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Leo and Margaret Puppa in 2010 celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary as Margaret tries on her wedding dress.
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Life Statement
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Leo and Margaret Puppa


October 4, 1938 to
April 29, 2014

Born and Resided
Kirkland Lake, Ontario, Canada

Married Margaret Bartell
September 3, 1960

Brian Andrew

Lori Anne (Vermette)

Daren James

Derek Jason

If you ever feel depressed, or find you don't like the way life is treating you, cheer up and say, "thank God I was born a human." You've probably seen photos taken by space telescopes showing the vastness of the expanding universe. Scientists estimate there are about 500 billion galaxies, each with about 400 billion stars. You've also probably seen photos of all the life under the oceans. Our planet has an unbelievable number of living species in the air above, on the earth itself, and in the oceans below. And here you are, a human – the only species with a brain capable of sophisticated thought, detailed analysis, and surprising creativity. So many secrets of our world and the universe are waiting to be discovered. With all the species living on Earth, you could have been born something else, like a dog, a chicken, or even an insect like a spider. But you won the greatest species lottery in the world: you are human.

The teacher and scientist in me are showing. I learned to work hard from my parents and eventually became a science teacher. From a poor childhood, I was able to live the Canadian dream that brought my parents to Canada from Italy.

As a child, I didn't realize how poor we were. I guess I should have known, because for several Christmases, there were no toys or gifts under the tree. While working in a local gold mine in Kirkland Lake, Ontario, my father had been seriously injured. He spent several years in and out of a hospital 400 miles away from our small northern town.

The mine paid Mom two dollars a day in compensation to live. She supplemented that income by doing cleaning jobs in people's homes and took me along. I helped wherever I could, and my two brothers and I did odd jobs cutting grass and shoveling snow in the winter. To save money, I was farmed out for three summers with distant relatives. That was a tough time for me as the relatives spoke little English and I spoke little Italian.

If you're poor, that's what you think life is. I saw other families with cars and better clothes, and even a TV. I thought those things would be nice, but I didn't feel jealous. I didn't know anything else. I certainly didn't know about employment opportunities for my future because you don't see too many careers in a small mining town. There were doctors, lawyers and dentists, but I couldn't see that in my future.

I had little money to go to university. I ended up being able to go to McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, because I got a small bursary with room and board. Because my new wife Margaret was working, she gave me money when I was short from my summer jobs.

Even in university, I didn't know what I wanted to do. I took the subjects that I was best in – physics, chemistry, mathematics. In my final year, I decided to go into teaching. That career would allow me to easily get a job in my home town. I took a science teacher's job and worked my way up to head of the high school science department.

Margaret and I raised four children. I think we did well with the money we had. I was the only one earning a salary. The only reason we could afford a nice house – first one, and then another – was that my dad and I built the houses. I learned a lot from my dad, who was a jack-of-all-trades. He renovated homes to make extra money. I went along to help and learned carpentry, plumbing, electrical, and masonry skills. He taught his sons to "do your best in whatever you undertake and minimize mistakes by careful planning."

After 34 years as a science teacher, Margaret and I retired to a new phase in our life. My dream was simple: to retire on a golf course with a golf cart in the garage. My dream came true, as Margaret and I now spend our winters in Florida in a great retirement community on a golf course.

My young grandchildren today have so much, so many opportunities that I didn't have. Work hard in school, because you can do anything. Pursue a career that allows you to enjoy and appreciate the wonders of the world around you. Make the world a little better for the future children that you can bring into and care for in this world.

I am an educator, a planner and, like my father, a jack-of-all-trades. I'm proud of all the students I helped to learn and solve problems. I planned my houses just as I planned a life that allowed me to retire when I wanted and achieve my golf-cart dream. And as a jack-of-all-trades, I designed and built two houses that serve as part of my legacy. My children and grandchildren will remember me as a loving father and granddad – who does lots of house repairs in their homes.

Contributed May 28, 2012

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