Covenant Shores Chaplain Greg Asimakoupoulos poses with some of his “It’s a Wonderful Life” memorabilia. Asimakoupoulos is speaking at the annual festival celebrating the movie in Seneca Falls, New York, this weekend. Katie Metzger/staff photo

It’s a wonderful trip | Island chaplain to travel to ‘the real Bedford Falls’

Some stories stick with us. Greg Asimakoupoulos, the chaplain at Covenant Shores retirement community in Mercer Island, has taken one in particular to heart: Frank Capra’s 1946 film “It’s a Wonderful Life.”

“I first saw the movie in 1975, and it became a huge part of my life,” he said. “It celebrates family and what really matters in life. Not success, but significance.”

In the movie, George Bailey (James Stewart) wishes he had never been born, an angel named Clarence (Henry Travers) is sent to earth to make George’s wish come true. Many of Asimakoupoulos’ thoughts this time of year revolve around themes from the movie: sacrifice, redemption, love, faith and the impact one life can have on others.

Over the past 40 years, he has collected many pieces of film memorabilia, befriended one of the actors and was asked to write a book about the messages found in the “most inspiring movie of all time,” which he titled “Finding God in ‘It’s a Wonderful Life.’”

“They wanted me to write about inspirational insights derived from the movie,” he said. “I could do that in my sleep.”

This year is the 70th anniversary of the release of the timeless Christmas movie, and Asimakoupoulos was invited to preach at the historic First Presbyterian Church in Seneca Falls, New York as part of the annual “It’s a Wonderful Life Festival” Dec. 9-11.

“I had heard about [the festival] for years and always dreamed of the opportunity to go,” he said.

Seneca Falls is thought to be the town Capra had in mind when he created the fictional Bedford Falls for his movie, Asimakoupoulos said.

Among the festival’s highlights will be the appearance of the surviving actors who portrayed George Bailey’s three children: Janie (Carol Coombs), Tommy (Jimmy Hawkins) and Zuzu (Karolyn Grimes). Other special guests include Mary Owen (the daughter of Donna Reed, who played Mary Hatch Bailey), Lynn O’Leary Jameson, who played Janie as a baby, and Capra’s granddaughter, Monica Capra Hodges.

Asimakoupoulos has met Grimes before. When he moved to Mercer Island in 2005 to be the pastor at Evergreen Covenant Church, he met a retired Boeing engineer who had decided, in his late 70s, to become an actor. He was performing in a radio drama reenactment of “It’s a Wonderful Life” at Bellevue College, and invited Asimakoupoulos to attend, as Grimes was also involved in the production.

His friendship with Grimes, who lives in Port Orchard, has developed over the past 11 years, Asimakoupoulos said. She did some networking on his behalf and scored an invite to the Seneca Falls festival, along with the opportunity for speaking and book signing.

Though the film was not made as a religious piece, Asimakoupoulos asserts in his book that “we can see God at work in every scene” and in the themes of prayer, angels and the meaning of life.

The town of Seneca Falls has other historical significance. Home to Elizabeth Cady Stanton, it hosted the first women’s rights convention on July 19–20, 1848. The town is the home of the National Women’s Hall of Fame, as well as, of course, the Seneca Falls “It’s a Wonderful Life” Museum, which opened in 2010.

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Greg Asimakoupoulos poses with actress Karolyn Grimes, who played Zuzu in “It’s a Wonderful Life.” Photo courtesy of Greg Asimakoupoulos

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