anybody and she had real empathy for the disadvantaged in our society and she really devoted a lot of her life to that.”

Katona-King’s other strong passion was her young grandson, Lazlo. “She just lived every day to be with him,” Masterson. “That was the love of her life.”

Another friend, Ray McGuire, said he met Katona-King in 1984 at a New Year’s Day Party at her home. Through the years they became close, through parties and get-togethers at local restaurants.

McGuire, 69, said he was last at Katona-King’s apartment in Logan Square to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day with about a dozen friends, including Katona-King’s children and her grandson.

“She made the corned beef and cabbage, and for the people who didn’t like the corned beef and cabbage, she made chicken and biscuits,” he said. “She was a very good cook, a very good baker.”

Katona-King was a lifelong North Sider who devoted much of her time to volunteering. “She was brought up that way, to help people in need,” McGuire said. “Whether it was Jewish, Protestant, Catholic, black, white, she was always there to help out.”

McGuire said he had heard about the incident at the Fullerton station on the news, but didn’t know Katona-King was the victim until this morning, when he received a call from one of her daughters. He believes she had just gotten off the train on her way home from work and was about the get on a westbound No. 74 Fullerton bus when she was shoved down the stairs.

wlee@tribune.com