The chipmunk trophy went to his mom, who caught the rodents in her Pennsylvania neighborhood and released them at a nearby park.
For his nephew, Joe Lupacchino made a replica of the Philadelphia Eagles’ 2018 Super Bowl trophy.
And for a 50th birthday, Mr. Lupacchino took a smashed racquet and a snapped golf club and mounted both on a plaque for his aggressively competitive buddy.
Mr. Lupacchino didn’t just make awards for his friends and family. But he did make friends through the awards he made.
For 30 years at Hottin’s Trophies in Seminole, he crafted trophies for Boy Scouts and Little Leaguers, engraved plaques for veterans and teachers, made awards for businesses and props for movie producers. He worked late and undercharged, if he charged at all. He loved watching people’s faces when they saw what he’d made.
Mr. Lupacchino died Dec. 30 from the coronavirus and pneumonia. He was 68.
In 1989, Mr. Lupacchino walked in to Hottin’s to buy trophies for his golf league.
“Do you want to buy a business?” asked owner John Hottin.
Mr. Lupacchino was 36 at the time, working at Eckerd Corp. as a data processing manager. And, at least at first, he did not want to buy a trophy shop.
But he’d grown up watching his dad run a bar in Pennsylvania and fiddling with the tools from his grandfather’s jewelry and watch shop. He was ready for a change from the corporate world. And Hottin was persistent.
Less than a year later, Mr. Lupacchino took over. Hottin and his wife stayed to help him learn the business. Over time, the trophy shop got computers and laser machines. It moved to a bigger spot in Seminole.
Friend Rich Caporaso, who used to work at the shop, saw Mr. Lupacchino donate his time and effort again and again.
He might have made more money if he’d stayed in corporate America, but at Hottin’s, Mr. Lupacchino became a fixture in the community.
Peggy Comerford owned a daycare next to Hottin’s. Each year, Mr. Lupacchino made medallions for the graduating preschoolers, and each year, he’d refuse payment.
“You guys are my neighbors,” he’d say. “I love watching those kids grow up.”
He watched her own kids grow up after becoming friends with her family, joining campouts a few times a year. Each December, he drove his RV home to Pennsylvania for the holidays and made special trips to see his niece play soccer and his nephew play baseball.
Her son liked working for himself, said Margaret Lupacchino, and meeting people.
“He had the gift of gab,” she said.
And often, those people became friends.
Howard Humberger came in as a customer and eventually brought his woodworking skills to the trophy shop. He worked there for several years.
“He was an extremely nice person,” Humberger said, “and it was just my luck to run into him and know him.”
“Joe never met a stranger,” said friend Bobby Greenwood.
“Joe never met a stranger,” Comerford agreed.
He made a plaque for a TV reporter. He made a gavel for a mayor. And after 20 years of camping trips, he made Comerford’s son and his friends engraved frames to mark the occasion.
“Every trophy my kids have,” she said, “those were all from Joe.”
The trophy maker never got an award for his ability to be on time (something he struggled with) or his organizational skills (though he knew where everything in that shop was.)
But he deserved one for being a good friend and neighbor.
Poynter Institute researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this story.