UKRAINIAN VILLAGE — Kazimiera “Kasia” Bober, the founder of a Polish deli in Ukrainian Village that bears her name and a successful wholesale business that stocks her frozen pierogies in grocery stores around the country, has died.
She was 80.
The mother of three, grandmother of six and great-grandmother of one, died on June 2 after suffering a heart attack.
Until the day before she died, she was working at her deli, her family said.
"She was there every single day for seven days a week. She loved that place; that was her life," said Kasia's son, Christopher Bober, adding, "She had a never-give-up attitude."
Along with his sister Barbara Jakubowicz and niece, Elizabeth Zbigniew, Christopher Bober helps to run Kasia's Deli at 2101 W. Chicago Ave.
The deli was opened by Kasia on Dec. 12, 1982. She followed that success with a wholesale business that supplies pierogis, blintzes and potato pancakes to outlets around the country, including Costco.
Born Nov. 6, 1935 in Hoczew, Poland — a mountain village of less than 500 near the Ukrainian and Slovakian border — Kasia relocated to Chicago's Ukrainian Village in 1974.
As a single mother of three, Kasia "did not speak a word of English" and had to borrow money to pay for her plane ticket, her son said.
After working days at multiple jobs, including Cesar's Deli along Damen Avenue, Kasia was able to bring Christopher and her eldest daughter Barbara to Chicago in 1982. Seven years later, in 1989, Kasia's youngest daughter, Mary, reunited with the family.
Christopher Bober said that the day before his mother died was an ordinary day.
Kasia Bober went to Uncle Mike's [Place] on Grand Avenue for breakfast like she always did, eating the same thing she had for the last 25 years: a cup of oatmeal and two eggs over-easy.
"In the past she would also have an English muffin but for the last few years she switched to a slice of toast. She was concerned about her sodium intake," he said.
After coming to her deli, she complained of chest pains, so her daughter, Barbara, drove her to the hospital where it was determined she was having a heart attack.
The next day, on June 2, Kasia Bober had an angiogram and during that procedure suffered another heart attack. Later that same day, she was pronounced dead.
Though work was her career, passion for her family was equally important.
"We celebrated her 80th birthday last year. She was very happy about that and being a great grandmother," Christopher Bober said.
In the Polish community, Kasia Bober was an inspiration to others. She was a supporter of the Polish Museum of America and the cultural institution's first honorary life member, the museum said in a Facebook post.
Helena Madej, owner of Podhalanka, a Polish restaurant at 1549 W. Division, which opened in 1986, said that Kasia Bober was very well respected among her peers.
"Everyone in the business is working hard. She was working very hard," Madej said.
Though Kasia Bober always told her children that she did not want the deli to close even for a day when she died, the family closed the deli last Saturday because workers wanted to attend her funeral mass.
Christopher Bober said that many mourners, including former deli workers, attended his mother's mass at St. Helen's Church led by Bishop Thomas Paprocki, a Chicago native who now oversees the Diocese of Springfield, and was assisted by 10 other priests from Polish parishes around the city.
As his mother wanted, the plan is to continue the business as a second-generation operation with the values she instilled in her children.
"She felt that with hard work and determination you can accomplish anything in life," Christopher Bober said.
Kasia Bober in her deli, in an undated family photo. [Provided]
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