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Frank Tupka, a history teacher at Foran High School where he was named teacher of the year, has had a lifelong love of cars. (Photo courtesy of Frank Tupka )
Frank Tupka has always been fascinated by cars. ‘Car’ was his first word and he has many memories of his dad’s 1964 Pontiac and studying the flags on the emblem of his aunt’s 1985 Oldsmobile Cutlass in his grandmother’s driveway. His love of cars also led him to an auto shop in high school, which resulted in him becoming a history teacher.
“I’ve loved cars my whole life and when I got a teaching job, the first big purchase I made was a car like my dad’s,” says Frank. “I hunted one down and when I got it, it was really tired, but I had some major engine work done, a new transmission put in, and worked on it with a friend.”
Frank and his friend, Marty Covais, rewired the car, changed out the gauges, and replaced the ignition system. Frank also has had body work done in the shop over the eight years he has owned the car.
Frank and his wife, Samantha, have lived in East Haven for the past four years where Frank has a room dedicated to all things Pontiac. Frank grew up in West Haven and has been a teacher in Milford for nine years, but he and his wife wanted to live in this area.
When they began looking for a house, they started doing “town shopping.” The couple would spend a day each weekend in different shoreline towns, driving around neighborhoods, eating at the local diner, seeing the sights, and checking out the shopping.
“We wanted to get a sense of what would it be like to live there and we found East Haven to be this absolute bargain,” says Frank. “It’s a relatively inexpensive to live in, but it has such wonderful amenities, like the beach, Town Green, great restaurants, and great location on 95. It’s a hidden gem that people don’t always think about.”
East Haven is not only home to Frank and Samantha, but to Frank’s car collection, which not only includes his Pontiac, but his every day car, and a “couple older Oldsmobiles,” including his aunt’s car he remembers from his childhood.
Frank’s aunt purchased the car new and Frank can remember riding in the backseat and studying the flags with his aunt. On New Year’s Day before Frank turned 16, his aunt brought the car to Frank’s house.
“She’d asked my dad if I could have a car and I’ve had it ever since,” says Frank. “I’ve had 12 cars since then, but I never got rid of it. I’ve been in love with that car my entire life and I thought it was such a cool car when I was little kid. It’s not worth a lot in terms of monetary value, but my oldest memory of a car is standing in my grandmother’s driveway with my aunt telling me what each country of the flags were. It’s been with me through everything—as a kid in the backseat and then driving it through high school and college and driving it to take my wife on dates when we met.”
As much as Frank loves cars, one of his favorite parts about his hobby is the people he has met and the places he has visited by taking part in car shows and cruises. Frank not only enjoys attending the car shows to meet friends and see different cars, but also that most shows benefit “really great causes.”
Prior to COVID, Frank and his friends would travel to destinations such as Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, New Hampshire, Ohio, and Detroit, Frank’s favorite city. Even though COVID caused many of the annual events to be canceled, Frank still put about 5,000 miles on his Pontiac this season as he and a group of friends made their own events or visited each other.
Frank and Covais, who lives on Long Island, along with Steve Peluso from Massachusetts and Bobby Farlandski of Rhode Island met through their passion for cars and continued to socialize as a small group this summer. The group has done beach cruises in Rhode Island, rode the ferry across Long Island Sound, worked in Peluso’s shop, and visited each other’s houses.
“If we have to isolate, we’ll do so with our small group and we were very careful who we’re with outside of that group,” says Frank. “It’s a lifestyle. I’ve met a lot of really awesome people who have the same passion for cars. These are folks who not only care a lot about the car, but what went into making the car, the design, the engineering, the people on the assembly line, and making sure those cars are still out there for people to keep enjoying.”
Frank’s interest in history extends beyond old cars. When he was in 5th grade, he was assigned a family tree project. He remembers his father speaking to the teacher after Frank received a poor grade because he couldn’t fill in his family’s history or old family customs.
Frank’s grandfather had been in an orphanage and both copies of his birth certificate had been destroyed, one in a fire at the orphanage and the other in the Connecticut floods in 1955. The blank spaces on Frank’s school project made him begin to question his own history.
“I wanted to figure out who I was and how my family ended up with this strange last name,” says Frank. “It turns out that my great grandfather had to change the spelling of his last name because he’d lost a bet so every single person in the United States with my last name is a direct relative of mine.”
Though Frank was interested in history, he hadn’t considered a job in the profession until his auto shop teacher, Henry Pozzuoli, at West Haven High School took the class on a field trip to visit Gateway Community College to learn about the auto programs. As much as Frank still loved cars, he was pulled toward education.
“Nobody in my family had gone to college—my dad was a custodian, my mom was a lunch lady—so I had no idea that was a possibility,” says Frank. “Mr. Pozzuoli pushed us to have a plan when you graduated. Because of him, I decided to give college a try. I owe a lot to him.”
Frank started at Gateway and later transferred to Southern Connecticut State University. He did his student teaching at Foran High School in Milford and was a substitute teacher for the Milford School District before being hired as a history teacher.
“I always liked history and I wanted to teach a history class I’d like to take. When I was in school, a lot of the classes weren’t as exciting as they could’ve been,” says Frank. “I want to pass on that fire so they can see why this is important, why it’s exciting, and how the world around you functions.”
With COVID shutting down in-person learning last March, Frank was excited for the 2020-’21 school year in which students returned to schools for four half-days every week with Wednesday learning online. This past April, Frank found out that he was named Foran’s Teacher of the Year.
“I don’t like to do high-profile stuff, but it was nice to hear what the staff and students said,” says Frank. “It meant a lot that those kids think you are worth their time even when they don’t have to give it and to me, that’s so big. I also got to hear from a lot of former students.
“It’s really important to me to build relationships with students and staff,” adds Frank. “You can’t teach anybody anything if they don’t trust you.”
Jenn McCulloch is the Correspondent for Zip06. Email Jenn at .