Friends and family gather at Rip’s in Ladd to wish bartender a happy retirement
It wasn’t goodbye forever, but it was goodbye for a while. After 42 years as a bartender with Rip’s in Ladd, John Kopina stood behind the bar one last time before his retirement on Sunday.
Kopina was in for a surprise as his family, friends, and even his former college roommate stopped into the tavern to give him a final farewell.
The crowd wished him more than a happy retirement; it also gave him moral support and well wishes as he faces ongoing health challenges.
In 2009, Kopina was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease.
“When life gives you lemons, you have to do something with them,” said Sharon Kopina, John’s wife.
Kopina and his wife began making a permanent move to Arizona this week, not just to escape Midwestern climate like many others who migrate toward warmer states.
“John will be going to Banner Neuro Wellness Center in Gilbert, Arizona,” Sharon said.
Gilbert is approximately 25 miles outside of Phoenix.
“Phoenix has become the go-to place for Parkinson’s research,” Sharon said. “He will have physical therapy, cognitive therapy, social therapy and there will be support groups there, for him and for me.”
She added that her husband will be able to engage in several activities and exercises at the center to help him deal with the disease.
“Research has shown you can’t stop it, but you can slow it down, so that’s why we’re going to Gilbert,” Sharon said. “Plus, there is no winter in Arizona.”
Sharon said so far Kopina is only dealing with some minor tremors from the disease, and he hasn’t had any problems with his balance thus far.
Rip’s was full of people whose lives were touched by Kopina, and for him that meant a lot of hugs, handshakes and reminiscing.
So what will he miss the most?
“It’s the people. It’s been great between the people here, and everyone else,” Kopina said.
Bill Rounds, a co-owner of Rip’s, had nothing but nice things to say about his long-time employee.
“There are people who are just blessed, you know? And that’s him.” Rounds said. “I’m so glad that he can get some recognition because we can’t get enough for him. People love to see him.”
Besides being a staple at Rip’s, Kopina also was a teacher at Ladd Grade School for 32 years. Kopina said he worked as an educator for a total of 34 years.
“When you start talking about the history of Ladd Grade School, as far as respect, and getting things done right, John’s name comes up every time,” said Mark Mosbach, president of the Ladd Grade School board. “There’s so much respect for him.”
At the same table as Mosbach sat Gene Merkel, former Hall School Board member.
“I’ve known John for 40-some years,” Merkel said, “He taught all my kids through Ladd Grade School. There isn’t anything bad to say about him.”
It’s safe to say you probably couldn’t run into someone in Ladd who didn’t know Kopina from the school or from his time at Rip’s.
“He worked for so many years here and at the school, and then to be afflicted with this (Parkinson’s) — that’s tough. But he was here every day,” Rounds said.
Kopina’s dedication to his time at Rip’s did not go unnoticed to anyone in that tavern on Sunday. A longtime friend and co-worker at Rip’s says Kopina gave him a lot of good memories.
“I’ve worked with John for 25 years. When I got my first paycheck as a teacher, I realized I needed to do something else. So when I started here, he showed me how to get things done, and over the years we’ve become really good friends,” said John “Slick” Slingsby. “The extra income was nice, but you stay here for the people, like John. He was diagnosed a few years ago, but he never complained.”
Another co-worker at Rip’s who also recently retired, Gina Ramey, reminisced with John about their younger years.
“We had a lot of good times when we were younger, right John? It’s harder now, that we’re older,” Ramey said.
“It’s near impossible now,” Kopina said and laughed.
Kopina’s wife said they will move little by little into their new apartment in Gilbert over the following weeks.
“We’ll miss our family here, but we will be back and forth,” Sharon said.
Staff Writer – NewsTribune