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After a heart attack nearly killed him, Jim Zupancic isn't taking life for granted
Downey High School hall of famer knows to appreciate every day after a heart attack almost claimed his life two years ago.
WRITTEN BY :   Henry Veneracion, Staff Writer

DOWNEY – “If my wife hadn’t called 911, I’d have been dead.”
Jim Zupancic was recalling the life-changing moment two years ago when he suffered a “severe” heart attack as work on the Stafford Hills Club, the facility he and wife Marla, a former nurse, had been building for two-and-a-half years in Lake Oswego on the southern outskirts of Portland, neared completion.
The demands of the project, designed to help others lead physically active and healthy lifestyles (oh, the irony), were stressful enough, Jim said, but not enough to cause alarm. “I had some warning signs, alright,” he said, “but I passed all the stress tests.”
What Jim, a real estate lawyer who grew up in Downey, didn’t know or could have imagined was that “99 percent blockage” of his arteries had all but snuffed out his life.
The medical team installed five stents in his heart. Glad to be alive, Jim named them after each of his five children: Christian, 38, a lawyer like himself; Marisa, 37, small business owner; Amber, 35, a nurse and lawyer; Evan, 32, mortgage banker; and Emily, 29, marketing executive. He has five grandchildren.
After his harrowing near-death experience, Jim has, not surprisingly, a message for each of us: “Make every day count, and do something good every day.”
In the meantime, he has become a sought-after speaker, locally and nationally, on the risks associated with heart disease and their prevention. Being a Rotarian for ten years has opened opportunities to speak about it even more. Realizing that a lot of people want to hear about the problems and anxieties he faced, so they won’t have to go through them themselves, Jim has decided to write a book about it.
“Among other things, the book will tell readers how to recognize signs leading to a heart attack,” he says, “change some of their habits, and enable them to live longer. I’m about one-third into it. It should be ready hopefully in 2014.”
Jim is the fifth of six children born to Joe and Betty Zupancic, whose ancestry is Slovenian. ‘Zupan’, he said, in Slovenian means ‘governor’ and ‘cic’ means ‘son’. “Therefore,” he says, “our ancestors must have been part of the political leadership in old Slovenia.”
Jim says all six of them siblings went to Downey schools. “My three older brothers were all swimmers at Downey High. I myself was on the water polo team,” he said. A great benefit I got from this is the lifelong friendship I’ve had with my former classmate and teammate Dan Marshman, current Downey resident who is a retired Beverly Hills firefighter and teacher.”
Later, Jim would become a member of the UC-Irvine 1970 national water polo championship team.
“My brothers and I all had paper routes growing up in Downey,” Jim continues. “This was in the late ’50s and the early ’60s. From our house on Tristan Drive, we used to walk over to McDonald’s on Lakewood and Florence, and order a 19c hamburger, a 15c milkshake, and fork over a nickel for fries, and would have change left from 50c. Those were the days.” Mom Betty still lives in the same house after 60-plus years. Dad Joe, who worked practically all his life for Weiner Steel in Pico Rivera, died in 1989.
“We’ve always been an extremely close family,” Jim said. “We put a high premium on being supportive of each other. In fact we were there in Downey recently. We celebrated a very important day in her life, her birthday.”
Even then displaying a flair for leadership, Jim was student body president in his senior year at Downey High.
After obtaining a BS in business management/finance from BYU in 1975 (he actually began his college studies at UC-Irvine before finishing up at BYU), he proceeded to earn his law degree at the University of the Pacific (McGeorge School of Law in Sacramento).
Among his earliest professional experiences was serving as general counsel of the California Assembly Ways and Means (Minority) Committee, as well as associate consultant (acquisitions, condemnation work/eminent domain, representation of land owners, sundry transactions) and, in the private sector, as CEO of Genesis Electronics Corporation, which was a leader in the voicemail industry, located in Northern California.
He currently practices law in the states of Oregon, California and Washington, while serving as president of the Zupancic Rathbone Law Group, said to be the “fastest-growing law firm in Oregon.” Co-founder and developer of the 100,000-sq. ft. private Wellness, Fitness, Tennis and Aquatics Club, and featuring 7 indoor courts and 3 outdoor courts, he serves as chairman of the whole Stafford Hills Club group. There are other similar facilities in the area, he says, but Stafford Hills is the newest of the lot, being the latest facility built in the last forty years.
“Our members range in age from three-four years old to ninety-one years old,” Jim said. “I’ve heard a member or two say about their tennis game, ‘I want my last breath to be after I’ve made a volley’.”
Jim says he’s “just an average recreational player” himself, playing two or three times a week, but he loves the game.
At age 61, Jim is very involved in community service and his church, including service as former chairman of the Lake Oswego School Board, chairman of the Oregon Job Creation Task Force, and, currently, on the board of directors of the (Oregon) American Heart Association.
A member of the 1970 DHS class, he was inducted into the 2002 DHS Hall of Fame.
Besides tennis, his hobbies include: music (playing the guitar), reading, swimming, and gardening. Yes, he plays (or tries to play) golf, too.
“I enjoy seeing fathers with their sons, mothers with their daughters, families having fun together,” Jim says. “It makes me feel good when people get together in the facility. This is what makes life wonderful, I guess, what life is all about.”
His most important lifetime achievement? “Being happily married to the world’s most wonderful wife and friend for 40 years, and being blessed with five wonderful children and five remarkable grandchildren,” he said.

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Published: Sept. 19, 2013 – Volume 12 – Issue 23



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