Sophie M. Brzozka, who was so identified with the neighborhood bar she ran that regulars most often called it “Soph’s,” instead of its proper name, died Wednesday in Hospice of Northwest Ohio, Perrysburg Township. She was 93.
She was in ill health only the last few months, her grandson Scot Brzozka said.
“Up until November, she was a very active woman — playing cards and every night of the week socializing, doing something, living on her own, actually,” her grandson said.
In 2006, she moved from her longtime home on Pearl Street in North Toledo to Luther Haus, a senior apartment community in Temperance.
She retired in 1989 when she sold the Checker Cafe, the official name of the tavern at Maple Street and Pearl. Soph’s, as many called it, was a fixture of Lagrinka, the largely Polish American neighborhood along Lagrange Street. Decades earlier, she and her late husband, Chester, became owners of the cafe, then at Elm and Oakland streets nearby — the first neighborhood venue with television.
At first, she had kitchen duties, preparing the duck soup called czarnina or such bar fare as limburger cheese and onion on pumpernickel. She worked 18 hours a day and when not cooking and cleaning tended bar until closing.
Most food offerings fell away, although she still pickled hard-cooked eggs, and from the late 1970s on, she worked 8 p.m. to 2:30 a.m. — the only hours the bar was open. She still ordered the alcohol, kept the books, and laundered and mended the red and white checkered table cloths — many of them originals.
She compared it to housework.
“One day you defrost the refrigerator,” she told The Blade in 1989. “One day you wash the bar. One day you clean the pool table with the Hoover.”
The bar sponsored neighborhood ball teams and bowling leagues. As the years rolled on, she served her first patrons’ children. Young men returning from war — Korea and Vietnam — stopped at the Checker Cafe before going home.
“If they want to meet their friends, they know where to go ... ‘Go to Soph’s!’ ” Mrs. Brzozka told The Blade. That confused cab drivers, who tried to find a bar by that name, she added.
“She catered a lot to the neighborhood kids,” her niece Fran Nowak said. “She had their fathers, their mothers, then the kids came, and I’m sure even some of the grandkids. I'd say some romances blossomed at that cafe. It was a real good neighborhood hangout."
Mrs. Brzozka permitted no foul language, no fighting, and no gambling. She also listened to customers’ woes.
“And I watch the girls so the guys don’t take advantage of them,” Mrs. Brzozka said in 1989. “I’m like a mother watching over her birds.”
She enjoyed traveling and visited Alaska and British Columbia. She fished in northern Lower Michigan.
“She loved the cold. She couldn’t take the heat,” said her niece Fran, a frequent traveling companion. “She was the only one I know who went fishing with a dress on and a fur coat, and we were in a rowboat. It was October. That’s when the best fishing is.”
She played cards and liked to dance — the fox trot was her step, her niece said.
“You couldn’t help but like her. She was very warm to everybody,” her niece said. “Boy, the stories she could tell you and the jokes she could tell you!”
She was born Jan. 20, 1921, to Catherine and Vincent Czubachowski and worked at Champion Spark Plug during World War II. She was the last survivor of her seven siblings.
She and her husband, Chester, married June 6, 1942. He died June 13, 1980. Their son, Thomas, died in February, 2001.
Surviving are three grandchildren and five great-grandchildren.
Visitation will be from 2-8 p.m. Monday in Urbanski’s Bedford Funeral Chapel in Temperance. Services will be at 11 a.m. Tuesday in Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Church, Temperance, where the body will be after 10 a.m.
The family suggests tributes to Hospice of Northwest Ohio or the Lymphoma Research Foundation.
Contact Mark Zaborney at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6182.
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