TPHS Alumni Reunite Over Act of Kindness

TPHS Alumni Reunite Over Act of Kindness
By: Jack Murray, Daily Southtown

Something special was taken from Joel Hopman this month. But something extra special came his way afterward, via acts of kindness by two fellow Tinley Park High School alums.

Hopman is that guy people in Tinley Park see often riding his bicycle around town — almost every day, in all sorts of weather, year-round.

He’s also familiar to parents, students and alumni of Tinley Park High School, where he teaches as a substitute and coached football, basketball and girls softball. Others know him because of his long career as a classroom and gym teacher with School District 146.

Astride his “old trail bike,” Hopman rode to work almost every day he taught at TPHS, where he graduated in the Class of 1968.

“If it’s not icy or less than 20 degrees and the streets are cleared of snow,” he said.

Indeed, Hopman’s primary form of transportation is his bike. He bicycles to run errands, to the bank, to the Jewel, to church, to work or wherever his impulse takes him.

“I ride it a lot,” an hour or two a day, he said. “Every time I get the opportunity, I just get out and get some exercise.”

But on a Friday morning less than two weeks ago, a thief put the brakes on Hopman’s pedaling activities. Hopman was volunteering doing yard work and weeding at his church, Zion Lutheran, when his bike was stolen.

He had parked it in a bike rack outside the church, where he has worshipped since childhood. “I never lock it,” said Hopman, who grew up in the village, listed in 2017 as one of the 50 safest localities to live in the country.

He had no inkling that someone swiped his bike because he was working on the other side of the building.

“You get that sinking feeling. I felt violated that someone would steal my bike and steal it from outside a church,” he said.

Downcast, Hopman walked home.

Later that day, TPHS Principal Theresa Nolan happened upon Hopman in the bread aisle at Walt’s Food Center on Harlem Avenue. Aside from their working relationship, Nolan met him decades ago when his aunt lived next door to her family.

“Anyone who has spent any time in Tinley Park would know who Joel Hopman is,” said Nolan, who has lived or worked in the village all her life. “He rides his bike all over the community.

“I asked him how he was doing, and he told me, ‘I’m having a rough day.’ For Joel Hopman, who is full of energy, always smiling and always positive, to say that definitely drew my attention.”

He told her his bike was stolen that morning. “I felt terrible,” Nolan said. “I knew that’s Joel’s transportation. He has a car and a license but chooses to ride his bike.”

After saying their goodbyes, “it just stuck with me that Joel Hopman was having a rough day,” Nolan said. “I made the decision then and there – I’m going to get him a bike.”

In her car in Walt’s parking lot, Nolan called Ron Kittler, who owns FnA Bicycles/FnA Outdoors in New Lenox. “I recalled that a teacher had told me that a TPHS alum owned a bike store, that it was a great shop and Ron was a great guy,” Nolan said.

Nolan recounted Hopman’s woeful tale to Kittler.

“He didn’t hesitate,” Nolan said. “He said, ‘we need to get him a bike’ and that he knew the perfect bike for Joel.”

“That’s great,” Nolan told Kittler. “I’m going to buy it.”

Kittler replied, “‘No you’re not, I’m going to give it to him. I’m putting this bike in my trunk. Where do you want me to take it?‘” Nolan recounted.

A TPHS Class of 1990 graduate, Kittler remembered Hopman from his high school days. “He was a substitute and doing a lot with gym classes,” Kittler said.

Kittler chose a Trek comfort bike for Hopman.

Accustomed to giving away bicycles, Kittler has donated 500 bikes to individuals in need and charitable fundraising causes in the last 10 years since switching his business from motorcycle to bicycle retail sales. His wife, Stacie, a social worker at Mokena Elementary School, helps with the philanthropic part of the business. The retailer’s website, http://fna-outdoors.com/ encourages people to donate worn bicycles to the shop to be repaired, reconditioned and given to people in need or charity fundraisers.

“It has been a difficult year for families, Kittler said. “Those needing a bicycle, let us know by calling the store. We need to get the kids off the screens, give them freedom and let them ride their bicycles.”

Kittler, his wife and Nolan converged on Hopman’s home to deliver his new bike in the evening of the same day that his old one was stolen. It was a reunion of sorts for the three Titan alumni, Classes 1968, ’88 and ’90.

“He was very surprised,” Kittler said. “She [Nolan] knocked on the door and said, ‘we’ve got something for you.’ He was overwhelmed, that’s for sure. He couldn’t believe it. The bike fit him perfectly.”

A grateful Hopman hopped on his new bike and road around the block.

“I said I want to ride this thing, and they said, ‘go ahead, Joe,” he recalled. “Ron was a really nice guy. He doesn’t know me from Adam. To be a part of this was just great. We all hung around for about a half hour.”

“The bike, it’s a Trek and it’s incredible,” Hopman said. “You can tell it’s a much better bike” than his old one.

“Theresa, being Theresa, thinks of you as part of the staff,” Hopman said of Nolan, who began her 14th year as Tinley’s principal on Aug. 17. “What Theresa does, she’s incredible. She just takes care of you. I can’t say enough about Theresa. She’s got a million things going and to take the time to do this was just unbelievable.”

For her part, Nolan was glad to be part of what she called a very nice moment.

“Especially with what’s going on today, we need to take care of each other,” she said. “This was small but it made a big impact on all three of us because it brought us all back together. There’s something special about being part of the Titan family. I always say, ‘One a Titan, always a Titan,’ and I will always go out of my way to take care of my Titan family.”