Marion Calomiris Kopsidas, 90, who once cooked 175 chickens in her own kitchen for a Greek Church Food Festival, died of pneumonia July 20 at Sibley Memorial Hospital.
Mrs. Kopsidas, a Washington resident, was a whirlwind of a volunteer. She started the Greek food booth for the Salvation Army's garden party in 1971 and managed it until 1995. She started and ran the Salvation Army's Toy Shop for 45 years, enlisting the help of first ladies and wives of Supreme Court justices.
The Greek Church Food Festival was her idea, too. When it started at her church in 1961, the expected volunteers didn't show up. "I peeled and chopped 50 pounds of onions by myself one night, and that was before the Cuisinart!" she told The Washington Post's Food section in 2000.
The delicacies -- spanakopita, moussaka, cheese pies, spinach pies, dolmades, chicken and baklava, food from the gods and fit for the gods, in her words -- never lasted long enough to spoil. For years, she cooked and stored the food in her home and relied upon volunteers to transport it.
"My husband bought me a second stove, and we put it in the laundry room, so I had two ovens in the kitchen and one downstairs, three total going around the clock," she said. "I was so young. I had great energy."
After the first few years, a veritable army of volunteers turned up at Sts. Constantine and Helen Greek Orthodox Church on 16th Street NW to join her in the chopping, folding, dicing, cooking and gossiping.
"Cooking is part of being Greek, I guess, or being a woman," Mrs. Kopsidas said. "I love it, it's part of me. And, I love eating."
So did those who nibbled her caloric cuisine. Many first ladies, starting with Mamie Eisenhower, tasted such specialties as kataifi (shredded wheat with nuts and honey syrup), galatoboureko (strudel dough layered with a sweet, rich filling, baked and served with honey syrup) and tyropita (cheese-filled pastries).
"Her last doctor said when he hears her name, he thinks baklava," said her daughter, Margot Siegel of Washington. "She had so much energy. We'd say, she'd put her hat on her head and start. She cooked everything from scratch, all Greek food. But she never entertained for less than 100 [guests]. She said it wasn't worth the work."
Mrs. Kopsidas and her husband, John Kopsidas, who died in 1978 and was owner of a wholesale fruit company, hosted lavish parties with such guests as American cabinet secretaries and Greek prime ministers. Barbara Bush, then the wife of the vice president, was photographed eating Mrs. Kopsidas's food in the living room at one soiree.
Born in New York City, she moved to Washington at the age of 4. She graduated from Eastern High School in 1933 and married a year later. Her life was consumed with family, cooking and volunteering.
After President John F. Kennedy's assassination in 1963, Mrs. Kopsidas supervised a staff of volunteers who responded to condolence letters sent to the White House from overseas.
She was president of the Salvation Army's Women's Auxiliary in 1970, and president of Pronia, the women's charity group at Sts. Constantine and Helen. She also was the first president of Philoptochos, another Greek women's service group.
Mrs. Kopsidas was the first American woman to receive the Greek Order of Beneficence in 1967 for her charity and fundraising work in Greece and the United States. The Salvation Army in 1993 gave her its "Others" award, presented to volunteers who render exceptional service. In 1997, the women's auxiliary gave her its lifetime service award.
All that work, and she threw parties for other volunteers, too. "I should have my head examined," she said in 1990. "No one could pay me to work as hard as I do. But I love the [Salvation] Army. They are such good, altruistic people."
Survivors, besides her daughter, include a son, Stephen J. Kopsidas of Washington; four grandchildren; and four great-grandchildren.
Asked once where to find the best Greek restaurant in town, Mrs. Kopsidas gave her own address. Asked to share a recipe, she exclaimed, "What am I doing? I'm giving away my children!"
But then she obliged, warning cooks always to use good olive oil and unsalted butter, never to take shortcuts or skimp on ingredients and to use fresh parsley, mint and dill rather than dried.