Katherine Strakes, a former manager of the Towson Diner who had a second career in real estate development, died Aug. 31 at Gilchrist Center in Towson from osteomyelitis. The Edenwald retirement community resident was 93.
“Many people looked up to Katherine and said publicly they wanted to be like her,” said the Rev. Louis J. Noplos, pastor of St. Demetrios Greek Orthodox Church in Parkville, where Ms. Strakes was a longtime member. “She was in church every Sunday until the last few months of her life, and never missed a weekday liturgy or a Bible study class.
“She is someone who is really going to be missed,” he added. “Her commitment to the church, both physically and financially, was extraordinary, and she was a loyal friend to many.”
The former Katherine Stratakis was the daughter of Gus Stratakis and Anna Stratakis, diner owners. She was born and raised in Brooklyn, N.Y. Later in life she began using Strakes as the spelling of her last name.
“She excelled at school and graduated early, at 16, from Lafayette High School,” said a son, Gus Strakes of Monkton.
Her father owned and operated the New York Diner, and decided in 1942 to relocate the business from Brooklyn to Eastern Avenue in Essex. The diner was located near the old Glenn L. Martin Co. plant in Middle River.
“After graduating from high school in 1942, she got on a Trailways bus heading to Maryland to work at the diner with her father,” her son said. “It was during World War II, and she and her sister used to work 12-hour shifts because of the war workers who ate there.”
In 1952 the family opened a second diner, The Essex, across the street from their original location. She joined her siblings in operating that business.
Bernard Siegel, first president of the Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Foundation who helped steer more its philanthropy to the city, died Aug. 19 from cancer at the North Oaks Retirement Community. He was 88.
After her brother, James G. Stratakis, opened the Towson Diner on York Road, she managed the business for 30 years until retiring in 1987. In addition to working at the diner, she joined her brother and a sister, Mary Antonakos, in commercial real estate development. They established Texas Properties LLC, DJK LLC and Peacock Properties LLC.
“She was the operations and managing director of the three enterprises,” her son said. “She played a vital role in obtaining financing for acquisitions… and property management for ongoing commercial real estate assets in Northern Baltimore County.
Their developments included Nationwide Nissan at York and Timonium roads, and Church Lane Shopping Center in Cockeysville, as well as properties in several other states.
Deeply religious, Ms. Strakes played a pivotal role as one of the founding members in 1970 of what was then known as the Suburban Greek Orthodox Community, later St. Demetrios Greek Orthodox Church.
In addition to hosting “hospitality teas” to help raise funding for the fledgling church, she was the primary force behind the purchase of a 30-acre parcel on Cub Hill Road, which eventually became the church’s home. She also participated in fund raising that resulted in construction of a church hall.
“Katherine was an avid steward and pillar of our community at St. Demetrios,” Father Noplos said. “She was a strong-willed woman who raised her three children practically on her own and did a very fine job.”
Ms. Strakes was recalled as being outgoing — and a commanding presence.
“We used to call her ‘the sergeant,’ and after I was here for 10 years, I promoted her to ‘general,’” Father Noplos, the church pastor of 22 years, said with a laugh.
“Churches use a bell or a light to let the congregation know when to stand or knee. We didn’t need them, we had Katherine,” he said. “When she stood, they followed. When she kneeled, they followed. One time she dropped something and kneeled to pick it up, and everyone followed her.”
Ms. Strakes served on many committees and helped with the church’s annual Greek Festival.
“When she called on the phone and asked for volunteers for the festival, no one dared say no,” he said. “You simply couldn’t say no to Katherine.”
While gifted with a somewhat feisty personality, Ms. Strakes was a “good listener,” Father Noplos said.
“She was always willing to listen and she had the ability to say she was wrong,” he said. “She always stressed her love of the clergy and would get behind their decisions.”
The longtime resident of Goucher Boulevard in Towson moved to Edenwald in 2016.
Ms. Strakes enjoyed cooking Greek dishes and entertaining family and friends.
“When she moved to Edenwald, she said she wanted an apartment with a kitchen because she wanted to cook,” said her daughter, Anna Strakes Besal of Virginia Beach, Va. “She was know for ‘diples’ which is a fried pastry with honey and nuts, and ‘pastitsio,’ which is Greek lasagna made with a bechamel sauce rather than a tomato sauce.”
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In addition to her son and daughter, she is survived by another son, Van Strakes of the Phoenix community in Baltimore County; six grandchildren; and nine great-grandchildren. Her marriage ended in divorce.