The Southeast loses a friend and icon

Written by on April 23, 2014 in Featured - No comments
John Ostrowski, who owned and operated Ostrowski's Famous Polish Sausage until last year, died last week. - Photo by Erik Zygmont

John Ostrowski, who owned and operated Ostrowski’s Famous Polish Sausage until last year, died last week. – Photo by Erik Zygmont

Photo by Erik Zygmont

Photo by Erik Zygmont

John Ostrowski, the well-known former owner and operator of Ostrowski’s Famous Polish Sausage, 524 S. Washington St., died last Wednesday.

He was 72.

Beyond excellent sausage–Ostrowski’s is iconic in southeast Baltimore–Ostrowski was known for his colorful sense of humor.

“There was always laughing and joking,” said Carleen Miller, who worked with Ostrowski for years during holidays and festivals. When Ostrowski’s health started deteriorating about three years ago, she came on board in a more full-time capacity.

“He was amazing,” said Miller. “There weren’t many Johnny O’s.”

When Ostrowski passed away last week, Miller printed out his signature joke–which is just a tad off-color for a family newspaper–and posted it in the shop’s window.

Anyone who has visited the shop and met Ostrowski has likely heard the joke, which involves the infamous “Little Johnny,” a horse, and a parcel courier.

Ostrowski’s wife, Joan, says that her husband’s first love was his family.

“He was extremely family-oriented,” she said, adding that customers at his sausage shop were “almost like family.”

Joan Ostrowski says that her husband had a very close relationship with their son Christopher, who died in 1995. The two spent countless hours playing golf together, she recalls.

“They already have a tee time somewhere, I’m sure,” she said.

Both are buried next to the seventh hole at a Dulaney Valley golf course.

The couple’s daughter, Jennifer O. Whetzel, says that her father’s success was likely due to his being a people person.

“He was so very personable,” Whetzel said. “He loved to tell jokes and he loved to feed people, and make sure their drinks were always full,” she said.

“My dad loved being able to talk to all of his customers,” she added. “And I think they loved that he could visit with them, too.”

In addition to golf, Joan Ostroski said that her husband enjoyed the local theater, in which she participated. He volunteered to record the plays on camera until the staff noticed that “the main characters are over there on one side of the stage, and your wife is over there on the other side with the chorus, doing absolutely nothing, and that’s where your camera is.”

“He said, ‘Yeah,’” remembered Joan Ostrowski.

John Ostrowski passed away just before Easter, a huge holiday for the sausage business. John Reusing, who owns the neighboring Bad Decisions bar and now owns Ostrowski’s Famous Polish Sausage, which he bought at the end of last year, said that holiday customers were greatly saddened to learn of John Ostrowski’s death.

“There were people crying in line on Friday,” he said, referring to the queue of sausage-buyers that spills out onto the sidewalk every year.

Reusing was neighbors with Ostrowski for six years before purchasing his shop.

“He was a good neighbor and a funny guy,” Reusing said, “a character.”

In addition to his wife and daughter, Ostrowski is survived by his daughter’s husband, Rick Hall; his two sisters, Alfreda Degheri and Carolyn Devlin, both of Florida, and a step-grandson.

A burial Mass is scheduled for Friday, April 25, 10 a.m., at Holy Rosary Church, 400 S. Chester St.

by Erik Zygmont
editor@baltimoreguide.com

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