It would be difficult to guess the number of cigarette butts that Joe Scopacasa has retrieved from Glendale’s streets for the last decade. He says he finds hundreds of them in a two-block radius near the Lexus dealership on Brand Boulevard where he’s combed the streets, ridding it of other people’s filth.
“You can imagine, throughout the city,” he says of the unknown number of cigarette butts.
This month, Scopacasa was named “Volunteer of the Year” by the Committee for a Clean and Beautiful Glendale. He was one of 1,900 volunteers—families, students, businesses, service groups and church groups—who dedicated a portion of 16,000 total hours of service to the committee’s programs in the past year.
Scopacasa volunteers at least once a week at the dealership where they keep a closet for the tools he uses to collect trash from the street. He encounters other junk such as cups left in buildings’ window sills or discarded items by the bus stop.
“We’re Jewel City,” he says. “We’re very clean. We could be a lot cleaner.”
In 2001, when Scopacasa was running for a Glendale City Council seat, he set out to introduce himself to the car dealers on Brand. He didn’t win the election, but he met Johnny Harrison of the Lexus dealership and liked the guy.
“He impressed me quite a bit,” he said.
So Scopacasa bought a Lexus from him.
“I’ve been coming down here ever since,” he added.
A graduate of Belmont High School in Los Angeles, Scopacasa immigrated to the United States from Bovalino Superiore, Italy, when he was 18.
He grew up the oldest of four brothers and tells a story of his mother putting ribbons in his younger brother’s curly hair because she longed for a girl so badly. Scopacasa would have a daughter himself, Tina.
He served three and a half years in the U.S. Air Force, spending two of those years in Toul, France, during the Korean War. He calls Glendale his hometown and says, “I’m not leaving.”
He retired after working with Security Pacific Bank, which merged into Bank of America, after 39 years. In 1986, he settled into a condo in Northwest Glendale, where, “Unofficially, I look and see if everything’s nice and clean.”
He hesitates before saying his age (he’s 83), joking, “All the women think I’m 59.”
Ivan Parry, the receptionist at the dealership, says more of Scopacasa than he says of himself.
“He knows every one of us and we all know him and love him. He is our family,” she said.
Parry, along with her co-workers, cheered for Scopacasa the day he was honored for his volunteer work.
Parry often sees him greet the dealership’s customers with coffee, and said that Scopacasa gives gifts to the employees each Christmas and every time a birthday rolls around. That’s 75 people. And then all Parry has left to say is, “He’s an angel on this side of heaven.”