WILTON, Iowa - For most of his life, George Nopoulos delighted customers at his family's soda fountain, helping turn the small-town gathering spot into an Iowa landmark visited by celebrities and politicians.
Nopoulos died of natural causes Sunday evening at a retirement home in Wilton, Iowa, said his wife and business partner of 65 years, Thelma Nopoulos. He was 95.
With his white apron and black bow tie, Nopoulos was a fixture in Wilton, a town of 2,800 in eastern Iowa where he treated customers to his homemade ice cream at the Wilton Candy Kitchen since the 1940s. He was known for serving up banana splits, chocolate sodas and other treats with a smile, singing, whistling and joking behind the marble counter — seven days a week.
"He served happiness to millions of people from all over the world," his wife said in an interview Monday.
With a history that dates to 1860, the business gained a reputation as one of the last remaining old-fashioned soda fountains in operation. Actors Gregory Peck and Brooke Shields and President Dwight Eisenhower were among those who visited the shop. The shop was also the site of first dates and coffee meetings, a place where the regulars were locals who started going there as children and would eventually bring in their own kids.
Nopoulos' father, Gus, an immigrant from Greece, opened the Candy Kitchen in 1910, after it had recently closed under a different name. George started working there at age 6, in 1926, standing on a chair and cranking a Victrola to entertain farmers with music on Saturday nights.
After serving in the Army during World War II, he took over the store and married Thelma, who been washing dishes there since age 10. They kept the shop open until November, when they moved into a retirement home.
Thelma Nopoulos said she hopes to find a way to allow the store to remain open.
"God will take care of the future of the Candy Kitchen," she said. "We want it to stay open because it's been the pillar of the town of Wilton."
In addition to his wife, George Nopoulos is survived by four children and three grandchildren. A visitation is scheduled for Friday, with the funeral Saturday.