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Thomas Popcheff’s first job was cutting grass for the Speedway Parks Department in the 1960s. Decades later, as president of the development commission, he was still doing essential work for Speedway.
And in between, Popcheff reveled in everything the town offered.
“The month of May was something special,” daughter Nikki Popcheff, 41, said. “There’d be 50, 100 people at our house on Indianapolis 500 race weekend. Every inch of floor space was taken, and tents were in the yard. He’d get up at 4:30 each morning, scope out the track and bring back a report.”
Known for his optimism, a zest for sports and a tendency to dote over his daughters, Popcheff died of the coronavirus on April 5 — his 69th birthday.
“He was very successful during his life, but his greatest accomplishment was just being a really great guy,” his wife, Karen Popchoff, said in an email.
Popcheff was a longtime employee and deputy commissioner at the Indiana Department of Administration. He graduated from Purdue University.
His passion was for his family and all things Speedway — and after living with Karen for a time in Avon, the Popcheffs moved back to Speedway about a dozen years ago and re-engaged with the community.
“Obviously, it was a different town than from when he grew up,” younger brother Ed Popcheff said. “It was a time when the race wasn’t big, big business and Main Street wasn’t a hot spot.”
On his return, Popcheff glided right back into civic life, joining several Speedway boards just as the downtown underwent unprecedented development.
On the redevelopment commission, Popcheff helped steer the final stages of the downtown resurgence. Main Street between 10th and 16th streets burst with new businesses, building renovations and development projects. In February 2019, Popcheff announced two new buildings on the 1300 block that would house condominiums, office studios and retail store fronts.