William Koras, former president and chief executive officer of the catering business that fed crowds at the Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Belmont Stakes as well as Major League Baseball fans at stadiums from coast to coast, died of cancer Monday at Gilchrist Center for Hospice Care. The Lutherville resident was 72.
Named president of Harry M. Stevens Inc. in 1982, he oversaw the concessions and clubhouse dining rooms at Maryland racetracks as well as the food service at New York's Saratoga Springs, the Meadowlands in New Jersey and the Houston Astrodome.
He was the first person who was not a Stevens family member to head the company since its founder printed and sold his first scorecard in Columbus, Ohio, in 1887.
Born in Omaha, Neb., and raised on Edison Highway, Mr. Koras attended Robert E. Lee School No. 49 and was a 1950 graduate of Polytechnic Institute, where he played second base on the varsity baseball team.
In a 1982 interview in The Maryland Horse, Mr. Koras recalled taking two streetcars to reach his Greek immigrant father's Fremont Avenue lunchroom, where he worked summers and weekends.
After service as a Army radio operator in Hawaii, he earned a bachelor of arts degree from the University of Maryland, College Park. While in school, he saw a job posting from Stevens catering for 12 students to work at Laurel Race Course.
"I and about 100 others applied for the job. What they did was put all the names in a hat," he recalled in the 1982 interview.
Mr. Koras got the job, and on March 18, 1954, two days before Laurel's spring racing meet, he started work at a clubhouse hot dog stand. He worked throughout his college years at Maryland tracks and at Griffith Stadium in Washington.
In the summer of 1958, he became Stevens' track commissary steward at Charles Town, W.Va., and in 1962 was named catering manager of Fort Lauderdale Stadium -- then spring training home of the New York Yankees.
While overseeing food service at the Maryland Pavilion at the 1964 New York World's Fair, he met his future wife, Jeannette Hobbs, who was then executive secretary to the pavilion's director. They married a year later.
Mr. Koras' duties included overseeing the food operations in numerous racetrack clubhouses, where dining room meals were once served on white linen tablecloths. Menus regularly included such dishes as chicken a la king, frog legs, lamb stew and a famous rice pudding.
Stevens, which helped popularize the baseball park "red hot" dog in 1912, sold millions of them at Yankee and Shea stadiums in New York and Fenway Park in Boston, as well as the Monmouth Park, Hialeah and Gulfstream tracks.
"Bill was a most honorable guy in negotiating contracts. He kept his word," said Al Karwacki, former vice president of the old Bowie Race Course, now of Darien, Ga. "His food was uniformly good. He provided us with excellent service in the clubhouse, at the stands and in the jockeys' room too."
Mr. Koras had an office in New York City -- and later in Cranbury, N.J. -- and regularly commuted from Baltimore.
"I think he lived on the 6:36 [a.m.] Metroliner to New York," his wife said.
He was named chairman of the Stevens board in 1992. Two years later, the firm was sold to Aramark, where he remained as a consultant for another five years.
Services were held yesterday at the Greek Orthodox Cathedral of the Annunciation, where he was a member.
Survivors, in addition to his wife, include a son, William A. Koras of Reisterstown; a daughter, Elizabeth Malone of Clarksville; a brother, Nicholas Koras of Palo Alto, Calif.; and six grandchildren.