John A. Kassakatis, 73, union leader

September 24, 2005|By Frederick N. Rasmussen | Frederick N. Rasmussen,sun reporter

MR. KASSAKATIS — John A. Kassakatis, a retired millwright and union official, died of cancer Sept. 17 at his Dundalk home. He was 73.

Mr. Kassakatis -- who was called "Kass" or "Johnny K" -- was born in Baltimore and raised in Violetville. He was a graduate of City College and served in the Navy during the Korean War.

Mr. Kassakatis was employed as millwright for 34 years at Crown Cork & Seal Co., where he also became an active member of the International Association of Machinists Local 186, My Maryland Lodge.

"He couldn't get things done he wanted to, so he joined the union and became a shop steward. He was the son of a union man who had worked at the Coast Guard yard in Curtis Bay," said his wife of 42 years, the former Mary Rodenberg, a retired filling-station cashier.

"He was a talker. Boy, could he talk. It took us forever to ever leave a place because on the way out, he always found someone to talk to," she said.

After retiring from Crown Cork & Seal in 1997, he went to work as assistant to Ernie Grecco, president of the Metropolitan Baltimore Council AFL-CIO. He had been the council's recording secretary for 12 years.

"I can't remember a time when I didn't know John. He was the embodiment of trade unionism. He loved his union, was a devout Democrat, and a veteran," Mr. Grecco said yesterday. "The only thing he loved more than the union was his family."

Mr. Kassakatis had a huge capacity for work, friends said.

"He could outwork men and women who were much younger. When we were out in the political field doing [campaigning], John was the first one there at 5:30 a.m. When we endorsed political candidates and they came before our union panel, he'd chair the sessions," Mr. Grecco said.

"He was both a good person and a good unionist. He was extremely dedicated to causes that benefited working people," said Bea Harris, executive secretary to Mr. Grecco.

Mr. Kassakatis continued working until earlier this year, when he stepped down because of failing health.

"Kass was a very loyal soldier. He was a role model for me, a ball of energy, and always smiling. When I first ran in 1997, he was one of my key people. His death leaves a big void," said Baltimore County Councilman John Olszewski Sr., who represents Dundalk.

"He was always positive. He never said anything negative about anybody," Mr. Olszewski said. "And when it came to his union work, he wanted blue-collar people to be taken care of. He knew that the union was the backbone of their families."

Mr. Kassakatis was known for wearing a wide variety of hats drawn from his collection and dressing up as Santa Claus at Christmas or all in green to celebrate St. Patrick's Day.

He was a member of St. Luke's Evangelical Lutheran Church in Dundalk.

Services were held Wednesday.

Surviving, in addition to his wife, are a son, Jason J. Kassakatis of Dundalk; a daughter, Tena R. Baskette of Dundalk; three brothers, Jerry Kassakatis of Westminster, Donald Kassakatis of Buffalo, N.Y., and William Kassakatis of Pennsylvania; two sisters, Ida Fields of Jessup and Ruth Varveri of Violetville; and four grandchildren.

fred.rasmussen@baltsun.com

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