Driven by the golden rule

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If you look around Mike Holupka's office in the Anderson Co. building in Manassas, you'll see mementos of a life well lived. Dotting the walls are pictures of his children and grandchildren, as well as those from companies where he's worked as an executive. Those photos share the walls with sports mementos, including photos of Washington Redskins greats and golf courses at local country clubs. It's a big office and Holupka fills it completely.

Holupka, 72, was born and raised in Brownsville, Pa., a one-time coal mining area about 35 miles south of Pittsburgh. His early life was a hardscrabble existence, and he grew up in a house with no inside plumbing.

After graduating from high school, he promptly joined the Navy. He was stationed on board the USS Independence, an aircraft carrier used to enforce President John F. Kennedy's blockade of Cuba in 1962. Holupka remembers the tensions that marked that era of U.S. history.

"You'd go to sleep at night and wake up and eat breakfast with the bombs," he said.

After he was discharged from the Navy he married Kathleen in 1966 and they raised three children in Northern Virginia.

Holupka converted to Catholicism when he married Kathleen. When asked what religion he was before his conversion, the answer came quickly: "Nothing."

After the Navy he worked as a truck driver for PEPCO, eventually becoming a foreman.

He went to work for the Maryland-based company Flippo Construction and rose through the ranks as a supervisor, vicepresident and eventually president. Holupka never went to college and credits his success to a strong work ethic.

"If you get up every morning and work, good things will happen," he said.

Holupka said that there are three things in his life that are important: faith, family and work. These three things shared top billing, he said, but occasionally move around.

"Sometimes the order will change several times a day," he said.

Holupka also credits the golden rule as part of his success; in fact it's a constant theme in his life.

"You try to treat people the way you would like to be treated," Holupka said. "(You try to) help people have a better life."

Wanting to help people brought him to Gabriel Homes, a nonprofit organization founded in 1982 under the auspices of the Arlington Diocese. The organization promotes the independence of adults with intellectual disabilities through residential placement, training and community integration.

Holupka was invited to be on the board in 1995 by Father Robert C. Cilinski, Gabriel Homes board president and pastor of All Saints Church in Manassas. Although he and Kathleen are parisioners of Sacred Heart Church in Manassas, his family has been friends with Father Cilinski for 35 years.

He said it's more than simple friendship. Father Cilinski attends family gatherings, and they view him as a member of their family. Father Cilinski said that Holupka always has been supportive of his ministry as a priest.

Holupka saw Gabriel Homes as an opportunity to give something back to the community, but his early days on the board consisted of attending board meetings, which he found unsatisfying.

Eventually, he started visiting the homes to get to know the residents. He got other board members to do the same thing. Three years ago he started the work crew for Gabriel Homes.

Once a month the crew, which consists of about 20 men with an average of 10 showing up each month, go to one of Gabriel Homes' seven houses to work on a list of maintenance issues prepared by Gabriel Homes Director Rebecca Hartner.

"It's my favorite day of the month," said Holupka. "It's better than golf."

Holupka is semiretired now and goes to his office at the Anderson Co. three days a week. He plans to continue working with Gabriel Homes because a good day, he said, is helping people.

"Whether it is serving the church, charities or the schools where his children attended, being there for neighbors or friends, cheering on and supporting the Washington Redskins, there is more life and joy and opportunities for others because of Mike Holupka," said Father Cilinski. "He always says, 'You have to give back.'"

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2014

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