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Dentist, homeless advocate, community supporter dies suddenly at 60

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KAILUA-KONA — On Thursday, Oct. 6, during Dr. Cliff Kopp’s latest walk around the island, Barbara Kossow met the dentist at Lapakahi State Historical Park in the northern part of the island.

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KAILUA-KONA — On Thursday, Oct. 6, during Dr. Cliff Kopp’s latest walk around the island, Barbara Kossow met the dentist at Lapakahi State Historical Park in the northern part of the island.

The man was on his way south toward Kawaihae and had stopped for breakfast with Kossow.

“He was in such good spirits,” Kossow said, adding he was thinking of all the things he wanted to do to improve services to the island’s homeless.

Kopp had just come up with a logo for a nonprofit organization, she said, something to do with the stars that hung over his walk during the nighttime.

The walk was the most recent of Kopp’s treks to raise awareness for homelessness. The man would carry his belongings on his back, recreating the homeless experience.

“He felt so good about the walk,” Kossow said. “I’ll remember that too because he was like off the ground.”

Eventually, the two parted ways and Kopp continued his walk south, aiming to make it further south before the weather got too warm.

Kopp, 60, died Friday morning following a stroke the previous day, said Ann Goody. Kopp just finished his most recent walk, a double lap of the island, the previous Saturday, she said.

Goody said a scattering of Kopp’s ashes is still to be announced.

The dentist leaves behind a large legacy of caring, commitment and giving, said those who know him.

“Every once in a while, the community is blessed to have someone like him,” said Mayor-elect Harry Kim during a telephone interview Saturday.

Kopp, Goody said, was the type of person to leap at any opportunity that could improve the area around him.

“If it was gonna be good for the community, he would back it,” said Goody, who first met Kopp 11 or 12 years ago when he joined the Rotary Club of Kona.

Whether it was a food drive, renovations at a domestic abuse shelter or supporting a group of kids in a township of South Africa, Kopp, Goody said, was there to help it all.

“He would get behind everything,” she said.

Kossow, who also knew Kopp through Rotary Club, called Kopp’s passing “a deep loss for us.”

“When someone needed help, he was always there to help,” she said.

Kopp’s efforts, Goody added, weren’t just about making his community the best it could be, he also pushed those around him to be the best they could be as well. And when he threw his support behind people, he held them to high standards and expectations.

“It was like he was the cheerleader and the principal,” she said. “He let you be the best person you could be.”

And once those tasks were finished, she said, he would celebrate not to boast, but to set a benchmark of what can still be done

“He was very proud of what he did,” said Goody. “But he used it as an incentive to say, ‘We’ve done that, now we can do better.’”

Most recently, Kopp turned his attention to the issue of homelessness on the island.

On Christmas Eve, 2015, Kopp set out on a 240-mile trek around the Big Island to draw attention to the lack of support for the island’s homeless.

Kossow said the walk was partially inspired by a conversation the two had regarding a film about spending a night homeless.

Kopp, she said, wanted to do more than that.

“He wanted to really get out there and do something other than spending the night,” she said.

After he finished that walk, Kopp said he was walking to bring awareness to the gap in services for the island’s homeless.

“The government wasn’t doing anything,” he told West Hawaii Today at the time, “so I walked.”

Kopp most recently took a fifth trip, a 16-day, 500-mile trek, which he started at the end of September, according to news files.

After his fourth trip, several members of the community met with Kopp about the man’s vision to create a 300-bed homeless shelter in Kona.

Among them was Mattson Davis, former CEO of Kona Brewing Co.

In an interview, Davis described Kopp as “passionate,” “highly informed” and “educated.”

“There was always a lot going on in his head,” he said.

The facility Kopp proposed would provide overnight shelter with 300 beds. It would also include shower and laundry facilities.

Davis said Kopp was very insistent on “understanding the full scope” of homelessness on the island and not just reducing the term to describe everyone in a variety of situations.

Kopp also educated others about homelessness and made an effort to learn all he could from research.

With Kopp’s passing, Davis said it’s important to carry on the man’s vision.

“‘For the community, he set the course,” he said. “And we need to manage and develop and deliver on his vision.”

That drive and commitment to taking action, he said, would be Kopp’s legacy.

“Don’t talk about it,” he said. “Do it. Do it now.”

Goody added that to cast Kopp as only a champion for the homeless is to reduce him to just a portion of all he did.

He wasn’t just about the food banks or just about the shelters or just about the parades, she said. Kopp served as chairman for the Fourth of July and Christmas parades for more than the past decade.

“He was all of it,” she said. “You’d be doing him an injustice to say it was just one thing.”

Goody said she and others who knew Kopp are commited to carrying on the man’s commitment to improving the world.

“We will all keep him alive inside of us through what we’re doing,” she said. “Everyone’s afraid to let him down; we don’t want him to scold us.”

Saturday, Kopp’s wife of 28 years issued a statement on her husband’s death.

“Our sons Jeremy, Adam and I miss him so much,” said Megumi Kopp. “The world is not the same anymore without him; he was a wonderful husband.”

In March, Cliff Kopp penned a column for West Hawaii Today. In “Why I Walk,” the man described his experiences and his motivations.

“My walks are what they are,” he wrote, “mainly physical pain and mental duress, yet without suffering the way a homeless individual or family does. There is a sense of being an animal at times, and especially the thought that there is no tomorrow, no hope. I simply try to survive the day. What a horrible existence! Yet I have it easier than most, given an emergency team that finds me at the end of a 35-mile, 16-hour walk that I will repeat six times.

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“I have understood what it is to be insignificant, being beyond filthy, washing yourself with puddle water when you have used up your drinking water,” he added. “No one is there for you at 2 a.m.

“The smallest acknowledgement allows you to continue on when you think you are through. Some people look at you, and they judge you, and they think that you are suffering in some way. Yet I will state it once more, there is no suffering, as I have a home.”