From football star to wedding planner, Mike Karpow was a softy at heart

mike karpow
Family photo, Waterloo Region Record

Valerie Hill
Waterloo Region Record

Mike Karpow had been a university football star when he was jokingly labelled a mercenary for his aggressive playing style. After retiring from pro sports, the hulking 6-foot-4 athlete worked in the trucking industry and somehow went from that rough and tumble world to become a devoted daddy of two girls and a wedding planner.

His new nickname became Mr. Hollywood, reflecting the name of the company he founded with his wife of 21 years, Lori Karpow. Hollywood Weddings & Megastar Events Inc. launched in 1997 as a part-time business for both of them but soon became a local leader in the industry. It was Lori’s creativity and Mike’s sales and organizational abilities that led to the company being featured in the American publication, World Class Weddings.

“He was outgoing, very personable,” said Lori. “Brides and grooms found him funny, easy to talk to. He was very good at establishing new contacts.”

He was also good at all the “lugging and slugging” necessary when loading gear in or out of functions. Despite this unexpected destiny, Mike had not exactly shown any interest in planning fancy events.

In her eulogy, Lori said “You didn’t do one thing to help plan our wedding and even played soccer before arriving at the church.” Classic Mike.

Mike was born in Kitchener, one of three kids of a Russian father and Ukrainian mother. He grew up in a richly cultural family and though there were no athletes that his mother, Anastasia Karpow could remember, her son loved and excelled in sports.

“He was into everything: soccer, football, baseball,” said Anastasia, adding with a laugh, “It was all sports, all the time and when he was watching sports on TV, don’t bother him.”

Mike started his sports career in high school and he played football for both Wilfrid Laurier University and the University of Waterloo.

His brother, Peter Karpow, said Mike was enrolled in a degree program in geography but didn’t complete the program. He was also offered a sports scholarship to an American university but it wasn’t a good fit for Mike, so he returned home.

While on the University of Waterloo football team, Mike set a record in career converts and field goals, a record that wasn’t broken until 1991. He then set his sights on a professional career and was drafted in 1978 by the Calgary Stampeders. Only 90 Canadian football players had been chosen from eligible Canadian universities and Mike was one of them. Peter doesn’t recall that Mike ever played football professionally, but he did coach and play semi-professional soccer where he excelled as a goalie.

After retiring from sports, Peter said his brother had a number of different jobs but ended up working for a trucking business in sales, where he would learn skills that would be necessary in the wedding planning business. Mike knew instinctively how to connect with people.

“He was very big hearted,” said Peter. “He was a go-getter in getting the business up and running, working long hours. And he lived for his daughters.”

This soft spot for children was apparent even when Mike was 10 and his baby sister Michele was born. He took the big brother role very seriously.

“He would babysit Michele,” said his mother. “He would feed her, change her, play with her and he’d walk her to school then he’d walk to Cameron Heights.”

This was an out of the way trip for Mike, but he never complained. Anastasia said all three of her kids were close knit, never fought and always watched out for each other.

“We were a very happy family, we’re going to miss him terribly,” she said.

Lori also remembered happy times raising their daughters Steffi and Sierra, when the couple would scoop the girls up from school and whisk them away on an impromptu family vacation.

Lori talked about her husband’s sense of humour, the often-told story of when he was playing soccer and as the fans jeered a play, rather than getting angry, Mike began coaching the fans in their chants, like a conductor leading an orchestra.

That shut them up.

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