Adele A. Barakat, 95, of Kennett Square, a businesswoman and philanthropist, died Sunday, April 29, of cardiac failure at her home.
Born in Ardmore, Mrs. Barakat graduated from Haverford High School and took business courses. During World War II, she worked for the U.S. Army Signal Corps, which assisted with military communications.
In 1946, she married machinist Joseph S. Barakat after he immigrated to the United States from Jage, Lebanon, the village her family had lived in before moving to the United States and settling in the Philadelphia area.
"He stayed in my mom's family's house, and that's how they met," said daughter Rachel.
The couple had seven children. Mrs. Barakat nurtured her brood in Havertown while juggling full-time work in a family-owned sandwich shop that later expanded into a bar.
"Thank God we've been blessed," she told the Inquirer in January 1988 in a profile of her husband and the family's businesses.
But it wasn't just blessings that caused the family to prosper. It was grit, determination, and hard work that led to the success of several businesses. As the enterprises grew, they employed as many as 250 workers at a time in the Philadelphia region.
In 1947, the couple invested $600 in a hoagie shop called Joe's Bar & Grill in the Manoa section of Havertown. She managed the restaurant for 33 years. The family lived next door.
In the early years, the couple worked 16 to 18 hours a day and kept daughter Mary Ann in a playpen in the kitchen. Soon they added a bar. By 1975, the enterprise was grossing $250,000 annually, according to the Inquirer.
Other enterprises were a sheet-metal company in Southwest Philadelphia that her husband bought, turned around, and resold, and ATACS Corp., a maker of military communication systems, which he operated in Oxford, Chester County.
Mrs. Barakat had a strong faith and a belief in the importance of church as a focal point for the Lebanese American community. As the family's fortunes rose, the Barakats opened their home to other Lebanese immigrants who needed help getting established in America.
In the 1980s, she and her husband donated a 14-acre property to establish a church in the Philadelphia suburbs. The idea was that local Lebanese Maronite Catholics — a rite of the church mostly centered in the Middle East – would not have to travel to Philadelphia to worship.
The property was later sold and the proceeds used to acquire a new site in Newtown Square. Construction began on St. Sharbel Church on Providence Road. Families from Delaware, Chester and Montgomery Counties celebrate the Maronite service there, the family said.
In 1983, in recognition of their contributions to the Catholic Church, Mrs. Barakat and her husband were honored by Pope John Paul II. She was named a Papal Lady and he was named a Knight Commander of the Order of St. Gregory, the highest honor the Catholic Church bestows on laymen.
"I remember there was a dinner where they received this award," said Rachel Barakat. "She was very humbled and honored and thrilled to be there, because it was important to her to keep the culture of the Lebanese people alive in the U.S. and help people feel at home here because of the celebration of that culture."
Mrs. Barakat's love of family led her to support charitable organizations that benefited children. From 1962 to 1965, the Barakats led a regional fundraising organization on behalf of St. Jude Children's Research Hospital in Memphis, Tenn. The couple stayed involved in the group until 1974. At one point, they helped the actor Danny Thomas, a Lebanese American who founded the hospital, organize an appearance at the Bazaar of All Nations in Delaware County.
The Barakats maintained vacation homes in Bethany Beach, Del, and Naples, Fla. Mrs. Barakat loved family get-togethers and bird-watching through a picture window after she moved to a home in Kennett Square.
She was an expert cook of Lebanese dishes including stuffed grape leaves and tabouli.
Mrs. Barakat's husband died of cancer in 1986 at age 60. In addition to her daughters Rachel and Mary Ann Funk, she is survived by children Fred, Linda Letier, Nancy, Joseph, and John; 14 grandchildren; and seven great-grandchildren.
A viewing from 10 a.m. to noon Saturday, May 5, will be followed by a Funeral Mass at St. Sharbel Church, 3679 Providence Rd., Newtown Square. Burial will be in SS. Peter and Paul Cemetery, Marple Township.