Editor's note: The following notes on the life of Thelma Nopoulos were submitted by Lynn Ochiltree, a longtime Wilton historian who purchased the Candy Kitchen from Thelma upon the death of her husband George Nopoulos...
When Thelma called to ask for help in writing a press release or rewording of text for her history book, historic calendar or a letter to a Politian or movie star you knew it was not going to be quick. She would want to go over it and over it. “Now read that back to me” she would say. She was a perfectionist. Each word had to be perfect and if she couldn’t get it with your help she would call someone else for their help. Even if you got off the phone thinking it was finalized, you might later hear about her calling someone else to help with it. Either way, Thelma would solicit the help of others she trusted to accomplish what her goal was. And her goal was always to do the right thing.
Mostly, the right thing had to do with promoting the Candy Kitchen and Wilton.
Many people thought she was over the top, some thought she was pushy but Thelma really wasn’t either. She simply wanted things to be perfect. Sometimes she had a hard time making a decision or the decision would change several times. I believe she just wanted whatever she did to be the right thing; the thing that would remind people of the story of the Candy Kitchen or how special her beloved Wilton were.
Thelma told me she began work with the Nopoulos Familiy when she was 8. Her father, a Greek Immigrant just like her future father-in-law, Gus Nopoulos, made an arrangement for Thelma to stay during the week with the Nopoulos Family so she could help Frankie Nopoulos with domestic work at the family’s second floor apartment. She told me that she had a bed made up for her on the back porch of the Nopoulos’ residence which at this time was in the three story Ross Building just north across the alley from the Candy Kitchen.
As time went on Gus Nopoulos must have been impressed with the work she did in their home because by the time she was ten he had her working in the Candy Kitchen on Wednesday and Saturday nights for 10 cents an hour. I remember, Thelma telling me Gus took her by the hands and said you have small hands and that is just what we need in a dish washer. Someone who can get down inside the glasses to clean them. This is how she began her career at the Candy Kitchen, a job she would hold for 73 years. At that time, little did she realize how many glasses she would wash!
Tragically her father died when she was 13, an event which I believe haunted her for the rest of her life. I can’t even tell you how many times she would mention her father and his work on the railroad. I’ve seen the photo of her father with two railroad workers many times. I’ve heard the story of his work on the railroad and of his tragic death. His death impacted her greatly! I believe she had a lingering desire to make her father proud for the rest of her life. I recall back in 2008 that I ran across a company which could digitize a photo, colorize it and make it into a painting. I subsequently paid to have a couple photos go through this process and I was impressed with the results. It got me thinking one day when I ran across the original 2 x 3 inch snapshot of Thelma’s father seen as the Railroad Section Foremen along with two members of his section crew; what would this photo look like colorized? I borrowed the photo from Thelma and gave her the excuse that I wanted to digitize it for my Wilton History Archives. Since we shared a love of history, she of course agreed and so it was. A few weeks later I received the 16 x 20 inch image, had it framed and presented it to her one weekend at the Candy Kitchen. She looked at it with amazement! She began to cry and said, “It is beautiful and my dad is in color!” We of course hung the image immediately on the south wall of the Candy Kitchen (where is remains to this day) and as Thelma stood back and looked at it she said, “It has been so long since I’ve seen him like this!” again making reference that he was life like in this colorized version of the image. Another tear rolled down her face as she looked at the image and George just stood back near her, put his hand on her shoulder and smiled. It was a very special moment which I will never forget.
The Nopoulos Family became more like an extension of her family after this tragic accident and I would guess Gus felt sorry for this little girl. She continued to work at the Candy Kitchen and as the story goes, sparks flew behind the soda fountain and she and the boss’s son eventually married.
When planning an event it was never enough for Thelma. The tables had to have a table cloths and of course centerpieces and a streamer going down the center and a banner exclaiming the details of the event and help to serve the cake and ice cream and and and…. If you worked to help Thelma at any event you know she was always about the ‘And.’ Thelma was always thinking of how she could make whatever she was involved with better.
I recall helping her the morning of the Nopoulos’ 100 Anniversary Celebration of the Candy Kitchen ownership in 2009. My wife, Brenda and I were in the back office asking what we could do to help and she looked at Brenda and said with some panic, “We need red carnation corsages!” It was something she had forgotten to order and it was really too late to make it happen but not for Thelma. She picked up the phone and requested the florist make up a boutonniere for George and a corsage for herself both made from red carnations. We attempted to reassure her that if the florist did not make them for her in time, it would be alright. But that was not an option for her because as we talked it through, we realized it was important to her because Gus Nopoulos gave out red carnations at the Candy Kitchen opening day back in 1910. It was symbolic and for Thelma symbolism was always an underling motivation for what she did. I think the subtle use of symbolism was a way for her to help others see the importance of being aware of heritage and the efforts of those who have gone before us. Weather it was a red carnation or miniature Greek and American flag perched upon a banana split, or a celebration bring together other towns named Wilton (A Wilton Town Meeting: A Global Connection organized by Thelma in 2005), she did all these things to help make a connections and remind others of how important ones heritage and traditions are. Really, the Candy Kitchen represented the ultimate in traditions…. little changed over the years at the Candy Kitchen. The same menu, fixtures, furnishings and Thelma and George.
The Candy Kitchen and Wilton remain as symbols of all that Thelma found dear. Her entire life was punctuated by both: her youth, her loves, her family, her children, her place in the world. Thank you Thelma, for helping to make this little corner of the world sweeter for all who knew her!