Theodora Pappas “Teddie” Poletis, a retired Mergenthaler Vocational Technical High School librarian and church musician who was a historian of Baltimore’s Greek community, died of heart failure Wednesday at Brightview White Marsh. She was 92 and formerly lived in Rodgers Forge.
Born in Baltimore, she was the daughter of Nicholas Pappas, who co-owned a Baltimore Street hat-blocking business, and Bessie Stratakos, a homemaker. Mrs. Poletis grew up in the Baltimore Greek community on Fairmount Avenue and was a 1948 Western High School graduate.
“She had a great love of music and played second-chair violin in the school’s orchestra and studied at Peabody Preparatory,” said her daughter Kathleen Mendez. “Teddie had a beautiful voice and was a choir member for over 65 years, first at Annunciation Cathedral and later at St. Demetrios Greek Orthodox Church.”
“Her life revolved around her family, her four daughters, and the Greek Orthodox church. She thought of herself last. With four girls in a single parent household, there were challenges that went with making ends meet, but she was determined to fill our lives with purpose, keeping us faithful and feeling loved,” her daughter wrote in a family tribute.
She earned a degree at what was then Towson State College after attending night school and summer classes.
Mrs. Poletis purchased a home in Rodgers Forge in 1955 and remained there until 2018.
“Mom loved to garden, and we remember the many happy moments of her sitting on her marble patio — taken from the floor in her father’s shop — under the umbrella, enjoying the smell and beauty of her flowers, which gave her joy,” her daughter said.
Mrs. Poletis’ mother, Bessie, taught her sewing and needle crafts. She became an expert embroiderer and mastered the technique of smocking. She won blue ribbons at the Maryland State Fair.
Mrs. Poletis had a prodigious memory. Friends were fascinated by what she could tell them; she regaled people with stories of local politics and history.
She taught at Abraham Lincoln and Holabird elementary schools and Gwynns Falls Junior High.
Mrs. Poletis went on to study library science and became a librarian at Mergenthaler Vocational Technical High School, where she established an audiovisual library.
She also worked with the registrar and guidance department. She retired from Baltimore schools in 1996 after 35 years of service.
Mrs. Poletis traveled to Greece and Israel for educational studies. She visited historical sites and a kibbutz in Israel.
When she returned to Baltimore, she created a slide presentation and lectured. The trip made her curious about recording oral histories.
She was mentored by Dr. Jean Scarpaci, an oral historian, and received two ethnic history grants from former Baltimore County Executive Ted Venetoulis. The grants allowed her to study at the University of Baltimore.
Mrs. Poletis was a member of a Baltimore Oral History Society.
Nicholas M. Prevas, the Annunciation Cathedral’s parish historian, said: “Within the Greek community, Theodora was a pioneer historian. Back in the 1970s, she began assembling a superb collection of memorabilia on church events and people who were organizers of the Greek Orthodox community of Baltimore.
“She had the foresight to see the importance of preserving the personal stories of the Greek immigrants that resulted in an extensive oral history collection with written transcripts.”
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He said she was inquisitive about history and had a mind full of facts.
She loved opera and classical music.
Dr. Athan Theodorides, the former choir director of Annunciation Cathedral and a composer, mentored her in the 1960s. She played the violin and performed his compositions.
“She had a beautiful voice and was a soloist at church on many Sundays,” her daughter said.
Mrs. Poletis was a member of the St. Demetrios Church Philoptochos Society and served as the president of the Philoptochos from 1982 to 1985. Her work with the church is being recognized by the congregation.
A funeral will be held at 11 a.m. Oct. 21 at the Chapel of the Holy Resurrection at the Greek Orthodox Cemetery at 5917 Windsor Mill Road.
Survivors include her four daughters, Constance Kerrigan of Annapolis, Stephanie Morville of Parkville, Kathleen Mendez of Ponte Vedra, Florida, and Karyn Koula Poletis of Towson; seven grandchildren; and five great-grandchildren. She married Hercules G. Spanos in 1949. After a divorce, she married Peter K. Poletis in 1961. They later divorced.