The great, unstoppable Maria Karvunidis is gone

Sadly, I have the honor of writing the obituary for my mother-in-law, the legendary Maria Karvunidis. I missed her from the moment she took her last breath in our arms. The following will appear in the Chicago Tribune this Sunday and next week in The Evanston Review.


Maria Lieselotte Karvunidis, 68, of Lake Geneva, WI, died peacefully in the arms of those who loved her on July 31, 2014. She was born in Heidelberg, Germany on May 16, 1946. She was the youngest of three fiesty, good-looking children. She and her siblings, Dieter and Irene, made mischief and joy in their family home where Maria had a knack for putting away bananas and chocolate. She was an adored child whose very existence was willed into being by an 8-year-old Irene who marched to church to pray for a sister after the war. It worked!

In 1967 Maria came to Chicago to join her sister and while working at The Flame restaurant in Evanston, she met the father of her children, ex-husband and lifelong friend: the bright, tender and persistent Niko Karvunidis (senior). They married in 1968 and she gained a mother-in-law, with whom she grew very close. The trio lived together (with varying opinions on the decor) on Grant street in Evanston.

Niko and Maria were married 27 years, which produced the charming, sly Niko junior and cherubic Athina. Maria was a wonderful mother who led by example. She made holidays as festive and bright as her own spirit, and did so while wearing amazing hats.

Maria opened and ran Kaffee Haus 1800 (later adding My Bar) in Evanston for 13 years of music, wine and delicious food. It was not only a place of joy, but also friendship as Maria opened her heart and her handbag to anyone in need.

In 1998, she met the dashing Edwin Carrero who wore great shoes and impressed her with his dancing at The Green Dolphin. The pair moved to Lake Geneva, WI and opened Maria’s Bed And Breakfast where they became regionally famous for their warm hospitality. Also, fresh muffins.

Maria's unsparing love and style was put to greatest use in her devotion to her family. If she saw her daughter-in-law’s walls needed a coat of paint or someone looked like they could use a schnitzel, there was no stopping her. For Maria – now Oma – joy was singing “Hoppe Hoppe Reiter” or jumping in piles of leaves with her five grandchildren: Miles, Bianca, Isaac, Stella (whose middle name, Maribel means “beautiful Maria”) and Greta. They are all spirited and adorable. Just like Oma.

Maria was active in the Rotary Clubs of Evanston and Lake Geneva, which were an extension of her generous heart. She did not let a single person suffer and embodied the true meaning of charity in every gift and word she gave. She was an amazing mother, aunt, sister, cousin, mother-in-law, partner and friend. Maria Karvunidis was truly one of a kind and will be missed terribly by everyone who knew her.

Maria’s gifts and memory live on in her family members: Irene Diebold, Niko Karvunidis, Athina Sato, Jenna Karvunidis, Bianca Karvunidis, Stella Karvunidis, Greta Karvunidis, Aaron Sato, Miles Sato, Isaac Sato, Christina Gokcek, Mehmet Gokcek, Zachary Gokcek, Noah Gokcek, Susanne John, Harald Rausch, Stefan Rausch, Doreen Filice, Edwin Carrero, Niko Karvunidis Sr and Muge Karvunidis.

Mass will be held at St. Athanasius in Evanston at 10:00 on Saturday, August 9.

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Filed under: Being German, Good Stuff, Grief

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