When I heard that my friend, and former village board colleague had passed away, I was overwhelmed with sadness. Gus Kostopulos was a gentle soul. He took me on tours of Oak Park to share his vision of the future. He described it as an eclectic blend of tradition and modernity. He loved the village and its citizens. He also voiced his fears about how others wanted to make Oak Park just another suburb. He lamented their lack of appreciation of history and knowledge of architecture.
Yes, Gus and I met in his office — often — discussing Oak Park, family, architecture and just telling stories. His office was a mess. Filled with years of work, you sensed he loved his profession. He knew when a building had value. He understood what a sense of place meant. If he had an ego, he kept it silent.
The 1120 building on Lake St., he said, "Is not what was voted for, or at least it is not what I voted for." He called Whiteco "ugly," and the high school garage a first-class bribe for the continuation of the TIF. OK, Gus would not say bad things about anyone, nor lament to story-hungry reporters, but he was clearly frustrated by these less-than-acceptable structures — and the politics that surrounded them.
I asked Gus if he ever got angry. He said, "Yes," but I can't think of an instance that showed him angry.
I recall a debate on building codes. We had all been copied with the tomes. He was recognized to speak at the board meeting. From behind the dais, he lifted the piles of books, and then he presented a small book of codes from another village and asked us to eschew obfuscation (my words). Then he sat down.
We all laughed. Then the vote was taken: 5 yes, 2 no. In his simple visual, I knew he was right. He swayed my vote.
In his last year on the board, Gus was confused at times about what was being discussed. I like to believe his confusion stemmed from his trying to balance all those years of wisdom he had acquired and that, like Socrates, he wanted to share all his knowledge with the "next generation." He wanted them to appreciate the great good place they lived in and to be sure to do no harm.
Unlike Socrates, he did not drink Hemlock, but like Socrates he will be remembered not for his material wealth but for his wealth of virtues.
Robert Milstein is a former Oak Park village trustee.
Answer Book 2019
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