Jeep lover to document the many Faces of Jeep
Sarnia’s Natasha Kokkinis and her sidekick Lucy have been inseparable since they met only two years ago.
The two-some have spent a great deal of time together criss-crossing large parts of North America – travelling from out-of-the-way, little-known locales in Lambton County to the green rolling hills of Tennessee – while making bigger plans to travel to many more exotic locations, including a dream vacation to the national parks of southeastern Utah.
The two are so close that Kokkinis admits she probably has more photos of Lucy on her cell phone than of her husband or children combined.
Lucy is a 2012 Crush-orange Sahara Unlimited Wrangler, while Kokkinis is one of Canada’s best known ‘Jeepers’ – a fan and aficionado of all things Jeep-related and a passionate and prominent purveyor of the popular Jeep subculture.
A medical office assistant by trade who is also a certified member of the Canadian Jeep Girls (the group’s Facebook page has 47,000 followers), Kokkinis will soon add the titles of author and documentarian to her resume as she’s recently started work on a project near and dear to her heart, an undertaking entitled the Faces of Jeep. It’s a multimedia compilation of anecdotes, stories, photos, videos and adventures of Jeepers with their favourite vehicles.
The project is the culmination of a lifetime of devotion to all things Jeep, said Kokkinis, a devotion that began years ago when she was a teen growing up in Komoka.
“I have just loved everything about Jeeps since I was a teen,” she said. “I think one of the big things is the diversity of the Jeep, the individuality of the Jeep, how you can take one Jeep and do anything to it. You can have the big tires, the lift kit, different colours, different modifications, sidesteps… I’ve seen people do colour accents on the inside. It’s really a way of expressing your personality, that’s what I love about it.
“And no two Jeeps are the same, every Jeep is different,” Kokkinis continued. “I’ve seen pink Jeeps, blue Jeeps, black Jeeps, white Jeeps, even an aqua-coloured jeep. I like to say that they’re like Lego for adults – you can change the bumpers, you can change the tires, make the lift higher, make the lift lower, there’s different hard tops and soft tops. There are just so many possibilities, I just love that about them.”
There’s just something about Jeeps that make their owners fiercely loyal to them, Kokkinis said.
“You don’t normally see somebody pimp out a Mini Cooper or a Civic,” she said, laughing. “You see people pimping these Jeeps out, that’s what we do. It’s a massive community and it’s worldwide. Locally, I’m good friends with Michelle Babcock, who runs the Cross-Country Jeepers in Tillsonburg and there are also the Bluewater Jeepers across the border who are run by John Kutcher.”
Kokkinis the Jeep community is tight-knit and supportive.
“Somebody might have an aqua blue Jeep, but everybody in the community is cool with that.”
While she was ready to dive into the Jeep culture as a teen, life got in the way. After several decades spent working hard and raising children – and moving to Lambton County in the process – a few years ago Kokkinis finally got the chance to indulge in her passion when she set her eyes on Lucy.
“I was 16 when I first got interested – I’m 43 now – and as you know they’re not a cheap vehicle, so I had to wait until I was established to get a Jeep,” she said. “I had my kids young so I had to be a mom first, but now that my kids are teenagers I was able to treat myself to something I really wanted.”
“So a couple of years ago when I was getting to the point of buying a Jeep, I was looking for something used that was either gecko green or crushed orange. And then one day I was driving by a dealership and I saw this beautiful Crush-orange jeep on top of a snow mound. I went right in and talked to them and bought it. And it was ready for me to pick up on my 41st birthday,” Kokkinis said, smiling. “It was the greatest birthday of my entire life.”
After naming the jeep Lucy after one of her favourite comedians, Lucille Ball, Kokkinis and Lucy became indivisible, hitting the road and travelling to Jeep events together (such as the annual Canadian Jeep Show, which normally takes place in Barrie) while Kokkinis shared photos and spoke with other Jeepers on numerous online forums. In the two years since she purchased Lucy, Kokkinis was accepted with open arms into the Canadian Jeep Girls group as she became more and more enmeshed in the entire Jeep subculture.
“It’s allowed me to be myself, it’s allowed me to express myself and it feels like there are no limitations,” she said. “I’ve made so many friends over the past two years. I’ve come out of my box, so to speak. I’ve met people from all around the world.”
It was during the heady past two years that the idea of documenting the stories of this diverse and supportive community came to Kokkinis.
“I had this very big dream. I wanted to be able to celebrate Jeepers, I just wanted to bring an awareness about the great love of jeeps that exists both in North America and all around the world,” she said.
“So at first I started a Facebook page called The Faces of Jeep, where people could share their pictures and talk about jeeps. But I decided that I wanted to do something more, to make something more than a Facebook page.”
So, over the next coming months and years – with Lucy by her side – Kokkinis is planning to travel extensively across the continent and meet with Jeepers in their natural habitats, interviewing them to see what makes them tick and why they chose the Jeep lifestyle, all with the hope of compiling a wealth of material for her project, which will eventually end up on a website, in a book or in a combination of the two.
“My mission now is to go around and interview Jeepers, ask them about their vehicles, ask them about what drives them, ask what motivates them and ask them about their stories,” Kokkinis said. “My main goal is to celebrate Jeepers and all the different faces of Jeep – from different countries, different styles and models of Jeeps… there are so many varieties and I want to celebrate them all.”
It’s not often somebody gets the chance to pursue their dreams, Kokkinis said, but she believes she has the commitment and will to see the Faces of Jeep project through to its completion. It’s a way to give back to the community that has given her so much over the years and it’s also a labour of love.
“A lot of people think I’m crazy but I’ve had so many people help me in my life, I want to pay it forward,” she said. “I want the Faces of Jeep to be a way for me to help others and to encourage others.”
“It’s truly life changing,” she added. “It builds self-confidence, at least that’s what it did for me. There’s something about jumping in a Jeep, turning the key and not knowing where you’re going to end up or who you’re going to meet. And just feeling the sun on your skin when the top and the doors are off. The wind going through your hair – we always say Jeep hair, don’t care – all of it is just so magical… I can have the worst day and then get in a Jeep and it all melts away. It’s such a release.”