Mary Kelekis, O.C., O.M.
(1925 – 2019)
She was a member of the Order of Canada, a co-founder of the world’s longest running multicultural festival and a devoted sports fan.
Born at Winnipeg around 1925, one of six daughters of restauranteur Chrystomis Kelekis, she attended Daniel McIntyre Collegiate before joining the family business in the 1930s, operating what became a Winnipeg institution until its closure in January 2013.
Mary Kelekis is one of the trailblazers who may not be part of the “official history” of the province, but she’s one of the many women who worked hard with elbow grease, determination and community spirit and tried to make their city and this province the best it could be. Kelekis’s hard work and commitment to her family’s iconic business near the corner of Redwood and Main ensured the success of a restaurant famous for shoestring fries and hotdogs. But her reach went far beyond the diner in Winnipeg’s North End.
Kelekis grew up in the North End and started working in her father Chris’s restaurant at an early age along with her five sisters, Chryse, Sophie, Evelyn, Isabel and Becky, and her brother Leo. Eventually, she became the owner. Kelekis ran the family business at a time when women were not expected to be in the workplace, let alone be in charge.
Kelekis made a point of hiring young people from the North End and ensured they were equipped with an understanding of a good work ethic so they could make their way in the world. She identified young people who needed some support and hired them – giving them strong guidance.
Kelekis was a proud supporter of Daniel McIntyre Collegiate Institute in the West End and she worked hard to establish an alumni club with lifetime friends from high school days. She was also a dedicated member of St. Demetrios Greek Orthodox Church and she participated in the Ladies Philoptochos Society for many years.
When former mayor Stephen Juba asked Kelekis to become one of the founders of Folklorama, she moved beyond her business to help others. She volunteered her time and her expertise to transform two weeks in August into a multicultural holiday favourite for many. It was an important marker to celebrate Manitoba’s centennial in 1970.
She served on the Misericordia Hospital Foundation board for more than 10 years, something her family said gave her tremendous pride. The foundation presented her with an Angel Award in 2013.
In 2000, Kelekis was awarded the Order of Manitoba, the province’s highest honour, which recognizes individuals who have demonstrated excellence and achievement. And in 2002, she was awarded the Queen Elizabeth II Golden Jubilee Medal to commemorate the monarch’s 50th year on the throne. A decade later, she received the Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal.
She found time to cheer on her favourite Winnipeg Jets and Blue Bombers and ensured her nieces and nephews could enjoy season tickets with her. She died in 2019 at the age of 90.
Winnipeg Free Press