By Paul Myers @PaulM_SGN
WOODLAKE – Recently honored Man of the Year Louie Lopez has designated a significant portion of his life to betterment of Woodlake. After all Woodlake is where he lives, where he went to school and hometown to his entire family. For him making his town the best it can be starts in creating the Homegrown Project and showing up during the holidays to feed the less fortunate.
Since 2015 Lopez has been a city council member, but before that he helped found the Homegrown Project with fellow Woodlake native and current city administrator Ramon Lara. The two grew up together and began the organization by cleaning up lots and alleyways. Now they host community events like music festivals and horseshoe contests while still doing some cleaning projects.
“While we were doing some cleanups we started pitching around ideas and Homegrown sounded cool,” Lopez said. “We do some quarterly or monthly cleanups still, but if it were up to Ramon it would be weekly.”
Lopez is involved in the community year round. During Thanksgiving he helps the Persall family feed the less fortunate at Miller Brown park. Starting around 10 a.m. they manage to make sure a few hundred people are fed that day. And beyond food, they distribute coats and blankets to those who need them for the cold winter nights.
Overall, his willingness to jump in and get his hands dirty or help out others comes from his sense of community pride.
“We’ve always been proud of our community [getting involved] just kind of happened…it’s a community pride thing and setting a good example for the next generation,” Lopez said.
There may have been no better example for Lopez than his father, Louie Lopez senior. The elder Lopez owned a local auto parts store, Louie’s Auto Parts. When Lopez junior graduated from Fresno State, he returned to help with the family business. Having a local business in the family helping the community carries with it an inherent sense of pride. Unfortunately, the younger Lopez could not take it over, instead he went to work for the Southern California Gas Company reading meters part-time in 2005 until he was hired full time in 2007, and then relocated to Bakersfield in 2011.
In 2013 tragedy struck his family. Lopez’s brother-in-law called him at 3:30 on a Monday morning to tell him to hurry up to Woodlake.
“He didn’t want to tell me over the phone, so I rushed home and when I got there I saw a lot of my family’s cars and that’s when I knew it was serious…and he was gone,” Lopez said.
The patriarch of the Lopez family was only 52 years old and died of a brain aneurism. Louie Lopez senior was survived by his wife who still had Louie’s two younger brothers to look after, Louie and Louie’s sister. Things became clear for Lopez, he needed to move home and help his mother, so he relocated to Tulare County in 2013.
He continues to remember his father by tattooing a license plate onto his arm that commemorates his dad’s 1963 Impala. The Impala’s license plate was printed “LILOUIE” because Lopez was the only son he had at the time he got the car. Lopez’s tattoo is just a bit different, his says “BIGLOUIE.”
Since 2013 to now he is keeping up with plans to expand the Homegrown Project by offering an open movie night in the park for kids this spring. And while not officially a part of the Homegrown Project, Lopez says he continues to get wrangled into helping out during Summer Nigh Lights when it is 100 degrees out.
While Lopez is constantly working within his community, the 35-year-old council member still has things to learn about his hometown. He views his role on the council as reviewing the months of work staff puts into projects but he is proud to watch it all come together.
“The Community Center [for example]…the steps to get there is a long and tedious process. Just seeing it come from an idea to fruition is cool…it’s going to look great,” Lopez said. “It is all a sense of pride kind of thing, like even the sidewalks going in down the road.”