5 questions with…annual giving leader, Cleveland food fan Suzanne Sopa

Suzanne Sopa is always on the hunt for something, be it the next source of funding for a potentially groundbreaking project or simply the greatest cupcake in all of Cleveland.

So far, she’s found both.

As the senior director of annual and special giving in the School of Medicine and the executive director of annual giving for the university, Sopa spends her days seeking out funding for research and other special projects. Her two roles have her constantly running across campus, as she splits her time between the School of Medicine and the annual giving office in Nord Hall.

But in the midst of her busy schedule, Sopa spends time with her family, especially exploring Cleveland’s culinary scene. Since moving to Cleveland five years ago from Northwest Ohio, she’s been enthralled with the dining options available in the city. She’s taken that passion into the workplace, organizing departmental searches across the city for the “best of Cleveland,” from burgers to cupcakes.

The top honor for that esteemed search, Sopa said, goes to LaBella Cupcakes in Lakewood.

Yet for all her searching, there’s one thing she hasn’t been able to find in the city. Read on to find out what it is.

1. What superpower would you most like to have?
Well I don’t know if it’s a superpower, but I would love to be able to be a time traveler. … I’d love to go back and see how my parents lived and what they were like, and I’d love to see my two daughters growing up all over again.

I’d also love a redo of high school—I’d be a much more confident individual the second time around. But it’s not necessarily about going back and reliving moments; it’s more so to see how my family lived.

2. What’s your favorite place to dine in Cleveland?
Oh, there are a lot of them. My latest favorite is Hodge’s [by Chris Hodgson, of Dim and Den Sum and Hodge Podge food truck fame]. I think the whole food truck scene is very fun and very Cleveland, so the actual restaurant is a cool place to visit.

Deagan’s Kitchen in Lakewood is excellent. It has this amazing barbecue that’s just really, really good. I also like Luxe because of its outdoor patio…there are just so many great places in Cleveland! Any place where you can dine outside is nice.

3. When you were a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
Absolutely, 100 percent, a ballerina. When I was a kid, I was very big into ballet. My parents used to buy me all these leotards covered in sequins. I did ballet until I was probably in the beginning of high school … and then I became a gangly high schooler and stopped.

But my whole life, my dream was to be Clara in The Nutcracker—it was a huge obsession. So I decided to put it on my bucket list, and I actually danced in The Nutcracker before I was 40. I was living in Toledo at the time and I saw they were looking for adults for their production, which is the oldest-running production of The Nutcracker in the world. I was in the opening scene the first year and in the second half of the show the next year, and it was the most amazing experience of my life. I would say that’s definitely what I wanted to be when I was a kid, and if I could have the body of a 10-year-old today, I would still do it.

I don’t [do ballet] anymore—that was the one bad thing when we moved to Cleveland: I couldn’t find a place to dance anymore. The Toledo Ballet was very accepting of my minimal skills, and it was really hard [to leave that]. I never really found a place here that did those kinds of community productions. So I’ve dabbled at ballroom dancing and tap dancing since I’ve moved here, but I have not succeeded at either.

4. What accomplishments are you most proud of—personally and professionally?
Like a lot of parents, I’m personally proud of my daughters. I was really scared to be a parent—I’d never babysat when I was younger and then all of a sudden, you have this child in front of you. I’m very proud of how they have turned out and hope that I had just a minimal influence on that. When you think about teenagers in today’s society and especially the peer pressure and all the things surrounding girls in particular, I’m so happy to see they’re both very confident with who they are. … I feel very fortunate to be a mom of two girls—and of two girls who turned out quite solid.

Professionally, I’ve had a lot of amazing blessings. I’ve been given a lot of great opportunities, and I’ve had some very good mentors, so it’s hard to say just one thing. My dad was a manager of a company for his whole life, and I always aspired to be like him. I like how he values people and how he always sees the glass half full. I like that he always sees the good in people, so I’ve always tried to find opportunities where I could be in an environment like that.

Also, being at the School of Medicine and previously at the Cleveland Clinic, I’ve been so fortunate to be able to raise money to help with research that can cure diseases. Good fundraisers can raise money for anything, but you always want to do it for something you’re really passionate about. I see these young folks in the lab and every day they try to cure this one little breed of cancer or something so specific, and a lot of times they don’t have the funding to do it. It’s very humbling to be able to work for causes like that … and it makes me feel very proud to play even a minimal role in it.

5. What’s your favorite thing about Case Western Reserve University?
I’m really fortunate that I can be around students a little bit. That’s amazing to be able to do. We always talk about what bright students there are at Case Western Reserve, and each student is a great blend of someone who is so brilliant but still just a normal person.

I love being in the college environment again. It makes you feel young again and it makes you feel purposeful to be surrounded by young people who are so intelligent. I started here right when the school year began last year, and it was so neat to see the new students on campus, so excited. It’s all new for all of them. This is their first step into something big, and it’s nice to see everyone so full of hope. … It gives me a lot of hope for the future.