Walter T. "Lucky" Stankowski, the retired owner of a Fells Point tavern and package-goods store known for its Saturday afternoon music-making sessions, died of cancer June 17 at Gilchrist Hospice Care in Towson. The Highlandtown resident was 89.
Born in Baltimore on Eastern Avenue, he was the son of Walter Stankowski, who owned a family bar, and the former Vera Litwinski, a homemaker.
"He got the name Lucky because when he got into little situations, he would always get out," said his daughter, Margaret Harrison of Ocean City.
Mr. Stankowski attended St. Stanislaus School and was a 1943 graduate of Patterson Park High School. As a child, he crabbed and swam off old industrial piers in the city's harbor. He also picked beans at Harford County farms during his childhood summers. He later worked alongside his father, who owned and managed the tavern often patronized by the maritime community. He also worked at Glenn L. Martin Aircraft in Middle River.
He joined the Army during World War II and landed at Normandy three days after the Allied invasion began in June 1944. A member of the 83rd Infantry Division, he fought in France and at the Battle of the Bulge. Wounded twice, he received two Purple Hearts.
When enemy fire blew part of his arm away, military surgeons removed bone from his leg and inserted a metal rod. He recovered fully from the surgery and regained the use of his arm. He spent nearly two weeks on a Liberty ship crossing the Atlantic to return home. He told family members that the ocean crossing was so bad that he felt it was the worst part of his wartime experience. He also spent time recuperating at military hospitals in the U.S.
He attended the old Baltimore Business School. In 1959, after the death of his father, he took over the family's Canton Liquor House, a combined package-goods store and bar at 1822 Fleet St. in Fells Point. Bar patrons entered the taproom, located at the far end of the business, through a swinging door.
"The bar is hidden, speakeasy-style; a passerby strolling along Fleet Street in Fells Point would never know that, at least once a week, this joint jumps, mostly with elderly Polish-Americans who turn Saturday afternoons at the Canton Liquor House into a party," said a 1999 City Paper article. "Men and women sing lustily along with the band, belying the grim feeling that too often permeates Baltimore's old-timer bars."
Mr. Stankowski played the harmonica. Accordion, banjo and violin players as well as others joined him for the Saturday music-making sessions.
"It was like an unofficial Polish-American citizens club," said the Rev. Michael J. Orchik, a Roman Catholic pastor who befriended Mr. Stankowski nearly 12 years ago. "I would spend my day off having lunch at the Broadway Market, and some friends said to me, 'Let's go over to Lucky's place.' There I met him. He was warm and engaging and he liked people. I found him open-hearted, accepting of everyone and friendly."
Father Orchik, who is the pastor of the Shrine of the Little Flower in Northeast Baltimore, described the bar as "homey and quaint, like a little clubhouse."
Mr. Stankowski's companion, Allison Hundley, also recalled the Saturday music sessions.
"It was amazing how many people could dance in there," she said. "It was also the cheapest bar in Fells Point — $1.25 for a can of Bud."
Ms. Harrison said, "My father could dance a mean polka, too."
He and other musicians also played at hospitals, nursing homes and funerals. Mr. Stankowski was known for his harmonica versions of "Amazing Grace" and "The Green, Green Grass of Home."
He sold the bar about six years ago and retired.
Mr. Stankowski was well known in the Polish community. A member of the St. Patrick's Post of the Catholic War Veterans, he organized the pit beef operation at early Fells Point Fun Festivals. He was also a frequent visitor of the Polish Home Club. He belonged to the Polish Legion of American Veterans.
He also served on the Baltimore City Liquor Board for many years.
A Mass of Christian burial will be offered at 11 a.m. Thursday at the Shrine of the Little Flower, 3500 Belair Road.
In addition to his daughter and companion, survivors include another daughter, Kathleen Deuerling of Baltimore; a sister, Gloria McGrain of Kingsville; and a grandson. His wife of 50 years, the former Katherine Wreden, died in 1998.