Remembering 'a lifetime of service'

·4 min read

Oct. 17—The memory and good works of the founder of TREES Inc. were celebrated Saturday morning, with the dedication of the Joy Sacopulos Memorial Walkway in Deming Park. Appropriately, TREES, Inc.'s logo includes an image of an oak tree, a symbol of joy and Sacopulos' favorite tree.

Approximately 75 people were on hand to pay tribute and observe the unveiling of a plaque adorning the stone memorial that serves as an entry to the walkway off Poplar St. Written by family members, it reads in part, "Over a lifetime of service and dedication, Joy Sacopulos worked to make Terre Haute a better place. May Joy's example serve to inspire others to make our community a better place."

Sacopulos' husband, Gus, died earlier in the week. Many family members who came to town for the funeral were able to attend the unveiling of the memorial. Joy Sacopulos died in 2019.

Under Sacopulos' leadership, TREES Inc. has planted 5,400 trees in the Terre Haute area since 1990. Both of the scheduled speakers, Mayor Duke Bennett and TREES Inc. President Kim Kimbler, described Sacopulos as mind-mannered yet persuasive.

"She was very soft-spoken, but she was truly my mentor," Kimbler said after the event. "All the different locations we planted, she knew where we needed to plant and where we needed to be. She probably thought about trees 90% of her day. Knowing the type of dedication she had, that's what we try to continue."

"When she called me, she knew what she wanted to do," Bennett said after his speech. "And she was looking for support, and she was always so easy-going — 'Here's an idea.' She loved to plant the seeds. And you wanted to help her, you knew it was the right thing to do, and you knew she was going to get it done.

"Those are the type of people you love to help accomplish community goals," Bennett continued. "And you look around and see all the things that she's done, especially with TREES. The city has really benefited from that."

Family members also spoke. Ali Sacopulos, Joy's oldest granddaughter, recited the inscription on the memorial's plaque. Ann Mandelstamm, her first cousin, they were born days apart and lived two houses away from one another, remembered thinking success was in Sacopulos' future as early as first grade.

"She was always very dedicated to TREES and to making this community a better place," Ali Sacopulos said after the dedication. "She really loved Terre Haute and the outdoors and nature. I remember from a very young age her feeding all of the birds and the squirrels, really just trying to make the environment a friendly place. She took us to plant trees — that's just who she was."

"You didn't argue with her," Mandelstamm recalled. "She had this sweet, little-girl voice. She talked like a sweet little southern girl, but don't cross her because she was really in charge. She was one of the most generous people I've known in my life. Even as a first grader, I knew she was going places."

Kimbler was visibly emotional at times in her speech, but was smiling broadly when she recalled Sacopulos telling a friend who also volunteered for TREES Inc., "Really, we can do anything — Gus can always get us out of trouble."

"He always supported her," Ali Sacopulos said of her recently deceased grandfather. "He was always there but let her have this as her own journey and supported her any way she needed. They were an unbreakable team."

"Gus and Joy were a true team," Kimbler said, recalling their joint venture, the Crow Patrol, in which the couple would venture around the downtown area and shoot off fireworks in hopes of coaxing the crows to depart.

"My goal is to try to keep going the way that she did," said Kimbler, adding that trying to replace Sacopulos was a daunting challenge.

But Kimbler does have some inspiration. Hanging on her fireplace at home are a series of hooks for Christmas stockings that spell out the word "JOY."

Said Kimbler, "Every time I see it, it always reminds me to keep going and to persevere."

David Kronke can be reached at 812-231-4232 or at david.kronke@tribstar.com.

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