A Local Legend: Catching up with “Kup”


By Valerie Hardy

Meeting with Will Kupisch at Panera was like sitting with a celebrity. Every few minutes someone would come up to greet him with a hello, handshake, or hug.

Kup reconnects with his former counselee
from DGN, Cary Greene, Class of ’93.

One of these people was Carey Greene, a 1993 Downers Grove North High School graduate, who lives in New Hampshire but was in town visiting her mother. She had Mr. Kupisch (“Kup,” as he is more commonly and affectionately known) as her guidance counselor. “She’d come into his office crying about something, and he’d get out his guitar,” Greene’s mother, Eileen Leathers, reminisced about how Kup helped support Greene during her teen years.

Teacher, Counselor, & Coach

During Kup’s career at North High School, which spanned five different decades (1978–2011), he interfaced with thousands of students: in the classroom, in the counseling office, on the track, or on the field. He started his career at DGN fresh out of college, a self-described “young pup who didn’t know anything,” just grateful to have gotten a job. “I didn’t realize the magnitude of the institution then,” Kup said of North High.

However, he quickly came to realize his good fortune in having been hired at a school where “people care and go the extra,” he said. “North High School knocked it out of the park, and it was a privilege to be part of that.”

Kup was a history and physical education teacher before becoming a school counselor, a position he held for the majority of his career. “You don’t placate them,” Kup explained of his approach to counseling students. “You tell them the truth, so they can move on, not stay stuck.”

His students responded to his nurturing yet direct style, in a counseling capacity and in a coaching one. “Coach Kup” worked with North’s football team for a few years before shifting his focus to cross country and track and field.

“Coaching just augmented my position as a person and as a guidance counselor in the building,” Kup said. “You get to know people.”

And people are what matter most to Kup; not just the smartest, strongest, or fastest ones, but “every kid.” Kup explained that regardless of his runners’ times or talents, “they were all special, and if they didn’t feel the love from me, then I failed.”

Community Contributions

Although Kup retired more than a decade ago, he still spreads wisdom and love within and beyond the DGN community. He comes back as a guest coach and motivational speaker for North’s cross country team, proud to support his successor, Coach John Sipple, of whom he feels like “a proud parent for what he’s done with the program,” he said.

Kup was also integral in getting Downers Grove’s annual Bonfield Express Thanksgiving Day 5K (now the Grove Express) up and running and may be considered the face of the race, emceeing from the starting line. “Quite the man, Mr. Bonfield,” Kup said, of his former District 99 colleague for whom the race was initially named, and quite the event. Kup explained how rewarding it has been to see each year’s race proceeds result in a “scholarship that turned heads, a scholarship based on character, not grades.”

Kup also helps teens and adults from Chicago and other areas of the state build character and an appreciation of nature in his role as a director at the Glenhagen Farm Retreat, a nonprofit camp in Princeton, Illinois (see companion story). He is also a chaplain of the Downers Grove Police Department, using his counseling skills to offer support in times of crisis. “I pray before I go, not knowing what I’m parachuting into,” Kup said about his response when a situation necessitates a chaplain. “I just pray I can be of some benefit.”

A man of deep faith, Kup also leads the weekly local bible study group of which he has been a participant for 30 years. He also speaks at funerals, baptisms, and weddings. In fact, he has officiated 80 weddings, “half of them, probably, of former students,” he said.

The Kupisch Family

When Kup commits to officiating a wedding, he often tells the couple, “I’m going to marry you as if I’m marrying my son or my daughter.”

He is referring to his two children – Andrew Kupisch (a fifth grade teacher at Downers Grove’s Henry Puffer Elementary School) and Megan Klucharik (a former first grade teacher who is now on the administrative staff for the Glenhagen Farm Retreat) – who both attended DGN. “I had my own kids as my counselees,” Kup said, and got a front row seat to their band performances and track and cross country meets. “I got to see them a lot,” he said about his children. “I’m not sure if I would have coached if I was at another high school,” because that would have meant missing out on many of his own kids’ events.

Coaching most of the year took up a lot of Kup’s time, and he credits his wife, Cathy, for supporting him and their family through those many busy seasons. Cathy – who grew up in Downers Grove and whose father started the local Bob Carter’s Auto Body shop – was also an educator. Both now retired, Kup and Cathy enjoy spending time with their family, including five grandchildren who they often babysit.

Kup considers his family the greatest members of his team: “If people are saying anything about me, it’s really about us. It couldn’t have happened without us.”

The Kupisch family is one that orients around education, service, and love.