A titan of the arts was honoured Saturday afternoon, with Sue Popesku receiving the Freedom of the City at the North Peace Cultural Centre, a building which wouldn’t exist without her love and dedication to Fort St. John.
Always building the community, Popesku was second to none for promoting arts, culture, history and heritage for the Peace Region. She was also the executive director and founder of the Fort St. John Hospital Foundation.
Sue’s son, Jason, shared his memories of his mother, and said she was always attending meetings for countless causes.
“Mom didn’t do what she did for fame or money, much to dad’s chagrin. She did it because she believed in cultural advancement, creativity, of community. She had a passion and dedication for inspiring others and an unwavering devotion to the arts,” Jason said.
“She was fond of saying that she was only as good as the people she worked with, but she told me on multiple occasions that list of people was quite long.”
While many speakers had kind words to say, the event was a bittersweet moment, as Sue’s husband Sorin, has recently passed away. The two were inseparable, with a shared love of teaching and the arts.
Sue was a constant presence and instigator for projects with the North Peace Historical Society, Stage North, ArtsPost, Peace River North Festival Association, and the Fort St. John Arts Council.
Arts council president Rosemary Landry spoke of her admiration for Sue and expressed her condolences to the family.
“We’re here today to celebrate the lady with the smile, the lady with the dream of cultural hub in Fort St. John. Sue Popesku was a great champion of the arts, culture, and heritage, with a vision to grow the arts and make Fort St. John a better place to live,” she said.
North Peace Cultural Society president Connie Surerus said there’s too many great stories to tell about Sue, with countless hours spent working to better the community.
“The probably the biggest thing that I have to say is that the building we’re in, I believe, would not have happened without Sue,” she said. “She was the driving force.”
Former Peace Liard Regional Arts Council executive director Donna Kane said Sue inspired her to take the position, wanting to work with the legend herself.
“I watched what a force she was, and so in 2014 when the position became open, I applied for it. And it was primarily because I wanted to know what it would be like to work with such a dynamic person,” she said.
Fort St. John museum curator Heather Sjoblom talked of Sue’s dedication to preserving and celebrating the region’s rich history, particularly the anniversaries of the Alaska Highway, fundraising for the museum’s current building and uniting museums across the Peace through the Northern Trails Heritage Society.
“Sue was passionate about working together to give heritage, arts, and culture a stronger voice in a region where these sectors are continuously undervalued,” said Sjoblom. “She was a mover, a shaker, a doer for the community.”
Community event guru Jocelyn Eisert spoke of Sue’s unparalleled ability to tell the truth, whether one was willing to hear it or not. The two became good friends while coordinating the High on Ice festival.
“Everything in this community in the last 25 years has her footprint on it, or her thumbprint in some capacity,” she said. “Sue left such a legacy and a footprint, that it’s all of our responsibility to ensure her memory, her investment, is never forgotten.”
Fort St. John Mayor Lori Ackerman expressed her respect for Sue, and the long list of accomplishments achieved through Popesku’s passion and vision for the city.
“When I first heard of Sue’s passing, my first thought was who would fill those shoes? Who would take up the torch? And as I stand here and look at all of you seated, I can see that she built the future. You are here. You are engaged,” Ackerman said.
Popesku passed April 19, 2020, at the age of 72. A celebration of life was always intended much sooner, but had to be postponed due the COVID-19 pandemic.
The ceremony also featured performances by the North Peace Community Choir, NLC Youth Choir, and Studio 2 Stage, honouring Sue by performing on the stage she built.
Ever the historian, Sue left behind one last gift to the community, a collection of curated historical materials, with dozens of binders now being digitized into an online portal available for the public as the ‘Sue Popesku’ archives.
Tom Summer, Alaska Highway News, Local Journalism Initiative.
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Tom Summer, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Alaska Highway News