On November 13, 2023 surrounded by family and her little dog Pippa, Martha passed away peacefully in her sleep after a battle with Lymphoma.
Born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in 1931, Martha grew up a city girl in a large brownstone house on 9th Street. The daughter of Greek immigrants Panagiota and Evangelos Mandras and one of nine children, the house was always lively, filled with friends and relatives, laughter, music, dancing, and the smell of fresh bread baking in the oven. She attended the Philadelphia High School for Girls where she graduated with high honors. She then studied at Temple University. Although she traveled later in life and lived in many exotic places, she was a Philadelphia girl through and through, and never lost her passion for Philly hot pretzels and cheese steaks!
She attended the Greek Orthodox Church regularly and sang in the choir, and that’s where she met her husband of 58 years, Nicholas G. Valko. They soon settled in their first home in Huntington Valley where their daughters Maria and Nicolette were born. Shortly after that, they embarked on a wonderful years-long adventure.
Both Martha and Nick were very connected to their Greek heritage and developed a life-long love affair with Greece. Through Nick’s work, they lived in Athens for 5 years then another 5 years in Buenos Aires, before returning to the United States, first in Columbus Ohio and finally settling back in the Philadelphia area in 1973. Her favorite house of all was in Chesapeake City, Maryland, where she and Nick could watch the ships go by in the Chesapeake Canal from their backyard. After Nick retired, they moved to Florida. She’d had it with the cold weather! Through 35 years, they spent every summer in their apartment in Vouliagmeni, Greece. Martha loved the sun, the sea and everything about Greece.
Martha loved traveling and was always willing to live in different places, try new things, and even learn new languages. She was a great entertainer and her home was always filled with friends and family. Her huge holiday gatherings were legendary, especially Greek Easter and she would prepare all the food herself, never complaining. Her door was always open and her warmth and hospitality made everyone feel welcome. She was involved with many charities, a very social person who was always active in the community.
Martha was a wonderful artist spending hours in her studio creating beautiful portraits and landscapes using pastels, oil and charcoal. She loved trying new methods to express her endless creativity, even delving into woodwork at one point and building unique birdhouses. She also had musical talent. She loved to play the piano and having never bothered to learn to read musical notes, she still played the piano perfectly, by ear. Martha was also a voracious reader, she read constantly. She loved so many things; antiques, fine china, art, cooking, opera, and real estate to name a few, and we all learned to appreciate them through her. She was deeply spiritual and made sure her family had spiritual strength too.
Martha loved children most of all. When her beloved granddaughter Jane was born, she doted on her and enjoyed playing with her for hours on end. She was a big kid at heart!
After she was widowed, Martha spent her last 13 years living in California with her daughter Nicolette and Nikki’s husband John. In 2020 she moved with them full time to their ranch in Santa Barbara County. She loved the countryside and she saw beauty in absolutely everything. She marveled at the fields of fresh produce in the area. She loved star gazing and watching the clouds and the sunset. She was a true nature lover. Maria spent a lot of time in California and Jane was there too, so she was happily surrounded by her family.
Martha instilled in her daughters empathy and respect for all living creatures. Her compassion for animals inspired Nikki and John to open their nonprofit in her honor; Martha’s Farm Animal Sanctuary, which provides a forever home for neglected, abandoned and re-homed farm animals. Martha loved visiting the animals every day and was so proud of the work being done there. The sanctuary is her legacy.
Most importantly, Martha was the best wife to Nick, who ardently adored her, and the most wonderful mother to Maria and Nicolette, and grandmother to Jane. Her love for her family was so strong and she made sure her family always felt loved and supported unconditionally. She was so gentle and kind, even tempered, optimistic and endlessly patient. Never an unkind word towards anyone, she had a positive outlook on life and it never wavered, regardless of the circumstances. Beautiful inside and out, Martha was one in a million. We miss you so much Mom.
Martha is survived by her daughter Maria, her husband Harry and her granddaughter Jane; also her daughter Nicolette and her husband John.