By Terri Gorney
Sam and Adeline Ropchan joined ACRES in 1960. Sam proudly told his friends and family about it in their Christmas letter of 1973. Earlier in 1973 he also announced their generous "gift" to ACRES, the Ropchan Memorial Nature Preserve in Steuben County. The Ropchan Wildlife Refuge, also in Steuben County, followed in 1976 and was dedicated May 1977.
Born in 1905 into a large, poor family in western Canada, Sam wrote in his unpublished biography: "Thinking about our very early days on the farm, I have...memories [of] being cold, hungry and crying frequently, generally about food...Our first house...was in part a sod hut with one wall of range lumber, and a door with a window in it." According to the 1940 census and his army enlistment papers, Sam's education went as far as 5th grade.
By 1930, Sam was living in Chicago with his brother Alexander. In that year's census, his place of birth was listed as "English Canada." Sam was a wholesale manager by profession, living in Fort Wayne by 1935, residing in the same home in 1940, making $1800 annually. He had become a U.S. citizen and served his adopted country in WWII. His enlistment papers show that he was born in "British Canada."
Sam loved the outdoors: fishing and hunting were favorite pastimes. In August 1949, he took flying lessons under the GI bill and became a private pilot. Some of his best times were solo flights over some of the most beautiful places in North America, logging over 2500 miles in his Cherokee plane. His last flight was October 26, 1974. Sam became a successful businessman in Fort Wayne, owning Universal Merchandise. In the 1950s, he became active in the Fort Wayne chapter of the Izaak Walton League, which led him to ACRES.
Art Eberhardt remembers that when he saw the land that became Ropchan Memorial Nature Preserve advertised for sale, he thought it was available at a good price. He remembers area residents were using it as a dump, and volunteers and county trucks were needed to clear the debris. At this time, Sam Ropchan was looking for land to donate as a preserve and agreed to provide the necessary funds.
Ropchan Wildlife Refuge's 184 acres surround a cemetery and include Cemetery Lake. According to Art Eberhardt, some of this land was Helen Skelton's; Helen sold her land below market value so it would be preserved. (Helen was a descendant of the Farnhams and McClues who settled in Steuben County in the 1830s.)
By 1979, Mark DeBrock had visited Ropchan Wildlife Refuge 47 times, writing his observations and noting the habitat was good for a wide variety of mammals, salamanders, turtles and frogs.
Sam founded the Ropchan Foundation which provided funds for the purchase of lands in northeastern Indiana for conservation purposes, and he served as its president for ten years. To promote world peace, he and Adeline also founded the Ropchan Peace Fund through the Peace Study Institute.
We are grateful Sam chose to adopt Fort Wayne as his home - he definitely made a difference in northeastern Indiana. In his eulogy, his second wife, Marla, asked: "How do you sum up his life in 60 minutes?"
Adeline died in August 1981 and Sam in April 1987. Both are buried at Lakeside Cemetery south of Fremont, surrounded by nature that they preserved for us all to enjoy.
ACRES owns several tracts of property around a wetland conservation area in a cooperative project with the Indiana Department of Natural Resources (DNR) Department of Fish and Wildlife. Our 184 acres is a 1976 gift of Sam and Adeline Ropchan.. We maintain the trails that cross through both properties, connecting our parking lot on the north side and DNR's on the south.