Falconer Senior Named Recipient Of Sopak Scholarship

James Sopak pictured handing a check to Falconer senior Elizabeth Wallace. Sopak established the Sandra K. Sopak Scholarship Fund in memory of his late wife, the longtime county clerk and former Poland town supervisor. P-J photo by Eric Tichy

James Sopak knew he wanted to honor his late wife, Sandy, the longtime Chautauqua County clerk who died in May 2018.

He noted his wife cared about people, evident by her years of service to the community — from a registered nurse at WCA Hospital to serving as Poland town supervisor for three terms. Sandy Sopak began serving as county clerk in 1994, a position she held for almost 20 years until her retirement in 2013.

James Sopak hoped to give back to the community in a way that would also recognize his wife. In doing so he created the Sandra K. Sopak Scholarship Fund, a one-time gift to a local high school senior entering nursing school.

“I wanted to do something before I passed away. I want to honor her,” James Sopak said.

Money was collected for the scholarship through many of Sandy Sopak’s former friends. After creating the scholarship, James Sopak again turned to Poland where his wife’s picture still hangs in the Town Hall.

James Sopak recently presented the scholarship, in the form of a $1,150 check, to Falconer senior Elizabeth Wallace. The senior will be attending D’Youville College beginning next fall in hopes of becoming a surgical nurse.

“I’m just very grateful that I would be chosen for this scholarship,” Wallace said as she was presented the check at the Poland Town Hall with her parents present. “I’m really honored, and I feel fortunate to receive this.”

Wallace’s mother, Bonnita Wallace, is currently the town clerk in Poland.

James Sopak said Wallace certainly “fit the bill” when determining who would receive the scholarship. “I think she definitely qualifies for this,” he said.

In the 1993 election for county clerk, Sandy Sopak defeated the two-term Democratic incumbent, Henry Weiler of Lakewood. In a comment to The Post-Journal declaring victory, Sandy Sopak said, “I worked hard and the people believed in me. I can’t thank them enough. I worked and worked and worked for eight months.”

During her two decades as county clerk, Sandy Sopak was a member of the New York State Association of County Clerks. She received numerous awards for work done within the office.

As only the third woman to hold the position of county clerk since 1811, Sandy Sopak was widely admired by local officials.

“She really was an amazing woman and an amazing leader,” Chautauqua County Executive George Borrello said at the time of her death. “She will be sadly missed. She had a way about her in that she always had a smile on her face and that she was a great leader — truly unique.”

Sandy Sopak was a Falconer High School graduate and received a nursing degree from Jamestown Community College. She also served as secretary for Keith Trucking for 30 years, the same company James Sopak still operates today.

Follow Eric Tichy at twitter.com/erictichy