obit template2018-11-29T12:10:12+00:00

Thomas Charles

All who knew Tom Strelka, aka “Crusher,” would agree that he was larger than life. He was warm, quick-witted, and fun-loving with unending compassion for all who were near. Tom was a vital part of his church community – always there to work the church spaghetti dinners and festivals, and was well respected and accomplished in his career, as well. A devoted husband, there was no greater gift in his life than his family, and his devotion to his family was, also, easy to see. Although he accomplished much of which to be proud, Tom was a humble man who focused his time and attention on sharing his gifts and talents to bless others. He leaves behind a priceless fond memories, that his loved ones will forever cherish.

The 1960s were filled with numerous noteworthy events, one of which was the birth of Tom. Donald A. and Lucy A. (Hojczyk) Strelka eagerly awaited the birth of their baby, as the heat of the summer held the city of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, firmly in its grip in 1966; the big day finally arrived on July 13th and they named the baby boy Thomas Charles. He was the youngest of three children, raised in the family home in Greendale alongside his older sister Patricia (Pat), and his older brother, Robert (Robb).

Throughout his life, Tom was always so proud of his Polish heritage, beginning from the time he was a young boy. His father was a draftsman designer with AC Delco, General Electric, Quad and General Motors while his mother worked for the City of Milwaukee and later was a homemaker. Tom enjoyed fishing in Scout Lake in Greendale and always reminisced about the fishing days with is father and brother. He attended St. Al’s and then continued on to Greendale High School where he was actively involved in wrestling where he inherited the nickname “Crusher” after the Milwaukee professional wrestler. Tom also participated in intramural sports, took painting classes and loved running the lighting and sound crew, for

Greendale high school theatrical presentations.

Family was forever a cornerstone in his life as he looked forward to family dinners at his Polish grandmother’s home, as a boy. The family holiday meals were particularly a favorite, and these experiences are where his passion for cooking took root, as he absolutely loved cooking as an adult. He developed a passion for Greek, Italian and often cooked for the neighborhood.

Tom attended University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee (U.W.M.), earning a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice and a master’s degree in public administration. He was very proud of his alma mater and loved to show his “Panther Pride”. Tom loved all sports and was an avid fan of the Wisconsin Badgers, Marquette Golden Eagles, Milwaukee Bucks, and none other than the Green Bay Packers. He often “catered” food for Packer games.

Tom made a career in marketing and initially took a position with Milwaukee County. A few years later he began working with Sprecher Brewery, which is where he spent 22 years of his career. Tom enjoyed his work and gave promoting Sprecher Brewery his all; everyone in the industry knew “The Crusher”. As the Sprecher Fest director and coordinator he was easily recognized in his lederhosen.

It was while promoting an event for Sprecher in cooperation with the Penfield Children’s Center that he met the love of his life. Sophia Angela Topetzes; she was coordinating the croquet event and he was a sponsor. One snowy winter Friday evening Tom called and said, “We were just sitting around the brewery talking about Greek Goddesses, so I thought I would call you.” Sophia then said, “Join my friends and me tonight, we are going to a movie.” Their romance soon blossomed, and with a desire to establish a life together, Tom and Sophia were married on October 24, 1999, at Annunciation Greek Orthodox Church in Milwaukee. They took two honeymoons, one of which was a European cruise.

Throughout his life Tom was a man of many interests; In the kitchen he was an adventurous cook who was not only interested in food science but, presentation as well. He loved to cook for everyone and had the “Thrill of the Grill.” He fully embraced his wife’s Greek background and took great pride in preparing many traditional Greek dishes. Tom followed various cooking shows and enjoyed learning from many famous chefs and was fortunate enough to have met several well-known chefs including Julia Child, Lidia Bastanavich, Anthony Bourdain, Wolfgang Puck, and Jacques Pépin. Tom took his love for cooking to a higher level when he became a judge for the Kansas City Barbeque Society, traveling the Midwest judging events. Tom would say, “Judging for the BBQ competitions were some of my most fun memories as an adult”.

He liked planning road trips to places such as Door County, the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio, Cleveland, Ohio, to see the Rock ’n Roll Hall of Fame. He loved the Olympics in Atlanta with his buddy and his brother. Sports, history and politics, were his favorite topics of conversation and when he was not attending live concerts, he always played music at home; rock music and classical music were his favorite. Movies were his passion too; Comedy films, Christmas movies and scary movies, were his preferred viewings. Though he had found the love of his life with Sophia, he had another love – his 1969 Cadillac convertible – that was his boy toy.

With unending love for those around him, Thomas (Tom) Strelka was a blessing to everyone he met. He selflessly and generously gave of himself within the community he called home, and he was guided by his Catholic faith throughout his entire life. Someone who took everything in stride, Tom often said, “I’m too blessed to be stressed,” and he was content in wherever life took him. Sweet, loving, and funny, he will be forever missed.

Thomas C. Strelka died on February 20, 2015. Tom’s family includes his wife, Sophia Angela Strelka; parents, Lucy and the late Donald A. Strelka; siblings, Patricia (Dennis) Kempen and Robert Strelka; goddaughter, Alexa Kempen; sisters/brothers-in-law, Andrea and Philip Mann, Laurie and John Topetzes as well as other relatives and many dear friends. Visitation will be held on Thursday, February 26, 2015, at the Suminski Family Funeral Home, 1901 N. Farwell Ave. from 4:00-7:00 p.m. Mass of Christian Burial 10:00 a.m. Friday, February 27, 2015, at Three Holy Women Parish – St. Rita Church 1601 N. Cass Street Milwaukee, WI. Please visit to leave a memory or sign the online guestbook.

Past Comments

Maria and Andy Patterson

Dear Angela, We were very saddened to hear about your loss of Tom. He was such a kind person with the funniest jokes and comments to brighten our day. May he rest in peace. Our thoughts and prayers are with you. Love, Andy and Maria

Terry McGill

The picture here is exactly how I remember Tom from our high school and college days! He was always so kind and funny, & I’m so sorry to hear of his passing. May he rest in peace, and my sincere sympathies and prayers go out to his family and friends.

Sean Durbin

He was one of the first people I met when I moved to Milwaukee 24 years ago, and I could not have had a better tour guide/ambassador for the East Side. Crusher (I don’t think I knew his real name for months) knew everybody, and everybody loved Crusher. He embodied all that is good with Milwaukee-kind, generous, and just a fun person to spend time with. It’s hard to picture him without a smile, and it’s hard for me to avoid smiling through the sadness when I remember some of our (mis)adventures. My thoughts and prayers are with family and friends-he will be missed by many.

Marie childhood friend/neighbor

I’m so sorry to hear about Tom’s passing.

The memories of him and my brother back in the day (eating cheesehead ham or cheese or whatever it was and raw eggs after nights out….) he was entertaining! Always brought a smile –

I ran into him a few times as adults (tour guide, outings) and he was still the same friendly, gracious person.

Rest in peace Tom.

With deepest sympathies,


brian hojak

I remember we played kick the can many times when we were young.

Nick Mann

God Bless you Uncle. Rest in Peace. Thanks for the laughs and good memories. You are with us in heart and spirit.



Tom Dunne

Wow. Just heard the news, much belatedly…

I have fond memories of “Crusher” from UWM and the Gasthaus,as well as Spring break trips down to Daytona in the late 80s. I also fondly remember his early brewery tour days at Sprecher, back (if I recall correctly..) when they were still down in the Menomonee Valley.

My condolences to all of his family and friends.

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