Andy Prokop, 2012 “Stocktonian of the Year.” Stockton.
Stockton is regarded as the epicenter of the country’s real estate crisis. The former Gold Rush boom town, population 291,707, led the nation in foreclosures in 2007, and has been among the leaders every year since. In 2012 the city was named one of the most dangerous places in the country, and in June became the largest American city to declare bankruptcy. There was more good news this year, when Stockton was named the third most illiterate city in the U.S.
Andy Prokop, the president of the local United Way, wasn’t having any of it, and insisted that he remains bullish on Stockton.
On a beautiful Sunday afternoon, downtown Stockton had the eerie feel of a city that had recently been evacuated. We couldn’t even rouse anyone at the police station, but Prokop was at work at his office on Main Street, getting ready to attend a University of the Pacific baseball game. As he chatted with us, he gave me a seven-page testimonial and biography that included a section headline that read, “Mother with a Handgun.” The pamphlet, called “Answered Prayers,” recounted Prokop’s days as a foster child, Vietnam veteran, and Carl’s Jr. franchise owner. Prokop sold his restaurants in 1997, and has been president of the San Joaquin County United Way since 1999. “Thirteen years and 330 days,” he said.
“Some people like to dwell on the negative,” Prokop said. “But I travel in a circle of people who praise this city and lift it up. Just wait and see; we’re going to come all the way back. This city has a big heart, and I wouldn’t live anywhere else.”