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Funeral Home Owner, 'Mayor of Chicago Avenue,' Walter Sojka Dead at 84

By Alisa Hauser | August 21, 2014 10:00am
 West Town funeral home owner Walter Sojka has died at 84.
Walter Sojka Dead at 84
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WEST TOWN —  Walter Sojka, the owner of a funeral home that bears his name, was known by neighbors as the "mayor of Chicago Avenue" because he sat in front of his business and kept tabs on the area.

He started the funeral home when he was just 23 years old, and lived above it for decades.

Sojka died of a heart attack Sunday at age 84 — and will be memorialized at his own place of business.

"Even though he was sick, he was so vibrant. We figured he would live forever," said Edwin H. Cruz, the associate director of the Walter L. Sojka Funeral Home at 1457 W. Chicago Ave. in West Town.

Cruz, 52, has worked for Sojka for 37 years and called the devout Catholic and bachelor "family."

The son of tavern owners, Sojka was born June 28, 1930, and grew up at 727 N. Noble St.

Sojka started his business in 1954 at age 23.

"He wasn't sure what he wanted to do and decided to go into funeral business because it was something different. He wanted to provide personal service," Cruz said.

Sojka lived in a second-floor apartment above the funeral home, where he enjoyed cooking and entertaining, which were his passions, Cruz said.

He never married.

"He had a number of girlfriends over the years, but I am guessing his involvement in the neighborhood and church kept him so busy that it was never in the cards for him to marry," Cruz said.

And when he wasn't being a homebody, Sojka enjoyed sitting in front of his business around 4:30 p.m. daily, where he enjoyed people-watching and saying hello to passers-by while accompanied by his Chihuahua, "Chico."

"We are across the street from a bar, and he would say, 'Look at all these young people,' and say it is fantastic. He was 100 percent for gentrification," Cruz said.

Though he has no surviving immediate family outside of nieces and nephews from a deceased brother (Sojka's late sister was a nun), Sojka served as a grandfather to the Cruz family's three children, Cruz said

Cruz lives in a third-floor apartment above the funeral home with his wife, Elsa, and their youngest son.

"We would eat with him, one family under one roof. He would just come upstairs. We ate together almost every day," Cruz said.

Cruz, who is the funeral home's only employee and was willed the business by Sojka, plans to continue operating the home under Sojka's name. He said he decided to have someone else do the embalming and preparation work for Thursday's visitation.

Upon hearing the news of Sojka's passing, Deborah Heglin Kozak, a local resident, said, "So sorry to hear of his passing. Such a nice man. He was my family's undertaker for over 40 years. He will truly be missed."

Sojka's visitation is scheduled from noon to 9 p.m. Thursday at the Walter Sojka Funeral Home, 1427 W. Chicago Ave. There is a 10:30 Mass Friday at Holy Innocents Church, 743 N. Armour St.  For more information, call 312-666-2673.

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