JEFFERSONVILLE — To remember Wayne Estopinal, all you have to do is look around the city of Jeffersonville at what he built: the police headquarters on 10th Street, the Michael L. Becher Correctional Complex on Court Avenue, Big Four Station park at the foot of the Big Four Bridge — just a sampling of his legacy landmarks.
But to those who knew him best, Estopinal will be remembered for the things you can’t see: his compassion, his love of his hometown of Jeffersonville and the way he treated others.
“I’ll always remember Wayne for not his physical heart but rather his heart of compassion, his heart of love, his heart of giving and, to me personally, his unconditional friendship,” Steve Stemler said Sunday during a Celebration of Life service for Estopinal, who died Nov. 30 in a plane crash in rural Clark County.
“I was also struck that with all of Wayne’s earthly success he never forgot his beginnings and how to respect others, no matter what their station, or circumstances or position of life was,” said Stemler, whose 12-year run as a state representative ended last month. “Folks, that’s the true test of an individual in my mind: to remember your roots and to treat others equally.
“You became a better human being by and because of Wayne Estopinal’s influence on you.”
The service at Scott Funeral Home in Jeffersonville, where Estopinal, who founded TEG Architects 29 years ago, built the facility’s north chapel, was filled with fond memories of a native son whose outsized ambition was matched only by his drive to help others. The service, which featured several speakers, including former mayor Dale Orem and current Mayor Mike Moore, brought tears, and, in a fitting tribute to someone who enjoyed life to its fullest, laughter.
“Can you imagine the city of Jeffersonville without Wayne Estopinal?” Moore asked. “It would be like New Albany.”
After the several dozen people packed into funeral home’s chapel stopped laughing, Moore told them to “take that laughter with you today. Wayne would have liked it.”
Moore recalled a conversation he had with Estopinal when Moore was an unknown running for mayor. Moore told Estopinal he would win.
“I guess I reached something there because Wayne was completely behind everything,” Moore said.
Moore even made Estopinal his campaign treasurer in his most recent run for mayor.
“If you ever want to be told you’re screwing up or you need to be doing something better, that guy right there, he’ll make sure you’ll do it right,” Moore said. “And it was that drive right there that I needed. And we were successful.
“Wayne was not a good man. Wayne was as good as they come,” Moore said. “Wayne Estopinal was a great man and the city of Jeffersonville will prosper and thrive for all of the things Wayne was a part of.”
Orem called Estopinal, who was the founder of Louisville City FC and was a minority owner of Orlando City Soccer Club, one of the most driven people he’s ever known.
“Wayne always had success. That’s what he was driving for,” Orem said. “I don’t think he was driving for money of success. He was driving for success. Success in structure, success in curb appeal, success in function, and most of all, success with his mentors, and above all, with his clients to make sure they got the job they wanted.”
Most of all it was Estopinal's caring nature that stood out the most for Orem.
“Wayne never forgot friends, he never forgot family,” Orem said. “He’d never forget your birthday, other special occasions — any way he could to make you feel special. You want to close by saying to Wayne: ‘Wayne Estopinal you really always will be a great guy to all of us.’”
But it was Stemler, who knew Estopinal since high school, that delivered the most personal remarks Sunday. In speaking directly to his friend, Stemler said he couldn’t wait to see Estopinal’s newly designed pearly gates.
“I’m really curious how you got Saint Peter to let you do that so fast,” Stemler said.
Holding back tears Stemler thanked Estopinal for “pushing me and showing me by your example how to be a better man, be a better human being, to encourage me to pursue big goals. And thank you for being my unconditional friend, even when I disappointed you.”
And then he had one last message.
“Most of all Wayne I regret never telling you this in person: I want to thank you for being the older brother that I always wanted,” Stemler said. “I could not have asked for a better older brother to encourage me.”