Theodore J. Zabora, 82, Bethlehem Steel worker did volunteer work at Hopkins

November 11, 1997|By Donna R. Engle | Donna R. Engle,SUN STAFF

Quietly, Theodore J. Zabora volunteered to cultivate gardens at two houses where out-of-town families can stay during cancer treatments at Johns Hopkins Hospital. And quietly, he made and gave away stained-glass items to friends and acquaintances.

Mr. Zabora, 82, a retired steel worker and Baltimore native, died Friday of lung cancer at Johns Hopkins Hospital Oncology Center, where he had been a volunteer for 12 years.

"He was always in the background. He came up and went about his business. He seemed like a quiet and gentle man," said Christine Grupenhoff, former volunteer services coordinator at the hospital.

Mr. Zabora came faithfully once a week, Ms. Grupenhoff said. He mowed the lawn, planted flowers and repaired broken items. He chauffeured his wife, who baked cookies for the patients. He donated decorative stained-glass items for craft sales.

Mr. Zabora left school at 14 to help support his family. A small, slender teen-ager, he wore four layers of clothing to an August 1928 interview so he would look big enough to be a steel worker. When he reported for a physical exam, the physician said that anyone who wanted the job that much deserved to pass the physical, according to Cecelia L. Burdinski Zabora, his wife of 57 years.

Mr. Zabora was drafted into the Army in 1944 and served in Europe. He received the Bronze Star for risking his life to take out a German machine-gun nest. His military service ended when he suffered frostbite. Mr. Zabora later suffered pain in his feet during cold weather, his wife said.

In 1947, the Zaboras moved to Dundalk and, in 1975, Mr. Zabora retired from Bethlehem Steel Corp.'s Sparrows Point plant.

He discovered his talent for working in stained glass through a class at Dundalk Community College, Mrs. Zabora said. After two lessons, he was able to duplicate a historic Fells Point transom window for the Baltimore residence of his son James R. Zabora. He made birds, flowers and circular designs of colored glass.

"He never, never sold anything," Mrs. Zabora said. "He would spend his pension money to buy materials and then give [his creations] away."

Mr. Zabora became involved at Hopkins through his son James, who was director of patient and family services and is now associate director for community research at the oncology center. The day before Rockwell House -- one of the residences for cancer patients' families -- was scheduled to open, Mrs. Zabora said, James Zabora recruited his father to help cut the grass.

Mr. Zabora was a member of the Disabled American Veterans for 50 years.

A Mass of Resurrection will be offered at St. Rita Roman Catholic Church, 2903 Dunleer Road, at 11 a.m. today.

Survivors also include another son, Theodore Zabora Jr. of Baldwin; and four grandchildren.

Memorial contributions may be made to the Joanne Rockwell House or the Hackerman-Patz House, 1910 E. Jefferson St., Baltimore 21205. Contributions will be used to establish a fund to maintain the gardens that Mr. Zabora tended.

Pub Date: 11/11/97

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