George Gus Nopoulos
George Gus Nopoulos was born on March 19, 1920, in Wilton, Iowa. He was the son of Gus George and Frankie Mildred (Hudler) Nopoulos. When he was born, he was welcomed home by a big brother, Leo Gus Nopoulos who was born in 1918.
When George was born, his father had been running the Candy Kitchen for ten years and George’s earliest memories were of the Candy Kitchen. In 2005, George’s wife, Thelma Nopoulos published a history of Wilton entitled, Our Town Speaks, Wilton, Iowa 1855-2005, and this is what George had to say about the Candy Kitchen:
“We [Leo and George] both helped at the Candy Kitchen from the time we were able to shag dishes off the tables and stand on our tip toes at the sink to wash dishes. I remember walking under the marble counter of the old Tufts soda fountain as a youngster, visiting with and amusing customers. At age six, my job was to stand on a wire ice cream chair, wind up the Brunswick record player and play records to entertain the Saturday night crowds. If I saw a customer leave a five or ten-cent tip on the table (which was very seldom) I jumped down from my chair and raked in the money. It was a challenge. I had to have an eagle eye and be faster than Leo to ‘knock down’ the tip.”
George graduated from Wilton High School in the Class of 1938. He went on to attend AIC Business College in Davenport and the University of Iowa following high school.
He was working Sunday afternoon, December 7, 1941, when he heard over the radio the news breaking of the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor. George and Leo were both drafted into the military. Leo served in the United States Navy from December 1943 to August 1944, and George served in the United States Army from December 1942 to April 1946. After the war, George returned home to Wilton where he shared a half interest in the Candy Kitchen with his brother. In 1947, Leo and his wife, Iris, decided to move to Dexter, Iowa, and George bought out his brother’s interest making him the owner of the Candy Kitchen and the official “ice cream maker.”
In 1942, a ten-year-old girl named Thelma Soteros started working at the Candy Kitchen. She was the daughter of Peter Soteros, a Greek immigrant like Gus Nopoulos. These two Greeks could not resist the idea of their children getting together and so the matchmaking was hatched. George didn’t take much notice of Thelma until returning from service since she was younger than him. As the story goes, when Geroge did take notice of Thelma; sparks began to fly behind the soda fountain. The two fell in love, and George even proposed to Thelma in the office of the Candy Kitchen. The matchmaking plan became a reality when on October 30, 1949, they were married.
After marriage, it was business as usual for George and Thelma who continued to work at the Candy Kitchen, where working 7 days a week was expected and putting in a 17-hour day was nothing unusual. They did find time to begin a family when a son, Gus was born in 1951, then followed by another son, Peter, a daughter, Margaret, and finally another boy, Nicholas George. George all the while worked at the Candy Kitchen serving countless sweet treats to an unknowable number of children, adults, politicians, and even several movie stars including Ruta Lee, Brooke Shields, and Gregory Peck whose father was also a Soda Jerk!
George like his father carried on the tradition of seven days a week serving customers, from generation to generation, while Thelma tirelessly promoted the Candy Kitchen as a ‘Must See’ destination in the Midwest. All the while, George quietly supported her by entertaining the customers with a cheerful smile, and his wit, was punctuated by singing and whistling (which many customers mistook for birds).
George and Thelma were married 65 years and they worked together at the Candy Kitchen for all their married life! George and Thelma enjoyed their work and were proud to be long-time participants in the local Wilton School’s Partners in Education program. In 2003, the couple was named the first Official Lifetime Ambassadors of the City of Wilton, Iowa.
George worked at the Candy Kitchen well into his 94th year. On November 19, 2014, he made ice cream and when he closed the store that day, he never returned. George lived out the last few months of his life with his wife, Thelma by his side at the Wilton Retirement Community in Wilton. He died on June 14, 2015. He was 95 years old.
It was reported after his death that George was likely the oldest soda jerk in America. This has never been confirmed or disputed but we can say for certain, George dedicated his entire life to the Candy Kitchen. In an interview done before his 90th birthday, George said the following:
“ …[the Candy Kitchen] hasn’t changed much since dad ran the place. You know you can get attached to a place if you’ve been there for almost 90 years. There isn’t a day when I don’t think I am glued to the floor.”
Today, customers who frequent the Candy Kitchen who knew George still recall his smile and sense of humor, retelling what he often told customers about one of the long-time favorite soda fountain drinks named the Hadacol… “Well, I “hada call” it something!”