OAKLAND -- Tammara Katsikas, executive director of the Junior Center of Art and Science, passed away recently after working almost 25 years at the center, a nonprofit that brings an arts curriculum into public schools.

"She really put her heart and soul into it," said staff and board member Bill Bocheff.

Born in 1960, Katsikas was a Northern California native. The Oakland resident graduated from the California College of Arts and Crafts with a bachelor's degree in fine arts and also completed a master's degree in education. She joined the Junior Center in 1989. She died Dec. 20 at the age of 53.

She is remembered for her dedication to the center, handling everything from grant writing to public relations in addition to the center's daily operation and supervising the three permanent and six to 10 contract employees.

"She wore a lot of hats," said Bocheff, a woodwork teacher who has been with the center since 1988.

The Junior Center was founded in 1954 by the Junior League. The mission was to encourage children through art to develop their talents and foster understanding and cooperation. When Katsikas took over the directorship, the center was in bad financial straits, Bocheff said, but she managed to turn it around as well as supervise a move to a new, larger space.

"She spearheaded that outreach," he said.

The center was first in Mosswood Park but relocated to Lake Merritt in 1992. Under the directorship of Katsikas, a thriving program of hosted events and rotating exhibits was developed. The center also has workshops for teachers as well as their own staff that goes into schools around the area -- something that Katsikas was eager to expand. Now the center sees more than 30,000 children each year, either in-house or through outreach.

"As the budget has been cut in schools, a lot of teachers have come to rely on the Junior Center," Bocheff said.

Katsikas also set up a scholarship program for fifth-graders in Oakland. Teachers who saw special talent in a student could nominate them for art classes, hopefully sparking a lifelong love of art.

A memorial service was held at the Junior Center on Jan. 26, but the center is accepting donations in her name to fund her scholarship for fifth-graders. Donations can be sent to the Junior Center of Art and Science, Lakeside Park, 558 Bellevue Ave., Oakland CA 94610 or submitted online at www.juniorcenter.org/support.html.