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Barbara and John Stropko

DENNE GOLDSTEIN | Close-Up Profiles
When Barbara first met John Stropko, she said, "I was crazy about him." Almost 30 years later, they are still joined at the hip. In fact, I would say the Stropkos are living a life they love.

They are in love with each other, in love with nature, in love with art, and in love with their business. So their business, New Desert Gallery, Inc., is truly a labor of love.

As a young boy growing up in Tucson, Arizona, John Stropko had a variety of after-school jobs. The last one he had was in construction, building pools. He enjoyed it so much that when he enrolled in college, he didn’t have the patience to sit in class; he just wanted to get out and do his job. He couldn’t concentrate on school, so he dropped out of college.

Barbara Stropko was born in Albany, Georgia. The daughter of an Air Force fighter pilot, she attended three high schools, the last one in California. After graduating, she attended Arizona State University.

In the meantime, John was busy digging pools, usually by hand. Often, there would be several different, unassociated contractors working on a site. One would be building the pool, one the landscape, another doing the hardscape, yet another working on the lighting, etc. However, even with a great design, control had a tendency to get lost. The end result would all too often be a puzzle in which all the pieces would not fit. The frustration of missed opportunities and lack of continuity on many of the jobsites was a source of concern for Stropko.

He fell in love with the elements of plants, water, pools, concrete, rocks and metal, and how these could be combined to create beautiful environments.

Stropko felt that a contractor doing the total job was the way to go, so he decided to go out on his own. In 1982, he formed John Stropko Pools and Water Features, Inc.

The need for a new direction resulted in the creation of a new business, which he called New Desert Gallery, Inc.

Back to the personal side of the Barbara and John story. . . . Family and friends had been trying to introduce Barbara to John for a long time; however, it took a while.

It seems that whenever they set up a barbeque or a party to introduce them, one or the other backed out at the last minute. Finally, it was inevitable, and they met.

At that time, 1984, Barbara was living in Phoenix. The job she had accepted requested that she stay for at least a year. True to her word, she stayed the year.

John must have been crazy about Barbara, because he was driving to Phoenix—about a two-hour drive from Tucson—every weekend.

He would also drive up to take her to dinner a couple of times during the week as well. He was 28; she, 26. As a contractor, he started his workday early, so he would leave Phoenix at 4:30 in the morning, drive back to Tucson, and go directly to work. Three weeks after she moved back to Tucson, they were married.

Meanwhile, in the early years of his company, he took on all the jobs that came his way. Barbara by then had joined the company, and they found themselves working seven days a week, many hours a day.

Although they loved it, they were working themselves to a frazzle. So, they decided to back off a little, and take fewer jobs, but enjoy them to the fullest.

John was meticulous about every facet of every job he did. When he took on a project, he offered the client comprehensive service. His most important concern was that when the project was completed, it would exceed his client’s expectations.

John Stropko’s landscape designs have won numerous awards. His projects have won multiple “Excellence in Landscaping” awards in the residential category for the state of Arizona, as well as several state Presidential Awards, which are given to projects that demonstrate the highest levels of excellence and creativity. He has been the recipient of several national Grand Awards, and was honored as the recipient of the Grand Award and of the prestigious Exterior Environmental Improvement Judges’ Award from the Associated Landscape Contractors of America.

Barbara Stropko was president of the Arizona Landscape Contractors’ Association for the years 2002 and 2003. John and Barbara were both honored with the 2005 Arizona Landscape Contractors’ Association Lifetime Achievement Award for their commitment to the highest standards of professionalism and service to the Association and the industry.

John was also named one of the “Masters of the Southwest” by Phoenix Home and Garden. Barbara is currently on the board of trustees for the Arizona Landscape Contractors’ Association; she’s also the chair for the Design Build Installation Specialty Group and Green Industry Great Escape for PLANET, as well as serving on other committees.

John and Barbara Stropko are Professional Landcare Network Trailblazers, a group of dedicated professionals and industry leaders nominated by their peers for making significant and long-term contributions to the green industry. His work has also been showcased in many designer homes, and has been viewed by national and local garden tours. Articles by him have been published in local and national magazines and newspapers along with various books.

“We’re a small firm that employs 12 people. While our company is small, the projects that we take on are intense,” said John. “We are hired on for our expertise, our designs and our amenities. We offer an all-inclusive project, a one-source design/build, and we are responsible for all.” Barbara adds, “John is definitely hands-on. We specialize in troubled sites.”

When asked what they do for relaxation, their response was that they love driving around the outlying areas of Tucson, enjoying nature. “Each time we do, we find new rocks, new plants,” said John. “Later, we see how we can incorporate these into our landscapes.”

It’s clear that the Stropkos love what they’re doing. They love just being with each other; they love art and nature. “So what if we’re not the wealthiest people,” they said. “One thing we know, we are the richest.”

Sounds like Utopia to me.

 
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