Sylvester Czopek, right, gets the Joliet Area Hospice Veteran Award in March of 2011. He donated 1.5 million dollars to 5 area animal shelters. | submitted photo
Updated: January 27, 2013 6:17AM
Sylvester Czopek was considered somewhat of a hermit. He never married and did not have any known family when he died about a year ago.
But soon, everyone is going to know his name and what he’s done.
Czopek has bequeathed more than $1 million to local animal shelters to use as they wish.
In the next 30 days, five shelters will get a piece of Czopek’s $1.5 million trust, or about $300,000 each. The five are the PAWS Chicago Adoption Center, Will County Humane Society in Shorewood, West Suburban Humane Society in Downers Grove, Naperville Area Humane Society, and the Animal Welfare League in Chicago Ridge.
The money will be disbursed through the First Midwest Bank in Joliet.
Czopek’s trust stipulated that shelters receiving his money had to be no-kill shelters.
Jackie McTee, Will County Humane Society’s accountant, said she isn’t sure if the donation is the largest the society has ever received, “but it should be close to it.”
And Naperville’s executive director, Angela Wood, said she was pleasantly surprised.
“It was very surprising, because first we found out we were named (in the trust) and then we found out the amount,” Wood said. “It was a very pleasant surprise, because gifts like this mean a lot.”
Mark Hanson, an attorney at Fabrizio, Hanson, Peyla and Kawinski, put together Czopek’s trust. Hanson said he knew Czopek for only a couple of years, while Czopek was a resident at the Provena Villa Franciscan nursing home in Joliet. Czopek died at the age of 84 on Oct. 27, 2011.
Hanson said Czopek had no family and was the last of five brothers, none of whom had married or had a family. They all lived most of their adult lives in their parents’ home in Lemont. Hanson is not completely sure what Czopek did for a living, but thinks he was a woodworker or carpenter.
“He died and didn’t have any heirs and was kind of a hermit,” Hanson said. “He amassed a good-sized fortune and that money was all the parents’ money and all the brothers. He was the last one living.”
Hanson said the nursing home asked him to help Czopek put together a trust since he had no other living relatives. Through the course of their conversations, Hanson determined that Czopek, who had been living at the nursing home for about three years before he died, was an animal lover.
“He loved animals more than people and he was interested in helping no-kill shelters and keeping the money relatively local,” Hanson said. “We sat down and combed the Internet and came up with the five. They’re all no-kill shelters and that’s where he decided to leave his money.”
Hanson said all the shelters were excited to find out they were receiving the money, but he said the smaller shelters such as Will County and the Animal Welfare League in Chicago Ridge were a little more enthusiastic than most.
The Naperville Area Humane Society, one of the larger shelters to receive Czopek’s gift, will put the money in its endowment fund and use it when needs arise, Wood said.
There are no strings attached to any of these gifts, Hanson said. All Czopek wanted to do was help fellow animal lovers. He wouldn’t have wanted any attention for the gifts he gave.
Despite Czopek’s humility and yearning for privacy, Hanson can see the bigger picture of his client’s actions.
“What he did was huge,” Hanson said.