Gus Kostopulos, who played a role in significant and controversial community issues during two terms as Oak Park Trustee, died early Wednesday morning.
He was 81.
“He was a special person,” said Sandra Sokol, a longtime friend of Kostopulos and former village clerk. “He was warm and engaging and creative. I don’t think he got the credit he was due.”
He was there to always help friends in need, friends said.
Annabel Abraham, whose late husband Bernard served alongside Kostopulos, pointed to his attentiveness after she had knee replacement surgery this winter. “He would call to see if I was okay and ask if there was anything he could do. He was there for me; he was a great guy,” she said.
A native of Chicago, Kostopulos grew up in the city's Austin neighborhood and studied architecture at the long-gone University of Illinois campus at Navy Pier. He served in the U.S. Army in Austria during the Korean War, his daughter Margaret Kostopulos said. He finished his schooling at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, she added.
He lived in Oak Park for nearly 50 years, Margaret Kostopulos said. He served on the board of the Oak Park Residence Corp. from 1979 to 1998 and served as its president from 1984 to 1991. He also was on the board of the from 1978-1992, said Ed Solan, the group's executive director.
A former member of the village's plan commission, Kostopulos was first elected to a trustee seat in 1997 and again in 2001, both as a candidate of the Village Manager Association. According to a 2004 story in Oak Leaves, he'd thought about running for village president in 2005 but withdrew his name from consideration then decided not to run for re-election as trustee.
“He was forthright and always let people know what he thought,” said Barbara Furlong, who was village president during his first term.
Agreeing to Disagree
Kostopulos' two terms on the Oak Park Village Board were filled with a variety of matters, from redevelopment to quality of life issues.
He was part of a board engaged in a tiff with about land along Lake Street. (Eventually District 200 was allowed to buy the property, which was turned into athletic fields and parking.)
He strongly led the effort to build a garage at the high school to relieve parking issues that had created tension between the school and neighbors.
And he was never afraid to back a position that was deemed unpopular, said former village clerk Virginia Cassin. Cases in point: He backed the Whiteco condominium project and opposed the original 2005 smoking ban because he thought it would hurt business. The ban was upheld a year later with a change on the board.
As a redeveloper of buildings with an insider’s eye to what could work— restaurants were a specialty, as were plans for underground parking garages — he tried for years to streamline and speed up the process for obtaining building permits, said Galen Gockel, who served on the board with Kostopulos from 2001 to 2005. He still thought the process was too slow, Gockel added. “He knew the community quite well,” Gockel said. “He was a good trustee, thoughtful and could disagree without bring disagreeable.”
His architectural talents were well-used early in his term when trustees worked to finish the Marion Street transportation center in 1997, a space that would need to house Metra, Chicago Transit Authority and PACE commuters, retail space, a resident beat officer and ADA-compliance design.
“He was pretty quick to pick up where the problems were, what they needed to do and make sure it was finished appropriately,” said former trustee Rick Kuner.
"Committed to the Community"
He also loved the architecture of the community. An early fan of , Kostopulos gave tours of the neighborhood around the Wright home and studio to architects, said Frank Lipo, the executive director of the. Occasionally he got permission from the owner at the time to give his tour groups a peek inside, he added.
“He was part a post-war wave of architects, history lovers and preservationists who built a grassroots effort to appreciate Wright, his importance to Oak Park and the community’s architectural heritage,” Lipo said.
He also fought to preserve local buildings, including the Niles Building at 101 S. Marion St., which was nearly demolished in 1993.
Friends said Kostopulos remained active and kept up with the doings around town, his office remaining upstairs of the former Maple Tree and then , where he would drop in for coffee or lunch.
From time to time, Gockel said he and Kostopulos would get together and ruminate about the state of the village. He would bemoan that downtown Oak Park did not look as good as it should.
“He was hoping that the village would pay more attention to the physical infrastructure and aesthetics of Lake Street,” Gockel said. “Gus really was committed to this community.”
Margaret Kostopulos said her father was interested in ensuring the integrity of Oak Park and the design of Oak Park and above all he was for people in the community being able to easily access business and other services. His focus was always on people, she said.
"He was devoted to his work for Oak Park but he was more devoted to his family," Margaret Kostopulos said.
Kostopulos is survived by his wife, Patricia; daughters Elaine, Margaret and Terese; sons, Greg, Peter and William; four grandchildren and a sister, Frances Balluff. Visitation for Kostopulos will be from Friday from 3 pm to 9 pm at Drechsler, Brown & Williams Funeral Home, 203 S. Marion St. Prayers will be at 9:15 am Saturday at the funeral home before a Mass at 10 am at Ascension Church. In lieu of flowers, memorial donations can be made to Honor Flight Network.