When Savas “Sam” Tsakiris, then about nine years old, and his family left their small Greek village in 1961 to emigrate to the United States, he brought along some of his native soil as a keepsake.
“He scooped up some dirt, put it in a rag made up of an old shirt,” said his son, Marc. “When his parents died, he put some of the dirt in his father’s casket, and in his mom’s casket.”
After Sam passed away last month on July 21, Marc made a discovery.
“I found the last of the soil, in that same old shirt, at his home next to his wallet,” Sam said. “I figured he wanted to be buried with it.”
Marc kept the old shirt.
Sam Tsakiris, who grew up in Greektown, attended Baltimore Poly and lived in Hunt Valley, had a long presence in Dundalk.
In addition to his dental practice on Holabird Avenue, Sam was the co-owner of the Boulevard Diner on he corner of Merritt Boulevard and Holabird Avenue.
After graduating from the University of Maryland School of Dentistry in 1980, Sam started his dental practice in 1981 and maintained it until his death last month from pancreatic cancer.
He and a partner opened the Boulevard Diner in 2001.
Sam’s father-in-law, James Chilis, owned the property at that corner, which once was the location of the House of Neptune crab house.
That restaurant eventually closed up, and an ABC Rentals business occupied the location until the 1990’s.
“After the ABC Rentals’ lease was up, my father and his partner really didn’t have a plan for what to do with the property,” Marc said. “His partner suggested a diner. My grandfather asked me, ‘would you like a diner?”, and I said yes.”
Several potential names were tossed around — Eagle Diner, Patriot Diner — before going with the obvious Boulevard Diner, for Merritt Boulevard.
Sam become more involved with the day-to-day operations of the diner after it had been open for a few years.
“He just oversaw everything,” Marc said. “Greeting people, making sure everyone was happy, helping out with the inventory, ordering supplies.”
Marc had started working at the diner in 2003. At Sam’s request, Marc helped write an employee’s handbook and craft a human resources policy.
“He pretty much made us organized,” said Marc, who still helps run the diner.
Recently, Sam had started to step back a little more to pursue a hobby other than his passion for gardening:
“He got a motorcycle, and we never saw him again on weekends after that,” Marc said. “His brother had one, and his best friend had one, and they’d go riding.”
One of Sam’s friends was Roy Plummer, who recently retired after decades being responsible for maintenance at Dundalk High School.
“It’s truer the older you get, the fewer friends you have,” Plummer said to The Eagle. “Savas Tsakiris was not only a good friend, but a great Dundalk citizen.
“Boulevard Diner owner, local dentist, husband, father, grandfather, uncle, cousin — the list of thise he loved and loved him back, and his accomplishments, would fill an entire issue of the Eagle.”
Displayed at Sam’s funeral were words of wisdom he would scribble on medical note pads.
Among them: Life is too short to waste hating anyone. Your job will not take care of you when you are sick. Your friends and family will, so stay in touch. Cry with someone, it’s more healing than crying alone. Do not compare your life with others — you have no idea what their journey is all about. Forgive everyone for everything.
Sam’s daughter, Dorothea, told The Sun: “He was proud to work in the Dundalk area and knowing that hard-working people had connections to the diner.
“He dedicated his life to helping others whether it be a relative or a stranger,” she said. “Everything he did was for other people. Being a friend, helping people out in times of need, lending a hand, or an ear, he was always there.”
Savas was born in the village of Kattavia, on the island of Rhodes, to Moskos Tsakiris, a carpenter, and Anastasia Tsakiris, a seamstress.
Growing up, he worked as a server in a restaurant, as a teacher, and played in a Greek band, performing at weddings and christenings for local Greeks.
Savas played the Bouzouki, which sort of looks like a mandolin, but longer.
He met his wife, Connie, while working in a restaurant. “Her sister was dating my dad’s cousin,” Marc said.
The couple had been married for 41 years when Savas passed away.
He was active in both his dental practice and in running the diner, as well as president of the parish council of the Greek Orthodox Church of the Annunciation.
Then came the diagnosis of stage 4 pancreatic cancer. By the time it was detected, it had spread to his liver.
“I’m still trying to process it,” Marc said. “Sometimes, it doesn’t feel real. In the beginning, it was really difficult. I was real emotional the first time he called me and I had to tell myself he wouldn’t be here much longer.
“We didn’t want to believe it, wanted a second opinion.”
The family was shown a 3D image of Savas’ body, displaying the “pretty big” tumor in his pancreas and the many dark spots in his liver.
“We realized it was serious, but we tried to stay hopeful,” Marc said. “Doctors said ‘he’s strong, he has a lot of weight on him.’ We wanted to stay hopeful, see what would happen.
“Dad was always a planner, always saying things about planning ahead. This time, he wasn’t able to do it.”
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