Remembering Stella Sarkioglu Muhler, 90, of Collingswood, Philadelphia


Muhler, grandmother of NJ Pen Editor and Founder Matt Skoufalos, lived a life of generosity and faith.

By Matt Skoufalos | March 20, 2024

Stella Sarkioglu Muhler was never happier than with her family. Credit: Matt Skoufalos.

On March 18, after months of declining health, Stella Sarkioglu Muhler departed this world just a few days shy of what would have been her 91st birthday.

In that lifetime, she was a daughter, a sister, a wife, an ex-wife, and a widow; a mother, an aunt, a godmother, a beloved grandmother and great-grandmother, and dear friend.

A child of immigrants, Stella shepherded her family name through its fragile early years in America, the country that would shelter her parents from the political instability and war that had ravaged their native Greece.

She was born March 22, 1933 in Philadelphia, the second of Constantine and Alexandra Sarkioglu’s three children, and their only daughter, five years after the young, married couple crossed the Atlantic Ocean.

“Gus,” to which the Greeks often shorten Constantine in English, lent his name to an oyster house at the corner of Oregon Avenue and Franklin Street in South Philadelphia. The family lived nearby, on Darien Street, and worked long hours there. Stella’s brother John Sarkioglu recalls their parents rising at 4 a.m. to put on the coffee that would serve trash collectors in their horse-drawn carriages.

Well-made seafood was vital to Philadelphia’s Roman Catholic population, who observed a religious edict for meatless Fridays, and Alexandra’s crab cakes were a staple of the menu. John remembers his mother preparing them while she spoke about his studies in Greek school, and he peeled potatoes. Alexandra took elementary school classes until she could read and write English, and she would read the newspaper, front to back, every day.

The family was never rich nor poor, but worked to assimilate into the American way of life, even while preserving the cultural traditions of its homeland in community with other Greeks at Saint George Greek Orthodox Cathedral in Center City Philadelphia. Pennsylvania blue laws limited most activities on Sundays, and in the days before television, services at St. George were followed by coffee hour and a trip to the movies.

Stella was devoted to the church from her youngest days, singing in the choir, volunteering with its popular Agora festivals and fundraisers, and eventually serving on the board of its chapter of the Greek Orthodox Ladies Philoptochos Society, which promotes and performs charity work throughout the world.

Stella appears in a photograph of some 350 Sunday school students taken at Saint George’s in 1942, when she was nine years old. Some 80 years later, when the cathedral held a contest to see who could identify the most people in that image, Stella won, a testament to her recollection and affinity for details.

Her mind was always sharp, and so was her appearance. Stella’s daughter, Alexandria (Alexis) Skoufalos, remembers that her mom always kept things “just so.” John agreed, noting that although “she was very nice about it,” Stella always “tried to have everybody around here step it up.”

Stella’s marriage to John Kolias in 1954 was short-lived, but produced her only child. Nonetheless, the family unit was solid. When she moved back home, they supported her not only in raising Alexandria, but also through a bout with Graves’ Disease. She would later tell her grandchildren about job-hunting with a scarf around her neck to hide the scar from her thyroid surgery.

Although the divorce rate among Americans in the 1950s was comparable to that of today, social attitudes at the time were far more critical of such behavior. Alexandria was bullied by other children for growing up without a father. Like many single mothers, Stella did her best to make sure her daughter was well cared for and presentable; even her white sneakers were to be polished regularly.

Stella eventually found work as a secretary at the Philadelphia Navy Yard, and later at the Marine Corps Supply Activity building in Point Breeze, working her way up the civilian branch of government service to become a contract specialist, roughly the equivalent rank of a lieutenancy.

It was also through the U.S. Navy that Stella met her second husband, and the love of her life, Charles Paul Muhler. They were married January 12, 1969, and shared 11 years together between Philadelphia and Virginia Beach, Virginia, until Charles fell ill and died on January 15, 1980.

Stella Sarkioglu Muhler. Credit: Alexis Skoufalos.

From then on, Stella poured all her love into her nieces, nephews, and grandchildren.

There was no birthday, holiday, or milestone celebration that passed without a card arriving in her crisp, cursive handwriting, always with some money inside.

There was no Easter Sunday without a basket, nor start of school without new clothes; no Christmas Day in which her car failed to arrive, its trunk brimming with gifts like Santa’s sleigh.

Anything Stella made of her worldly efforts was only useful to her in service to someone else, and she brought ease and comfort to her daughter’s young family as they raised three boys on a single income. She displayed the same largesse with her friends’ children and grandchildren; and found an infinite wellspring of joy in her great-grandchildren, whose visits she treasured with renewed vitality in her later years.

When her declining physical condition prevented her from living independently, Stella was often frustrated by not being able to host guests in the fashion she would have preferred, which was always a kingly welcome of food and drink. Alexandria’s closest friend, Sally Mazor Page, called her “Mom Muhler,” as Stella welcomed her like a second daughter into the family home. The two exchanged correspondence throughout their lives.

Stella’s loves included the Philadelphia Phillies, Gone With the Wind, Johnny Mathis, Nat King Cole, and Patrick Swayze. She looked forward to newspaper puzzles, especially the cryptogram and crossword, and preferred to finish her meals with a cup of coffee and a small bit of bread.

She made her home in northeast Philadelphia for many years, eventually relocating to Pennsauken after her mother’s passing, and then Collingswood. Her last days were spent in the care of the United Methodist Communities staff, who were by her side in her final moments, working to keep her comfortable as her body betrayed her.

Stella lives on in the hearts and deeds of all whose lives she touched, but especially her daughter, Alexandria Skoufalos (Thomas), grandchildren Matthew, Gregory (Elizabeth), and Stephen Skoufalos; great-grandchildren Jet, Axel, and Leila; brother John (Penny) Sarkioglu of Meadowbrook, Pennsylvania; goddaughters Stephanie Sarkioglu of Holland, Pennsylvania, and Nanette Sarkioglu, niece Elaine (Vincent) Trosino of Bloomington, Illinois; and nephews Kenneth, Michael, Christopher, and Robert Sarkioglu of Philadelphia. She was predeceased by her brother, Charles Sarkioglu, Sr. of Philadelphia.

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