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Grace Georgandis, World War II veteran, dies at 95

Veteran Cemetery Flag (nosheep/Pixabay)

Grace Georgandis, a World War II veteran who had careers in education and restaurants, died April 2 at Woodland Nursing and Rehabilitation in Davis, California. The former Timonium resident was 95.

The former Grace Rakentzes, daughter of Michael Rakentzes, a Bethlehem Steel Corp. steelworker and package store owner, and his wife, Helen Rakentzes, a homemaker, was born and raised on Macon Street in Highlandtown. Her parents were immigrants from the Greek island of Chios, family members said.

“When she was in elementary school, she was held back a year because she couldn’t speak English,” said a daughter, Gina Carter of Davis. “I can still hear her saying, ‘I couldn’t speak the language.’ ”

She was a 1944 graduate of Patterson High School.

“She wanted to have the best typing and stenographic skills so she could find a good job after graduating from high school,” Ms. Carter said.

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Mrs. Georgandis went to work as a typist-stenographer for the Social Security Administration, which in those days was located in the Candler Building on Pratt Street in downtown Baltimore.

“Then she thought that she wanted to become a nurse after hearing about a nursing program in the Navy, so she enlisted in 1945 in the WAVES,” her daughter said. “A lot of women of the Greek immigrant community weren’t doing that. Her parents thought it was crazy, but she thought it was one of the most important things she did in her life.”

“She ran off and joined the Navy,” said another daughter, Elaine Georgandis of Timonium. “Her parents objected because she didn’t tell them she had enlisted.”

Trained as a pharmacist’s mate, Mrs. Georgandis served at the Balboa Naval Hospital in San Diego and subsequently at the Bethesda Naval Hospital. She was discharged in 1947, and her decorations included the American Defense Service Medal and the World War II Victory Medal.

“During her service, she helped bring joy and laughter to the troops, volunteering to perform in USO shows at military installations on the West Coast,” Ms. Georgandis said.

In 1947, she married George Georgandis, a Greek Merchant Marine steamship captain.

“He continued sailing until 1957, when he opened the North Star Inn on North Point Boulevard,” Ms. Georgandis said. “He was murdered in a holdup in 1969.”

“She decided she wanted to be a teacher and enrolled in 1955 at what was then Towson State Teachers College,” Ms. Carter said.

Mrs. Georgandis, who earned a bachelor’s degree in 1959, began teaching at Stoneleigh Elementary School. A reading specialist and a speech therapist, she was a member of the faculty of Lutherville Elementary School from 1960 to 1969.

In 1985 she moved to Madison, Wisconsin, and lived with Ms. Carter until returning to Timonium five years later, when she helped family members start Michael’s Cafe in Timonium, which formerly was the old Fairgrounds Inn.

“She worked there as kitchen manager from 1990 until 2000, and then in 2004 returned to Madison,” said Ms. Georgandis.

“She did the cooking and baking at a pastry shop in Madison and also taught cooking classes at a local cooking store,” Ms. Carter said. “She taught Greek as well as French recipes.”

Mrs. Georgandis also sold her pastry at the local farmers market.

“They called her the ‘Greek Pastry Lady,’ ” Ms. Carter said.

“Obviously, she was a woman of many talents who literally had her hands in the dough,” Ms. Georgandis said with a laugh.

While living in Timonium, Mrs. Georgandis was a founder in 1970 of St. Demetrios Greek Orthodox Church in Carney, where she served for a number of years on the parish council.

In 2013, she moved with her daughter, Ms. Carter, and her husband, Keith, to Davis.

“She was an independent trailblazer and a dynamic and generous woman,” Ms. Georgandis said. “She understood the value of education and being an informed citizen, values she passed on to her daughters and grandchildren.

“She touched many lives far and wide with her generosity and selflessness, her openness and appreciation of new ideas and people from different cultures and backgrounds, and her clear understanding that we would ultimately be judged [by] how we treat the less fortunate among us.”

Mrs. Georgandis was in many ways a feminist who believed in the empowerment of women and lived her own life that way.

“She was so excited that she could vote for a woman presidential candidate, Hillary Clinton, in 2016, and we know what happened,” Ms. Carter said. “I’m saddened that she’ll never have that opportunity to see a woman elected president.”

Plans for a celebration-of-life service are incomplete.

In addition to her two daughters, Mrs. Georgandis is survived by a brother, Matthew Rakentzes of Timonium, and three grandchildren.

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© 2020 The Baltimore Sun