Nick Popovich quietly spreads donations across the region.
by Jerry Davich
Nick Popovich and his staff of aircraft specialists have repossessed hundreds of luxury jets and high-priced airplanes the past three decades. But the high-flying philanthropy behind his Valparaiso-based firm, Sage-Popovich Inc., often takes place away from the public's radar.
The exhaustive list of groups, nonprofits and organizations to which Sage-Popovich has given monetary donations includes YMCA, Purdue University, Boys & Girls Clubs, St. Joseph Soup Kitchen, Kids Alive, Opportunity Enterprises and Gary Community Schools Corp., as well as many Northwest Indiana police and fire departments.
Popovich not only donates planeloads of money to dozens of groups. He also donates his aircraft for various needs across the country, such as for the Minnesota-based Veterans Airlift Command. The organization provides free air transportation to post 9/11 combat wounded, and their families, for medical and other compassionate purposes through a national network of volunteer aircraft owners and pilots.
“Nick Popovich has generously contributed nearly $250,000 in in-kind and cash contributions in support of the Veterans Airlift Command,” says Walt Fricke, founder and chairman of the VAC. “The majority of this has come in the form of the provision of his private jet aircraft and crews to transport post 9/11 combat wounded.”
“The VAC could not exist to provide this service without the contributions of great Americans like Nick. We are deeply honored to know and serve alongside him and his staff at Sage-Popovich,” Fricke adds.
Popovich, a burly guy, even surly at times, possesses an intimidating presence yet a boyish smile. His trademark response for his charitable ways is as forthright as his mannerisms.
“I see a need,” Popovich says squarely, spending words like $100 bills.
In 2010, Popovich saw yet another need, this one in Haiti, after an earthquake devastated the developing country. He and his friend, Bill Rancic, the former star of TV show “The Apprentice” as well as the reality series “Giuliana and Bill,” flew there on one of Popovich's corporate jets.
They did so for a low-profile, 22-hour humanitarian mission to deliver 4,000 pounds of food and medical supplies. Popovich wanted to cut out the red-tape middleman while helping the earthquake-ravaged Haitians without the bureaucracy of relief-aid politics.
“We have planned and completed several missions to Haiti together, where Nick worked around the clock to make sure everything went exactly as planned,” says Rancic, executive producer of the TV show “Repo Man,” featuring Popovich and his crew, which aired on the Discovery Channel.
“Nick is a guy who will never say no when someone is in need,” Rancic says. “He never wants recognition or glory. He just wants to help.”
Although Sage-Popovich's repossession notoriety gets most of the company's publicity, it represents only 10 percent of the total operation at his 116-acre, ranch-style compound in rural Valparaiso.
The firm also provides fleet management, equipment inspections, aircraft ferry and storage, expertise in all phases of airline and charter operations, and consultation on the aircraft industry and trends, among other services.
Because of this, Sage-Popovich has repossessed more than 1,500 luxury jetliners and other high-priced aircraft over the past three decades. One of them, a Boeing 737 jumbo jet valued at $1.35 million, was donated last year to Ivy Tech Community College as an “Emergency Response Training Lab.”
“We are beyond thrilled about the opportunities made possible by the donation of this plane,” stated Thomas Coley, Ivy Tech's chancellor for its northwest and north central regions. “There is no substitute for hands-on experience, and that's exactly what this plane will offer students. The plane will provide training that we would otherwise have no way of facilitating.”
The plane is located at the Gary/Chicago International Airport, near the flight operations center for Sage-Popovich. It's the only such training lab platform in the country, Popovich says during a tour of the plane.
The jet, with a stripped cockpit and removed wing-engines, is used to train Ivy Tech students studying criminal justice, public safety and law enforcement. It's also used as a training environment for Northwest Indiana law enforcement for fire and emergency responder personnel. In September, SWAT team officers from 11 agencies trained for a hostage rescue situation, with more planned.
Popovich also is covering expenses for the plane's parking, insurance, upkeep and maintenance for the next two years. Plus, the Popovich Family Trust is sponsoring a summer program for children–five $10,000 scholarships in the school's law enforcement program. Why? He saw a need.
He also saw needs for the Yankee Air Museum, Fraternal Order of Police and Lakeshore Public Media, to name a few.
“We are so thankful for Nick Popovich's generous support of Lakeshore Public Media,” says James Muhammad, the station's president and CEO, echoing other recipients. “It is individuals like Mr. Popovich who make our mission of inspiring and enriching lives possible.”